Monday, October 6, 2014

I've Got Your Number

It was a 7th grade world history class, and the lesson plan had us reading a section of the textbook as a class. Which led to the usual problem. How do I pick the readers?

I can ask for volunteers. Sometimes I actually get them. But usually I get three or four, and there's a lot more than three or four paragraphs to read. (Readers usually read a paragraph and then expect to hand off the reading to someone else.)

I can do "popcorn" reading. I pick the first reader. Then that reader picks the next reader. This works well under certain circumstances, but middle school students are very good at turning this into a circus. And I tried it in an earlier period, and things didn't go so well.

Or I can just pick students. I hate doing this. It's almost like I'm picking on students. I'm there for a day, so I don't necessarily know them. Does that girl like to read out loud? Will that boy read or will he turn it into a joke? I'm never sure.

I prefer to pick students at random. Lots of teachers have popsicle sticks or index cards, and that makes my job so much easier. But this teacher didn't. And then I found the perfect solution.

I had a roll sheet. The students were numbered...

I called on the first student. Then I had her pick a number between 1 and 33. That was the name of the next student to go. It made it fairly random (as the student didn't know who she was picking). It kept the others on their toes as they didn't know who would be picked next.

It worked great. Until 6th period...

When I asked the reader to pick a number, several students yelled out numbers in hopes that the reader would pick them.

They knew their numbers?

It's possible. Some teachers give students numbers for ease of recording assignments. But none of the other classes seemed to know what their number on the roll sheet was.

The reader picked a number. One student was sure it was him. But the student I did call was surprised.

You'd think they'd figure out that they didn't know their number at this point. But they didn't. When the next reader was up to pick a number, the class still called out what they thought was their number. And the student I called was again surprised.

Some students spent the entire period calling out what they thought was their number.

Which meant that the reading didn't go so well. (Imagine after every paragraph the room erupting into noise as half the class is telling a student to "pick me".)

Eventually I figured out that they thought I was calling their seat number.

I had the same group the next day. I did "popcorn" reading with them instead.

And you know what. Things went much more smoothly. (Of course, that could be because two students were stuck in the office for some other offense from an earlier period and I kicked three other students out.)


  1. Well, at least they seemed eager to read. That's a positive sign for education.

  2. I remember years ago in school the teacher would just start on one of the rows in the the classroom or the other and assign a paragraph per person, then the next person behind them sitting in the row, etc. I like your system better though.


  3. Three students kicked out sounds like a lot!

    Maybe they tried to figure out their numbers by going alphabetically? That's always how they assigned numbers in my schools. Anyway, it sounds like you picked the fairest method you could :)

  4. Oh my...I would have a headache dealing with kids. I remember having to read out loud and I was quiet but I could read. Others, like some sports guys, could hardly read and yet were given better marks then I got. I am glad you found a method that works...for the most part and glad that many wanted to read

  5. It's amazing what a difference to the dynamics of a classroom it makes when you get rid of just a few stirrers!

  6. Crazy! Could you write the numbers on sheets of paper and put them in a big fishbowl to draw from?

    1. Ah, but that would take set-up time. Time I don't have when I walk in cold. Which is why I like when teachers already have randomizing materials for me.

  7. I would have been one of the kicked out kids. I moved to Northern Minnesota from Massachusetts in 7th grade and there was no way I could read out loud without be harassed for ages about my accent.


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