• LDnet: Increasing Student Engagement with Opportunities to Respond

  • LDnet

    Increasing Student Engagement with Opportunities to Respond

    While there are multiple resources and strategies for increasing student engagement, one area to explore is opportunities to respond. Student engagement is a relevant topic to educators, whether instruction is happening in-person, through distance learning, or in a combination of these settings. It is also a concern for students who struggle to pay attention and stay on task, but it impacts the learning of almost all students in a classroom. While there are multiple resources and strategies for increasing student engagement, one area to explore is opportunities to respond.

    Opportunities to respond entail an interaction between a teacher’s verbal, visual, or written academic prompt and a student’s verbal, written, or gestural response. The work of researcher Terrance Scott from Stanford Research Institute has linked lack of opportunities for students to respond and engage during instruction to a significant increase in students being off-task and disruptive. In classrooms where there are fewer opportunities to respond, less active teaching, and less positive feedback to students, Scott’s research has shown that students are 27 percent more likely to be off-task and 67 percent more likely to be disruptive. I don’t know about you in your classroom, but those are percentages I would like to avoid whenever possible!

    According to Scott, there should be a goal of three opportunities to respond each minute when teachers are introducing new concepts in instruction. Current research shows that for elementary students, there is only an average of .82 opportunities to respond each minute during instruction and .62 each minute for middle school students. By high school, the average is only .48 opportunities to respond each minute, and for students in special education, the average is .06. The students who often need the most engagement and opportunities to respond are getting much less. Three per minute might seem like a daunting number to some, but with the payoff being increased attention, less disruption, and greater student achievement, it is worth looking at some ways to increase these opportunities in your classroom (whether virtual or in-person).

    Hand Signals

    The purpose of these hand signals is not to assess learning or look at whether the student is providing the “right” or “wrong” signal but simply to give students the opportunity to respond to what is being presented. Hand signals provide a simple way to increase opportunities to respond. This can be a quick thumbs up, thumbs down, posting an emoji on virtual platforms, or another established signal to engage students. Asking for this response during instruction also helps students who have trouble focusing, and it brings them back into the lesson at regular intervals. Students who struggle with attention could be moving around the classroom but engage with the lesson by being expected to use these hand signals like the rest of the class. The purpose of these hand signals is not to assess learning or look at whether the student is providing the “right” or “wrong” signal but simply to give students the opportunity to respond to what is being presented.

    Whip Around

    Another strategy that works well at the beginning or end of instructional time is a whip around. The goal with this strategy is that each student response is very quick, so everyone in the class can respond without taking much more than a minute total. For a whip around, the teacher poses a question that has many possible responses and relates to the lesson. Go up and down rows (or call on students around the screen if on a virtual platform) and give each student an opportunity to provide a response. You could also have each student stand up quickly to give the response if the class has been sitting for a while during instruction. It is acceptable if multiple students give the same response, as the goal is engagement, not assessing student learning. If a student is worried about being “wrong,” they can repeat a previous answer, or say “pass” when their turn comes up. This is a good review tool as well as being another opportunity to respond.

    Response Cards

    Response cards are another quick and effective strategy that you can use in-person or in virtual settings. Sample quick responses, such as “yes,” “no,” “true,” “false,” “I agree,” “I disagree” could be laminated and kept on a binder ring for students to have ready to respond during instruction. The binder ring could also include a blank laminated card on which students write a response with a dry erase marker. This may be quicker and cheaper than individual white boards, and it is an efficient option when using this type of response in virtual instruction when not all students have a white board at home. Introduce questions into the new instructional time a few times each minute, and have students hold up the appropriate card to respond. Try to keep questions brief and about things to which students can quickly respond.

    Choral Response

    Choral response provides another opportunity to respond, but this strategy sometimes has a negative connotation if it is thought of in a more traditional “repeat after me” manner. While this incorporates repetition, it is not simply students parroting back what you say. For example, in introducing key vocabulary before a reading passage, you might pronounce a new word and have the students initially repeat it while the word is visually displayed along with the definition. Next, provide an example of how the term will be used in the reading passage, and pause for students to repeat the word to complete the example or have students repeat the definition provided. These just take a couple seconds, but it provides repetition and more opportunities for students to respond and engage in the new learning.

    Turn and Talk

    One final idea for increasing opportunities to respond is called turn and talk. Students turn and quickly share an idea from the new instruction with a partner near them. When you call on a student to share with the class, that student shares what their partner reported, not their own thought. If you are in a virtual setting, after sharing in quick break out rooms, you could create a poll of common responses, and have students respond to the poll with what their partner shared. With turn and talk, students have to engage with the new learning and also engage with a partner and listen to their ideas. This strategy might take more than a few seconds like some of the other strategies, but it is a good tool to incorporate as you increase opportunities for students to respond.

    RRR questions
    • Which of the strategies are you most eager to try?
    • With which subjects might they best work? Which not so much?
    • Which students might present the most difficult challenge in using these strategies?

    Take Action

    In your classroom, take an informal inventory of how many opportunities you are giving students to respond in these ways when presenting new information and build from there! Three opportunities per minute is the goal to help improve student attention and engagement; however, being conscious of your current practice is a good step toward thinking through how to increase these opportunities. This is extremely beneficial for students who have attention challenges, but it increases engagement for all students of all ages as well. Please reach out to Lutheran Special Education Ministries for more ideas or for help with specific questions and concerns in your classroom! Reach us at https://luthsped.org or email lsem@luthsped.org and let us know how we can support your ministry to students.

    Kara Bratton, Ph.D. is special education director at Lutheran Special Education Ministries.



    Gage, N., Scott, T. M., & Hirn, R. G., & MacSuga-Gage, A. (2018). “The relationship between teachers’ implementation of classroom management practices and student behavior in elementary school.” Behavioral Disorders, 43(2), 302-315.


    Photo © iStock/fizkes; Kathryn Brewer

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