Teaching Tip Tuesday: Reverse the Roles!

“The greatest enemy to student learning is the talking teacher.” (John Holt)

We all know that we need to decrease “teacher talk” and increase “student talk” time.  Teachers at MSB are working harder than their students, and we hear teachers talking throughout most of the lesson while most students passively listen. All research shows that we learn by doing, by processing the information and making our own sense out of it.  We may ask ourselves how we can change our daily practice to include more active learning. Active strategies are easier to apply when students are applying what they learn or when they are reviewing content.  But teachers need to increase student talk time ALL the time. As a teacher, this seems difficult when we are presenting new information and material to our students.  How can you reverse the roles in your classroom and encourage students to do all the talking?  Let go of your control, and let the students discover what you want them to learn. Listed below are 10 ideas for using active presenting strategies.

  1. Teaching by Asking: Rather than “teaching by telling,” start the topic by asking students a question which leads to what you want to teach. Students can work in groups or pairs to answer questions. Then have them share out and record their answers on the board. Encourage class discussion based on their responses or have students find textual support for their answers.
  2. Rounds: In a small group, each student has a minute to explain what they know about a topic and express their point of view while others listen. They can explain to each other how they did something (like solve a problem) or they can explain what they learned or know about a topic.
  3. Learning Teams: Students are given handouts, textbooks, or resources. They are asked to use the texts to answer questions prepared by the teacher. The questions should be thought-provoking and high level DOK.  The answers to the questions should not be simply stated in one place in the text, but they must read and understand and reformulate the text the answer the question. Students could be given multiple resources, and different groups or students could teach to the rest of the class what they learned. Give students roles within the group, so everyone is actively participating.
  4. Key Points: Students are given an unfamiliar text or section from their textbook. Students are asked to read the text alone for a few minutes with an eye on the next task. With a group, students must identify five key points made by the text. Then each group gives one key point (that has not already been mentioned by another group) with a full explanation and justification.
  5. Interrogating the text: Students are given an unfamiliar text or section from their textbook. With a group, students will formulate important questions that the text should be able to answer. Then they will read the text and highlight key points. Then they will provide the answers to their original questions and share with the class.
  6. Transformation: Students are given text in one format and are asked to present it in another. For example, they could turn text into a skit, a newspaper report, a brochure, a timeline…
  7. Peer explaining: Students in pairs are given two related texts about topics that have not been explained to them. They each study alone for five minutes. Then each student will explain their topic to the other until they understand. Then they will state what is the same and different about their topics, or they can answer a question that requires them to work together using information from both of their texts.
  8. Flowcharts/diagrams/drawings: Students are given a text on an unfamiliar topic. They are asked to study the text in pairs and then produce a visual that summarizes the key processes described in the text.
  9. Summarizing: Students must summarize key points in the text or information, expressing them as briefly and clearly as possible.
  10. Student Presentation: While learning about one main topic, each group will prepare a presentation on a subtopic to the class. Don’t tell the groups about what their subtopic is until after they have studied the topic as a whole.

All of the activities above are best done in pairs, or small groups, but could be adapted for individuals.  It will help to give students specific roles and expectations to maximize participation. These roles could be teacher, reader, checker, scribe, questioner, vocabulary chief, or leader. You could create role cards, so students know about the specifics for their jobs.  Another useful tip for reversing the roles in your classroom is to carefully design the task to scaffold learning and support the students to successfully meet your expectations. Check/review prior learning, organize all materials carefully before class, and frequently check students’ progress and understanding.

Update: A music teacher in my school shared how she reversed the roles. This is what she had to say:

We’re using No. 5 today. Peer Explaining. There is a website,www.musictheory.netthat uses note recognition on a timer.This is our Do Now activity on most days. Students working together, one who’s more advanced with one who’s not helped the  other one understand a lot more of how  they improve their score each time. A progress report is shown. Next, I allowed them to use their Piano lesson book to play for each other, and give tips on how they were able to play at better levels of advancement  They were able to ask each other questions as well. The period was great and the students got a lot out of it.


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