Classroom Techniques: Formative Assessment Technique Number One


Formative Assessment Technique Number One - The Popsicle Stick

In previous blogs we’ve outlined how raising hands is not necessarily a good strategy to encourage – Instructional Strategies: Raising Hands in Class and the Outlier Effect. We’ve also defined formative assessment as an ongoing, minute by minute evaluation of student learning. So with these two thoughts in mind, we’ll start to explore some classroom techniques that engage the entire student body, helping teachers solicit evidence of student learning and understanding.

Formative assessment technique number one… the Popsicle™ stick.


While perhaps not earth-shattering, the Popsicle™ stick approach to student engagement can provide a more random selection for answers, which means that the consistent hand-raiser isn’t dominating classroom discussion (and evaluation). Have each student write their name on a Popsicle™ stick and place all the sticks in a cup. Ask a question of the class, draw a stick from the cup and have the student whose name is on the stick respond to the question.

All-student (random) response systems like this engage all students and sets an expectation that all students are worth hearing, dispel notions of favoritism, and perhaps more importantly identify gaps in student understanding. This formative assessment strategy, and others in our Keeping Learning on Track (KLT) program, can give teachers the real-time, in class assessment information they need to better adapt instruction and meet student needs.

Are you a teacher or education professional? Have you used Popsicle™ sticks or other random response systems like them? If so we’d love to hear from you… how did it change your classroom?

Photo Credit Photo Credit to Sarah Buckley

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8 Responses to Classroom Techniques: Formative Assessment Technique Number One

  1. Tami says:

    I used popsicle sticks in my elementary and middle school classrooms. I LOVED them and used them daily. It really did keep the kids more engaged; they never knew when they’d get called on. I liked, too, that because they couldn’t see the name I was reading, I could sometimes “cheat” and read a different name if I wanted to direct a question at a particular student. I used them to create random groups of students, for classroom games, for all sorts of academic and non-academic things. I don’t know how I would have taught without them.

  2. Mel W says:

    I have used the stick approach for the past 13 years of teaching. My first year of teaching I was tired of the same students answering. Keeping all students on their toes and requiring them to be prepared to answer really does allow me to guage who understands the concept of the day and who needs more work. The stick method is a great formative assessment tool; fast, effective, and inexpensive.

  3. alison says:

    Having a talking stick is another strategy. This is something that has been used for centuries among our indigenous populations. The talking stick is passed to the person who is to speak and while that person is speaking all others should be attentive and respectful. Using this methods also provides an opportunity for children to learn something about the indigenous culture of their country.

  4. Missy Lynch says:

    I love pulling sticks, I use tongue depressors because they a bigger. I have two classes so I write names for one class on one side in one color and then I use the other side for the other class with a different color. I use sticks for picking partners for buddy reading and the students prefer me to pull sticks when they work in groups, they say there is always a chance of working with a friend that way.

  5. Jos says:

    I use a bingo cage. Numbers respond to names on a list. While I draw, students can think.

    • Michele says:

      I have used the popsicle stick method for years–a variation, though is doing the same with index cards. The teacher randomizes these (shuffles) and then can make notes on the card regarding the response. You can use symbols, or just write praise comments. Show these under the document camera from time to time to increase pride in student discussions.

  6. Cathy Murphy says:

    What grade level do you suggest this for?

    • Kathy Dyer says:

      Cathy, thanks for asking. One of the interesting things about this technique is that it works K-12 and with adults. What varies is the “stick.” From Popsicle or craft sticks, to tongue depressors that have been colored in 2 colors (one on each end) to plastic frogs (school mascot) with student names on them to the randomizer apps for phones or tablets, learners respond. Part of the success for this or any technique is the set up with participants. Understanding why tools and a technique are being employed is important for learners to make connections to why it matters to them and to you.

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