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Five Ways to Randomly Call on Students

How do you call on students in your classroom?

I think our natural default as teachers is to call on the student with his/her hand up. It's quick, easy, and keeps the lesson going.

What it eliminates, though, are the students who may need the lesson the most. Among others, they could be the students who are still working through their understanding, the ones who may be checking out since they know others will handle the answers, and those who may need a bit more wait time before they are able to answer.

When we limit the responses to just the same few voices, it also brings down the energy and engagement in the room. When students know they will be randomly called on, they will need to be ready to answer at any time.

As a teacher, this increases my own energy, too. Hearing from new voices with different views cultivates some amazing classroom discussions we would have otherwise missed out on!

I am compiling my top five resources for randomly calling on students. If you have a favorite I missed, please leave it in the comments!

Star Sticks

These Star Sticks are the most popular in our classroom. At the beginning of the year, I pass out one star stick to each student with their name on the stick. They decorate their star with colored pencil any way they would like and we add it to our class jar.

I use colored pencils because marker can sometimes smear or come off on hands. I also prefer the stars to the boy/girl cutouts since it makes it more uniform across the class.

If I want to ensure I don't call on that student again, I will either put the stick aside, or put it back into the jar upside-down. That way I can make sure I get through the whole class before the rotation begins again.

Pick up a set of 25 of these Star Sticks on Amazon HERE.

Numbered Popsicle Sticks

I love using student numbers in the classroom. Read more about this system HERE.

The nice part about using student numbers in any of your classroom decor and routines is that you can reuse those materials year after year.

I love these multicolored jumbo popsicle sticks and using metallic Sharpie paint pen to number them.

After I call on a student, I can put their stick back in number-side down so I won't call on them again.

I can also use these for all sorts of additional classroom organization needs, like calling up students one at a time for conferring. If they need a conference, they can place their numbered stick on my table and I can see who is ready and in what order.

Tiny Decisions App

The Tiny Decisions app is a great tool that is on my phone and preloaded with all of my students' names. I can hit the middle button and the wheel spins and lands on a random student's name.

You can load several lists for different groups of students and there is an option to allow for repeats or not.

The interface is so clear and colorful, you could display this on a projector if you'd like.

There are so many different apps like this, some for free and some paid. I like this since it is free, although that does mean ads.

I have an iPhone, so I am not sure if this exact app is available for Android, but it should be easy finding something comparable.


Flippity is a web-based program that will turn your Google Sheets into anything you can imagine!

Their Random Name Generator is fantastic. Not only can you randomly choose one student, you can make random groups of 2, 3, 4, or 5. You can also make teams, a seating chart, or a lineup!

Their template comes with very specific instructions, so you will want to follow them to the letter and also bookmark the site for quick access.

While you're there, take a peek at some of their other features. It's a very fun site to explore!

Playing Cards

We all have decks of playing cards that are missing some, so this is a great way to find a new use for that stack!

Write a student's name on each card, then shuffle the deck and draw. You can also include the Jokers for "bonus points" to the next person drawn, or another fun incentive like that.

This is a great system since a deck of cards is so easy to transport around the classroom or school.

Some Additional Considerations

An important thing to remember about randomly calling on your students is that it all comes down to the community you have established and knowing the individuals in your class.

If students know they will be supported, if they have been exposed to the Growth Mindset, and if you have worked to create an encouraging classroom environment, randomly calling on any of them during a lesson will increase engagement and promote classwide discussions and inquiry.

You can easily combine the ideas above to mix it up and keep it fresh. Having at least one that is easy to use and accessible will help substitutes or any guest teachers that want to use the system.

No matter how supportive your classroom is, you may have some students who feel increased anxiety with this process. There are several strategies you may want to use with them, such as:

  • Increased wait time
  • Letting them pass, then be responsible for answering the next question
  • Not being as "random" with these students-- you can let them know before a lesson that you will be calling on them so they can be ready
  • Non-verbal cues, such as a hand signal or walking closer when you are getting ready to call on them
  • Previewing some of the questions beforehand and allowing them prep time, or choosing the one they would like to answer

You can work together to create a strategy that works best. Ensuring that these more reluctant students have buy-in to this process will help your whole class enjoy this time so much more.

