Cold Call

Random Calling, Random Student Selection

Cold Call is when the teacher calls on a student randomly to answer a question, regardless of whether they have their hand raised. Cold Call is not intended to be used to chastise students or increase anxiety in classrooms. Instead, by distributing participation around the class, not just to students who frequently raise their hands, Cold Call creates a classroom culture of engaged participation where all opinions and voices are heard. A teacher can use Cold Call to check for a student’s understanding of the content being taught, to refocus students, or to elicit new ideas on a topic. Regular use of Cold Call increases student engagement and accountability by encouraging students to be ready to contribute to classroom discussions and lessons at all times.

Implementation Tips

Preparing Students
Remind students at the beginning of a lesson that you will be using Cold Call. When asking questions, first state the question, pause, and then name the student (e.g., What are two factors of 48...[pause]...Gia?). This ensures all students hear the question and have time to prepare a response. A teacher can also write questions that will be asked on the board beforehand to reduce anxiety and accommodate students who need visual supports.
Selecting Students
Avoid repeatedly calling on a specific student or section of the classroom. Some teachers find it helpful to use a printed seating chart or class list to mark off the students who have been called on and to ensure participation is distributed equitably. These tracking sheets can even be shared with students to emphasize the expectation of full class participation. Equity Sticks or an [[|online name spinner]] to can also be used to randomly select students.
Scaffolding Questions
Start with simple questions first before moving on to more challenging ones. This often involves breaking apart a larger question into a series of small ones. For example, instead of asking “What properties do all alkali metals have in common?” a teacher might start with, “Name some alkali metals.” A set of scaffolded questions can be asked to a single student or spread among several students.
Be Positive
Encourage students to give their best guess if they are not certain of an answer when called on. It is also appropriate to provide prompts and clues to support a student when responding. When first introducing Cold Call remind students that when they are called on it is their chance to “show what they know” or “shine.” Avoid using Cold Call as a disciplinary technique or to “catch” students who appear off-task or unfocused.
Regular Use
Use Cold Call consistently. Frequently call on students who do not have their hands raised throughout the day in all content areas. This will help normalize the routine and reduce stress as students will begin to expect and prepare for cold calling.


Partner Review
At the beginning of a lesson a teacher uses Cold Call to activate background knowledge and to prepare students for the day’s lesson. The teacher starts by asking, “What were some of the challenges that colonists faced when arriving to the New World?” The teacher directs students to discuss the question with a partner while highlighting or adding ideas to their notes from the previous day. After a few minutes, the teacher uses cold calling to select several students to share an idea that came up during their partner discussion.
Growing Students' Ideas
After reading a short story with the class, a teacher randomly calls on a student to share about the main character’s motives. After the student’s response, the teacher restates the idea and poses another question, “Yoko says that the main character was motivated by jealousy. What evidence from the text supports this idea, Bryce?” After the second student’s response the teacher continues cold calling to encourage students to build on each other’s ideas.
Prompting Students While Using Cold Call
Teacher: What’s an example of an animal adaptation, Matt?
Matt: I don’t know.
Teacher: Take a look at the images on the screen, what do you see?
Matt: There are ducks by a lake.
Teacher: Good, observation! Can you remind Matt of what an adaptation is, Eric?
Eric: It’s a way an animal has changed to live better in its environment.
Teacher: That’s exactly right! So, back to the ducks, do you notice an adaptation or something that helps them survive in their environment, Matt?
Matt: They have webbed feet to help them swim.
Teacher: Yes, that’s an example of an animal adaptation!

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