Monday, November 5, 2012

The notecard switcheroo

Don't know about you, but I find the humble notecard an enormously useful teaching technology. I usually require my students to acquire 25 of them at the beginning of each term. You can use them for fishbowl-inspired discussionsminute papers, and many other classroom assessment techniques.

I wanted to share a simple way I've used notecards to widen class participation. It's shockingly simple:

Give students a simple in-class assignment. A minute paper-type assignment works best. Once everyone finishes, collect the notecards. Then redistribute the cards to the students, ensuring that no one receives their original card. Then proceed to have whatever discussion or shared inquiry you were planning beforehand, with the caveat that students must defend (to the extent they think they can) what's written on their card.

Here's what I've noticed about this technique:
  • It makes 'cold calling' less daunting. Since students aren't being asked to defend their own views or ideas, they seem to feel less on the spot when I cold call.
  • It also results in a larger number of students participating. Perhaps divorcing discussion from worries about 'being wrong' motivates more reluctant students to get involved.
  • A wider range of views end up being offered up for critical consideration.
And while I don't have specific evidence or observations to back this up, I suspect it helps critical thinking skills to have to defend something regardless of what it is.

Has any one tried this or a similar technique?


  1. I've tried something similar to this before, and it worked fairly well. Do you use this technique on a regular basis? I only tried it once, and since it was something new and different the discussion wasn't as fruitful as I'd hoped. But I think doing it more regularly might help with that issue.

  2. I've used something similar, but with blank pieces of paper (usually the back of something else so I can reuse one-sided pages). They write their answers and crumple up the paper into a ball, then throw it across the room. Everyone finds a ball and opens it up. I call on people to say what's on the page and defend if relevant. It's fun, gets students out of their chairs for a bit, and it helps to ensure that no one knows whose paper is whose (unless they recognize handwriting). I used this when asking students to suggest ground rules for class meetings, so they wouldn't be afraid to speak their minds on what they would/wouldn't like their peers and me to do during class. Worked quite well!

    P.S. I tried to comment on an iPad using Name/URL, and it wouldn't work (twice). The name/URL showed up over the comment and my iPad wouldn't recognize the blanks as fillable, so I couldn't use my keyboard. Had to come to a laptop to re-type. Not sure how you could fix this....

  3. Michael, I find that with only 1 minute to write, the students aren't able to flesh out their reasoning very well. That's no surprise, but the benefit of it is that their classmate is then "forced" to fill in more of those gaps -- in other words, that they have to work a bit harder and more creatively to come up with reasons in support of a conclusion they might not hold. During the subsequent discussions, we then try to balance ad hoc reasons that are just silly from those that are better grounded.

    If one of the main goals is to encourage more participating by helping the students feel less personally invested in whatever view(s) they're defending, then I have to report mixed results. Shy students, or those who just need more time to think before they speak, still have those challenges (if that be the right word!), just focused in a different direction. But on the whole, I think the technique is beneficial enough that I will keep using it.


If you wish to use your name and don't have a blogger profile, please mark Name/URL in the list below. You can of course opt for Anonymous, but please keep in mind that multiple anonymous comments on a post are difficult to follow. Thanks!