. . . 

Do you have any additional suggestions for randomly calling on students in your classroom?

Happy teaching,

Classroom Organizing Challenge: February, Week 1: Teacher Desk {Zones}

Welcome to the second month of my Classroom Organizing Challenge!

Each month this year to a specific part of our classroom to get rid of clutter, organize, streamline, and make our classrooms more stress-free!

Below are the list of topics and months, so you can join in and/or catch up anytime.

If you haven't read the Getting Started post, I recommend reading that first for some simple tips, a fun playlist, and a big-picture view of 2019.

You can always catch up on the Classroom Organizing Challenge Page HERE. Here's our yearlong overview:

Getting Started
January: Student Desks
February: Teacher Desk
March: Visible Storage
April: Hidden Storage
May: Technology/Digital
June: Classroom Library
July: Student Life
August: Class Routines
September: Teacher Life
October: Home-School Link
November: Mom Life
December: Maintenance

. . .

Teacher Desk/Work Area

Last month, we tackled student desks and this month, it's our turn!

Dum, dum, dum, dummmmmm.....

When I asked on Instagram about your biggest organizational challenge in the classroom, the topic that showed up the most was related to our spaces: desks, files, and work area.

Some of the areas we'll be tackling this month are:

  • Our desks/ tables/ areas/ wherever you have your "home base" during the teaching day
  • Piles and/ or files
  • Planners
  • Before you leave each day...

There will be more information about storage in March & April and we'll dig deeper into more systems during Teacher Life in September. For now, we're only tackling the area in front of you... which for me, is plenty!

I am dividing each of these topics into weekly(ish) task items. I could never imagine trying to cover all of these in just one session or one week.

Some of these items may require some trial-and-error to get it personalized to your liking, and that's okay! Flexibility and risk are key throughout this challenge.

Teacher Area Zones 

After many years of trying many different things, one of the best systems I have found that works for keeping my area clean is by assigning zones.

I have divided my work area into four zones and focus on just one of them on certain days of the week. That frees up my energy and allows me to stay afloat without any one area becoming my "dumping ground" that eventually gets tackled in May... or never!

My Teaching Area consists of a small table with my Chromebook and my old PC that still runs PowerPoint, my favorite rainbow drawers, and the whiteboard with my personal items and a lot of notes-to-self.

My four zones are:

  1. My tabletop & planner (I'm a *huge* Erin Condren fan)
  2. Rainbow drawers
  3. Top of the drawers
  4. The wall and shelf next to my table

When it comes to organizing, I make a checklist with the main to-do's and trouble spots:

Each week, I find I need to spend more time on some places more than others and it helps to go down the checklist to make sure I'm not intentionally ignoring a problem-area.

Teacher Tip: Once you have the checklist that works for you, laminate it and just use dry erase or wet erase markers on it. It saves time, paper, and sanity!

If you'd like a copy for your own zones, you can pick up a lined and unlined PDF for free HERE to help!

I set an alarm on my iPhone to remind me to do this checklist because I will avoid it otherwise!

My alarm is set when my students are having Snack and DEAR time. I am usually done before 9:30am. I found that if I set this when kids are in the classroom, I accomplish everything much faster.

When kids aren't in the room, I got distracted by needing to use the copier, running to my mailbox, going on a bathroom break, chatting with coworkers.... pretty much anything but organizing!

My weekly schedule is:

  • Zone 1 (Tabletop & Planner): Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays
  • Zone 2 (Rainbow Drawers): Thursdays
  • Zone 3 (Top of Drawers): Tuesdays & Thursdays
  • Zone 4 (Wall & Shelf): Fridays

I can obviously do more if I need to and most of the time it doesn't take more than five minutes for me to run through the checklist.

