Look Who’s Talking: The Equity Problem

 Answering questions in Class by Eugenie Kourti Ferrante

If, as I stated in the previous blog post, the person who speaks the most in the classroom learns the most, then establishing equity is an vital consideration in class management. While some children love to contribute in class discussions, others are silent unless actually called upon. Once in a while you will have a student who is such compulsive communicator that he/she completely dominates every discussion in the classroom. How do you regulate the interactions of such differing learners to create the conditions for equity in your class?

Here are four strategies I’ve found useful.

Calling cards

Write each student’s name on a separate small card, perhaps a playing card. Keep these cards handily near your teaching spot. Whenever you are ready to call upon a student to answer a question, resist the temptation to call on one of the waving hands. Instead pull a card from the pack. The result of this small change is that now all the students are forced to prepare an answer to the question in their minds, as no one knows which name will be pulled. This puts an end to the silent fail, students who opt out of answering questions in class and rely on others to do all the brain work while they cruise and snooze.

This is quite a classic in the teacher’s toolbox, but is very nicely described on the wonderful Rick Morris’ site: New Management.

This site, by the way, is a wonderful treasure trove of brilliant ideas for making classroom management simpler and easier to handle.


When I  had a compulsive communicator in my classroom I was at my wits end what to do with her! After many reminders and several long discussions I could see I was not getting through to her. I didn’t want to crush her enthusiasm, but she was completely unaware of how dominating her communication habits were. I finally hit upon the strategy to give her a copy of the class checklist and put her in charge of checking off everyone’s name as they contributed during each lesson. I told her my goal was to make sure that every single student spoke during every lesson and asked her to help me to make sure that we gave everyone a fair share of air time.The effect of this was that she was not allowed to speak again until everyone had participated. She was astounded to discover how little she would be able to speak if everyone had a fair share! A side benefit of this was to make her much more selective about what she decided to talk about and to focus on quality rather than quantity in her responses!

“Get your 2 cents in!”

This is a nice game to play with your class to teach equity. Give each student a paper cup and two cent coins. They should place these in front of them on the desk. During the class discussion whenever they participate they can put one cent into the cup. The goal is to get everyone to get the two coins into the cup by the end of the lesson. This lesson structures communication: students who are normally talkative need to think more carefully about what they choose to say, while it sets a participation goal for those who are normally silent.

Chalk Talk

In this activity only the pens are allowed to do the talking! Hang a large sheet of butcher paper along the wall and invite students to silently respond in writing to a focus question. They can draw arrows to link ideas, add smiley faces, stars and checks to show agreement. The only rule is to read and respond, but no talking! It seems counter intuitive but this change in dynamic leads to greater equity in participation.

Chalk Talk is one of my class’s favorite activities and I first learned it during Critical Friends Group training. This protocol is developed by the NSRF and can be found on their website here.

Do you have a favorite way to promote equity? Please share!


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6 Responses to Look Who’s Talking: The Equity Problem

  1. Social learning is a great way to promote equity and give every student a voice. I prefer Edmodo. 😉


    • pkynigou says:

      Thanks Ginger,
      I’m eagerly waiting for your soon to be published book on Edmodo so that I can learn more! In the meantime could you shed some light on how I could use Edmodo in my class to promote equity? I haven’t ever used it, so don’t really have a sense of it’s potential, but you know me, I love to try things out!


  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Penny,

    Interesting and important concept discussed here! Your suggestions remind me of a book I read entitled, Teach Like a Champion. It actually spent weeks on the best seller list here in the U.S. Thinking of you! Best, Amanda


    • pkynigou says:

      Thanks, Amanda!
      That sounds like a useful resource! I’ll look into it!
      What do you find works with your AAP students in Virginia?
      Nice to hear from you!


  3. david preen says:

    These are such adroit methods, Penny. Your children must look forward to the menu every term! Probably my own favourite way of sharing out talk time with eleven and twelve year olds went this way: 1 Groups of three or four (not always close friends together either, since other kinds of talk come into play with varying social distance). 2 Initiate a topic , such as Improvements in the School. 3 Suggest various slants to be explored by different groups , such as changing buildings, the school food,extra and different studies and so on. 4 Each time there would be a new chair, and new reporter to the whole class.5 A couple specially needing talk experience would be asked to arrange for an interview with the Head- or school meal supervisor- or the caretaker etc to put our ideas forward. 6 Or we would be lucky and have them come to discuss with the class!


    • pkynigou says:

      Thank you for such a great suggestion!
      I think I might try this for the last few weeks of school….I had been wondering what would make a good end of the year project to keep the students fizzing! Our class blog, OWL, makes a great forum to share these suggestions to a wider audience. After all it is different when you are reporting back to the whole grade level, teachers and Principal, and even the school President. Then you really feel that your ideas, even as a fifth grader, can carry weight!
      It’s a great chance to teach my favorite Ghandi’s quote, If you think you are to small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito!”


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