Managing Response Rates to Engage Students

When my school rolled out the Marzano Instructional Framework for their teacher evaluation plan, I had a lot requests for assistance on element #26, Managing Response Rates. While many teachers were already implementing some of these strategies, they did not know the technical term for them; others were not used to checking for understanding so frequently throughout their lessons and needed more coaching in this area. Here is a Guide that my fellow SIOP coach and I put together for our district:

Carla and Beth’s Guide to Managing Response Rates in Your Classroom

Managing response rates (#26 on the Marzano Learning Map) is the art of engaging students in answering questions and participating in class discussions.  The teacher’s goal is to get 100% of students processing and sharing answers to teacher-posed questions.  Here are a set of strategies that would increase your response rate management and your level of student engagement.  

Response Chaining

1. Begin by posing an inferential or elaborative interrogation question, pause for approximately 10 seconds and then call on a student to answer.

2. After answering the question, call on another student to tell if he/she thinks the answer is:

       • Correct. Student must tell why it is correct.

• Partially correct. Student must tell which part is correct and what content    needs to be added to make the answer correct.

                 • Incorrect. Student must give the correct answer.

   3. If the second student corrected the answer of the first student, call on a third student to comment on the answer given by the second student.

    4. If the first student was correct, pose another question, and repeat the answer/evaluation process.

Remind your students that they do not have to raise their hands, as you will be strategically calling on all students throughout the lesson. To do this, you can pull a Popsicle stick or use a seating chart to keep track of who has answered or evaluated a question.

Be sure to keep a lively pace as you move from student to student to ask, answer, and evaluate questions and answers. When posing an initial question in the chain, pause to provide all students time to consider their responses.

Choral Response

Choral response is a method of questioning that allows students to answer by calling out responses in unison. This is particularly effective for providing multiple opportunities to deepen declarative knowledge. For example, the teacher asks a question that requires a one-word or short answer, such as a definition or step in a process. Instead of calling on one or two students to answer, all the students respond. This strategy helps students take risks, as there is safety in numbers, thus making it highly unlikely anyone will be embarrassed by answering incorrectly. This activity can then be extended into asking students to respond chorally by row, by group, boys/girls, etc. and then individually. It’s a great way to monitor the majority of your students for the desired effect of engagement and participation in answering questions, and your ELLs will be able to respond without struggling with grammar or pronunciation.

Wait Time

The power of wait-time strategies as a catalyst for student engagement has been recognized for a number of years.  By allowing at least three seconds for students to respond to a question, for example, teachers greatly expand the number of students who both hear the question and cognitively process it.  

Here are examples:

Art.  An art teacher asks the following question:  “What are some of the critical things to remember when applying oil-based paints?”  The teachers pauses for a few seconds before calling on students to answer, scanning the classroom and trying to make eye contact with as many students as possible.

Geometry.  Students seem to be struggling with the Pythagorean Theorem.  The teacher proposes that they “start from the very beginning.”  She poses questions that were supposedly addressed at the beginning of the unit, warning students to think over their responses before responding.  While students are addressing her questions, she sometimes asks them to pause and think more deeply before responding further.

Response Cards

Response cards are index cards, signs, dry-erase boards, magnetic boards, or other items that are simultaneously held up by all students in class to indicate their response to a question or problem presented by the teacher.  Using response cards, the teacher can easily note the responses of individual students while teaching the whole group.  Additionally, response cards allow for participation by the whole class and not just a few students who raise their hands to respond.

While there are a number of examples of response cards, there are basically two types: pre-printed and write-on cards.  Preprinted cards have responses on them: write-on cards allow students to indicate their responses in real time.  

They can be student or teacher made, in the form of multiple choice response, true/false, or open-ended answers.   Response cards can also be used to gauge student understanding before moving on to the next part of your lesson. When the teacher gives the signal, students hold up their response cards, and the teacher uses this feedback to guide subsequent interaction with students.

Hand Signals

A common set of hand signals is thumbs-up/palm flat/thumbs-down.  Hand signals can also be used with fingers held at the throat so responses are only visible to the teacher -- eg. one finger to agree with a statement, two to disagree.  Hand signals can also be used to monitor student comfort level and understanding of new content before a unit begins.

Vote with Your Feet

Using the vote with your feet strategy, you will pose a question that requires an alignment with a claim or opinion. Your students decide which statement he/she agrees with and moves to a designated location. Students who are undecided can move to a middle ground location. Once in the designated location, have students share the reasons or grounds for the claim or opinion. Students should be encouraged to state qualifiers and challenge the logic of each others’ reasoning. Students who were undecided can be convinced and join either group. This strategy is an excellent way to get all students to answer higher order thinking questions, as well as provide movement to re-engage those who need to move in order to focus.