I keep this posted on my wall in Zone 4 so it's staring at me everyday and I can access it quickly when I need it.

These zones have cut down on the piles I have all over the place because I can address them on a somewhat daily basis. It always seemed too overwhelming to try and address them as they come in, since we're usually moving on to the next activity.

My main issue was what to do with the piles of student work that came in each day. Some needed to be graded, some filed, some passed back, some sent to the office, etc.

We'll be tackling piles and files next week, but for this week, think of the zones you can establish to help make your weekly tidying that much more efficient, streamlined, and quick!

How do you keep this area clean? Do you have a system that works for you?

Share below in the comments, as I know we can all benefit from each others' experiences!

. . .

This Week's Think Abouts:

  • What is the area that I consider my Teacher Area? Does this include a desk/ table/ shelving?
  • How can I divide this area into four smaller zones?
  • What zone(s) are my highest priority? 
  • What zone(s) are my middle priority? 
  • What zone(s) are my lowest priority? 
  • How can I divide up these zones in a Monday-Friday schedule? Which zones need multiple days?
  • What time of day could I use to tidy? Before, during or after school? Would setting an alarm help?
  • What checklist items are in each zone?
  • Where can I display this weekly checklist so it is visible and/or easy to access?

* Would you like these Think Abouts in a handy PDF? Click HERE

Be sure to follow along with me on Instagram @3rdgrthoughts on both my feed and my IG Stories throughout the year.

Tag any of your before & afters, progress, or projects using #ClassroomOrganizingChallenge. Together we can finally tackle the visual clutter and stressful spaces!

Join me next week when I dive into more of February's challenge!

Happy organizing,

Board Game Review: Skyjo

For Christmas this year, I bought my daughter quite a few new board games. There are so many exciting and interesting ones out there, I knew it would turn into a fun adventure for us.

Plus, she's seven, so just the right age for many of these games and a great way to see if they will work for third graders.

While playing, I realized that so many of these would be a great addition to a classroom!

We have a few of the more familiar games like Trouble, Mancala, and Rush Hour for Friday Free Choice, but why not add some new ones to the collection?


The first game I'm sharing with you, Skyjo, is a fantastic game for Free Choice or math. It requires mental math in both positive and negative numbers (down to -2), decision-making, strategy, and also some luck.

I played this with my boyfriend and my daughter and it was fun with two or three people. You could easily learn in groups of two, then extend it to larger groups when everyone is familiar with the game. Up to eight can play the game.

The goal of this game is like golf: the lowest score wins.

In order to win, one player will need to get a score that is 100, so it takes several rounds of play. Of course, you could adjust this depending on the time you have available in your classroom. One round is sufficient for both math practice and fun!

Every player gets twelve cards, face down, that they will arrange into three rows of four. Because of this, the deck is *huge* and will require several shufflers to get it sufficiently mixed up.

Each player begins by flipping over two cards. No one can see their cards prior to the game, so that's where the luck of the deal comes into play.

Whoever has the lowest total of the two cards begins. Cards have numbers on them, no symbols, that range from -2 to 12, including 0.

The cards are color-coded, which I find to be a fantastic aide! Larger numbers are in red, middle in yellow, low in green, zero in blue, and negative in purple. It really helps to visualize what cards you need to get rid of (red) and those you want to keep (purple).

When it is a person's turn, they have two options:
  1. Take a card from the draw pile.
  2. Take the top card from the discard pile.

Once they have that card, they can do one of three things:
  1. Replace a card that is face-up and put that card on the discard pile. This is perfect for replacing a larger-value card with a lower-valued one. There is no better feeling than replacing a 12 with a -2 and sending the 12 to the discard pile!
  2. Discard the card you drew, but that requires you to flip over any card.
  3. Replace a face-down card with the card you drew. This is tricky since no one knows what the face-down cards hold. You may end up switching a 2 for a -2, but because that was your choice, you have to discard the -2. Because of that, we try not to use this option, if we can help it.

The play goes around and around until one person has flipped over all of their cards. 

