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5 Fun Ways to Randomly Select Students

5 Min Read
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In an ideal world, we’d get equal engagement from every student during every class. However, anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes in a classroom knows this is far from the case. While every teacher has a few students they can rely on to raise their hand, there are also those who rarely answer a question or volunteer for anything. Sometimes, due to their introverted nature, they’ll remain silent if they know the answer.

The challenge is finding ways to involve everyone in the lesson. When it comes to selecting students for participation in class, randomization is one of the best techniques you can use. But be mindful of introverted students who may need reflection time or a quick turn-and-talk before responding in whole-class discussions.

Having a variety of ways to randomly select a student is useful for all students, not just the ones that rarely volunteer. Random selection puts the whole class on notice, reminding them that they could be chosen at any time. Students have greater incentive to pay close attention, as they can’t rely on one of their more extroverted peers answering every question. Better still, having a variety of fun ways to select a student gives them a share of ownership in the process. Knowing that they may have to participate at any time makes them active participants rather than passive ones.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at ways to randomly select students.

Easy Ways to Randomly Call on Students

1. Colored cards

A simple way to randomly call on students is to pick a colored card with their name on it at random. You can also have the students make their own cards, which creates a short, fun task that gives them a little ownership in the idea of random selection. You can also have fun with how you pick a card, as you could have the students take one from your hand or out of a hat—like the sorting hat in Harry Potter!

The amount of things you can do with colored cards really opens up when you combine them with a color wheel, which we’ll explore a little later.

2. Playing cards

Similarly, you could use a pack of playing cards, writing a student’s name on each one. With this approach, you can make a big show of shuffling the deck, which the students will get a kick out of, especially if you know a few tricks!

Playing cards also allow you to get creative and make use of the suits and/or numbers. You can use the suit, for instance, to decide which group has to answer a question in a team activity or determine the type of question they have to answer. You could use the number to determine the question asked, if you prepare some questions beforehand and assign each one to a card. Alternatively, if you’re playing a game in which students win points, the number could represent how many they’re awarded—provided they get the question right, of course!

3. Color wheel

A colored spinner wheel is a versatile way of calling on students randomly. The most straightforward approach is to create a wheel (having your class help out, naturally) with every student’s name featured on it. Then, when you want to choose a student, you spin the wheel and call out the name of the student on which it lands. Not only does it choose a student at random, but it also injects a dose of fun into your classroom as your students wait for it to stop spinning.

That said, it’s actually far easier to use a digital color wheel, courtesy of websites and mobile apps, of which there are many. With those, all you have to do is load up the wheel, enter your students’ names, and click away. Better yet, most allow you to save the names you entered, so you only have to enter them once.

A color wheel is good for more than just choosing students and offers tons of randomization opportunities. You could, for instance, have two wheels: one for selecting a student and another for determining the kind of question you’ll ask them. You can then create a series of categories denoted by color and write questions on different colored cards. Then, when the wheel lands on that color, the student or team gets asked a question from that category.

4. Dice

If you haven’t managed to get around to creating your color wheels, a simple alternative is to use a couple of dice. Now, if you have more than six students, you’ll have to be a little creative about who has to answer the question. One solution is to split the class into segments, with ‘one’ responding to a particular table or group of students, ‘two’ to another, and so on. You could then roll again to see which member of that selected group has to answer the question.

You can also have some fun with it, giving one or more of the numbers a special function. For example, once you’ve determined the group by an initial throw, rolling a three would allow them to skip a turn so they don’t have to answer a question. There are plenty of things you can do to add a little excitement.

5. Let the students choose

If you’re engaged in a task that everyone in the class has to do, one at a time, you could have the student pick the person that follows them. Granted, this isn’t strictly random, and you’ll have to do a little stewarding, but it means that you’re not responsible for choosing the next student or picking eager volunteers, so it does the job! Besides, in my experience, it’s fun and gives the students a tiny bit of responsibility, which they tend to absolutely relish.

Engage More Students in Each Lesson

There are plenty of creative and fun ways to randomly call on students, especially with a little prep beforehand. By making good use of these strategies, you’ll consistently engage more of your class in each lesson. Over time, there’s a good chance that a number of them will gain confidence and volunteer more frequently—which is one of the greatest gifts you could possibly give a young student.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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