Corner Cues or Four Corners

Corner cues allow teachers to have students simultaneously answer a question and adds movement to the classroom.  The teacher poses a question and chooses a corner for each answer.  Students move to the corner that they feel best represents the answer.

Traffic Light System

The teacher supplies each student with a set of three items (markers, dot stickers, cups, etc.).  One of the items is green, one is yellow, and one is red.  During segments of instruction specifically designated for the traffic light system, students use their items to represent their personal level of understanding regarding what’s being discussed in class.  If a student chooses the green item, it signifies, “I understand this, and I understand it well enough so that I could explain it to other students if I’m asked to do so.”  If a yellow item is chosen, the student sends the message, “I’m somewhat unsure about whether I understand what’s going on now.”  A red mark indicates, “I really don’t understand what’ being discussed at the moment.”


Think-Pair-Share is a cooperative discussion strategy that allows students to discuss their responses with a peer before sharing with the whole class.  Developed by Lyman (1981) and colleagues, there are three stages of student action:

Think.  The teacher engages students’ thinking with a question, prompt, reading, visual, or observation.  The students should take a few minutes (not seconds) to think about the question.

Pair.  Using designated partners, students pair up to discuss their respective responses.  They compare their thoughts and identify the responses they think are the best, most intriguing, most convincing, or most unique.

Share.  After students talk in pairs for a few moments, the teacher asks pairs to share their thinking with the rest of the class.

Give One, Get One

This technique is best done when students are using academic notebooks or note-taking outlines such as graphic organizers. The entire activity should be done with students in a standing position.

•          Each student is asked to find a partner with whom he compares notes.

•          The student takes a moment to identify the information they have in common.

•          Each student identifies something he did not record but his partner did.

•          This new information is then recorded in each student’s notebook.

•          In effect, each student gives one and gets one.

•          Pairs can report to whole class regarding the transaction.


3-2-1:   Write the numbers 3,2,1 down the left side of a paper.

Have students list:

•    “3” new things they learned.

•    “2” things that confuse them

•    “1” way to apply what they learned in another area

Note: This can be expressed artistically and orally as well.  

Technology Tools to track responses

Technology can be a great way to get students excited, active, and engaged.  A classroom response system (sometimes called a personal response system, student response system, or audience response system) is a set of hardware and software that facilitates teaching activities such as the following:

  • A teacher poses a multiple-choice question to his or her students via an overhead or computer projector.

  • Each student submits an answer to the question using a handheld transmitter (a “clicker”) that beams a radio-frequency signal to a receiver attached to the teacher’s computer.

  • Software on the teacher’s computer collects the students’ answers and produces a bar chart showing how many students chose each of the answer choices.

  • The teacher makes "on the fly" instructional choices in response to the bar chart by, for example, leading students in a discussion of the merits of each answer choice or asking students to discuss the question in small groups.

If you do not have a set of eclickers, there are many other web-based or app options:

  • One of the most popular apps for education  for teachers is Stick Pick (available through iTunes for $2.99).  This app lets you digitize the traditional tin can of Popsicle sticks.  You create a roster for your class and assign question stems according to Bloom’s Taxonomy levels and English Language Learner stages. When you tap the can, a stick is pulled. You then see a list of question stems that can be related to the instructional content. **I have attached instructional materials I used for my TESOL 2015 presentation in the Electronic Village at the bottom of this page.

  • You can turn an iPad or iPod into an eClicker using the app Socrative (available through iTunes for free). You will need the teacher app and the student app for each device your students will be using. This app allows you to set up a “room” and give your students a code to enter the room.  You then pose questions that are true/false, multiple choice, and short answers, and the students choose the answer on their device.  The answers register on your device exactly as they do on the eClickers teacher use with interactive white boards.  There is also a game and exit ticket feature on this app.  You can use this on other tablets and laptops through the web-based application at Many students at DHS have this app on their phones, as they have been using it in various classes.

  • If you don’t have iPads or iPods in your class, you can turn to web-based tools. Poll Everywhere allows students to use any Internet connection (on a smart phone, Net Book, Nook, Kindle Fire, etc. ) to respond to questions through a text message or web browser.  Results are displayed live and can be used to guide instruction, such as leading students in a discussion of the merits of each answer choice or asking students to discuss the question in small groups.  Google Forms can also be used for formative assessment purposes.

Carla Huck,
May 18, 2015, 7:13 AM