Once that person flips over their last card, everyone else has one more turn. Then, the game is done and the addition begins.

Any cards that were not flipped over are flipped over now and are included in the person's score. It's never fun finding a 12 at this point in the game!

Players add up their points and get a total. The person who flipped over all of their cards first needs to have the lowest score. If they don't, or if it's tied, they have to double their score and that's the worst, believe me!

There are also some special scoring rules to make the game even more complex, but we're not there yet!

If you are continuing to play until someone reaches 100, you'll start a new round and add totals together until that time.

In a classroom setting, that can be a long time, especially at the beginning when everyone is just figuring out the game, their strategy, and all of the addition. I would recommend just one round with the limited time we have. 

Because each player has an array of twelve cards, it does require some room, but this game could easily be played on the floor if your tables aren't sufficient. 

Skyjo would be a perfect centers game, Friday Free Choice game, or extension activity. The excitement is high when someone draws a -2 and everyone understands the frustration of drawing a 12. 

For such a simple, card-only game, it's delightfully complex and high-energy. 

Find Skyjo on Amazon HERE and I'll be back with more recommendations soon!

Happy playing,

Classroom Organizing Challenge: January, Week 4: Student Desks {Bins & Cubbies}

If you are new to this monthly challenge, welcome!

There is a new focus each month and we're starting small with student desks/work spaces and growing from there.

Be sure to go back and reread the work we've already done so you're all caught up.

You can always catch up on the Classroom Organizing Challenge Page HERE. Here's our yearlong overview:

Getting Started
January: Student Desks
February: Teacher Desk
March: Visible Storage
April: Hidden Storage
May: Technology/Digital
June: Classroom Library
July: Student Life
August: Class Routines
September: Teacher Life
October: Home-School Link
November: Mom Life
December: Maintenance

. . .

Week 4: Student Bins & Cubbies

This is the final installment of the January challenge, so if you don't have any student bins or cubbies as a part of your classroom, this is a great week to catch up on any of the pieces and parts from the past weeks.

Celebrating Birthdays: Circle & Cards

How do you celebrate birthdays in your classroom?

Throughout the years, celebrations have changed and I wanted to share this year's traditions with you in case you were looking for some easy ways to help your students feel special on their birthday.

Birthday Circle

Classroom Organizing Challenge: January, Week 3: Student Desks {Table Supplies}

We're slowly expanding our focus from student pencils, to name tags, to seating. Today, I'd like to zero-in on table supplies.

These are *not* general classroom supplies- we'll get to those soon- these are just the supplies that students use at their table spots.

If your students have desks, this would include their personal supplies.

If you are new to this monthly challenge, welcome!

There is a new focus each month and we're starting small with student desks/work spaces and growing from there.

Be sure to go back and reread the work we've already done so you're all caught up.

You can always catch up on the Classroom Organizing Challenge Page HERE. Here's our yearlong overview:

Getting Started
January: Student Desks
February: Teacher Desk
March: Visible Storage
April: Hidden Storage
May: Technology/Digital
June: Classroom Library
July: Student Life
August: Class Routines
September: Teacher Life
October: Home-School Link
November: Mom Life
December: Maintenance

. . .

Week 3: Table Supplies

We have all of our supplies as community supplies, which is both easy and daunting.

My Favorite TED Talks for Educators

One of the big items on my Bucket List was to be a part of a TED Talk audience. I am fascinated by every single speaker I have seen on the TED website and knew I wanted to be a part of that energy.

Two years ago, I got my wish at TEDxMileHigh in Denver. It was the greatest way to spend the weekend; I left intrigued, inspired, emotionally exhausted but also uplifted... it was perfect.

If you ever get the chance to go to one near you, bring someone you can process with. There are so many layers to each talk, it is worth revisiting over and over again!

If you aren't familiar with TED Talks, they are short (less than 20 minutes) lectures on a problem, question, or possible solution to a problem or question in our world. Speakers range from scientists, researchers, poets, teachers, religious leaders.... you name it!

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