Providing Multiple Opportunities to Respond

Sophocles once said, “One must learn by doing the thing; for though you think you know it, you have no certainty, until you try.” His words represent a common sense idea that we in the education field know well – practice leads to mastery. Put another way, learning is not a spectator sport.

In our MTSS training we are reminded that effective teaching must pass “the dead man’s test”. In other words, if a “dead man” could get through the class period just fine the way you are teaching the material, you aren’t engaging your learners enough! 

Practicing PCM #16, which is all about giving students a variety of Opportunities to Respond to your instruction, will help keep them engaged, and solidify their learning, and get them closer to the level of mastery that we all want for them.

The value of providing OTR

It is well known that research has established a positive connection between effective instruction and high levels of student engagement and as a result, higher student achievement. When engagement is high, fewer minutes are spent reprimanding, correcting, and redirecting. Plus, a proactive approach will lead to positive relationships among the classroom community!

Increasing your students’ opportunities to respond to your instruction (before assessment time) has these benefits:

  • The more time students are involved, the more is learned
  • Increased rates of responding (and subsequent improved learning) tends to increase the amount that can be covered
  • On-task behavior and correct response increase, while disruptions decrease
  • Reduces the traditional reliance on student volunteer responses
  • Increases randomness of responders to keep students actively engaged
  • Provides continual feedback for the teach on student learning and the effectiveness of teaching strategies

So what is OTR and how do we do it?

When we say Opportunities to Respond, we are really meaning increasing the opportunities for students to be engaged in active participation in their own learning. Students may respond with gestures, actions, or verbally and may do so either individually or chorally as a class, depending on the situation. Ideally, this should help the teacher gain formative information from the students during the instruction, before the assessment, and not take time away from the flow of the class.

There are 3 main parts to the OTR strategy:

THE PROMPT:  Teacher Provides – Prompts and Wait Time
THE RESPONSE: Student Responds – Read, Write, Verbal/Non-Verbal Answer (Use wait time)
THE FEEDBACK: Teacher Provides – Specific, positive feedback to student(s)

There are many types of responding that you can elicit from your students (and lots of examples below so keep reading)! 

Oral Responding

  • Choral response
  • Think-pair-share
  • Partner response
Unison Responding
  • Choral response
  • White-boards
  • Response cards
Team Responding
  • Numbered heads together
  • Jigsaw
Written Responding
  • Response cards
  • White boards
  • Think-jot-share
  • Pair and write
Action Responding
  • Touching/pointing
  • Gestures
  • Acting out
  • Hand signals
  • Facial expressions

Active participation…

  • Occurs each time students make a detectable (not “in their head”) response to ongoing instruction
  • Is directly related to the curriculum or discussion
  • Can be measured, tallied, or counted
  • Is not the same as general “on task” behavior

Key components of OTR

  • Always strive for all students to participate (i.e. many responses, many responders)
  • Starts with an instructional question, statement, or gesture made by the teacher
  • Use clear, consistent prompts to elicit the response you are looking for
  • Use wait time of 3-5 seconds before requesting response, to increase participation
  • Choose OTR strategies that best fit your teaching style, content, and classroom culture

When do we use OTR?

  • Activating prior knowledge (helps give teacher formative data on students’ initial background)
  • When presenting the learning objective (making it clear; making sure the students are clear)
  • To check for understanding during direct instruction, guided practice, or independent practice
  • At the end of a lesson to give more data about understanding the content

Guidelines for response rates*

  • Teacher talk should be no more than 40-50% of instructional time
  • New material – a minimum of 4-6 responses from students per minute with 80% accuracy
  • Review of previously learned material – 8-12 responses per minute with 90% accuracy
  • Peer coaching or video-taping can help to develop awareness 

*Council for Exceptional Children, 1987; Reinke, Herman & Stormont, 2013

25 OTR Examples:

Individual Questioning – calling on students unpredictably heightens student attention

  • Ask the question first, then pause before calling on a student to respond
  • Use seating chart, tallying to monitor rate of questions presented to each
  • Student names on strips of paper, drawn as questions asked
  • Use one of the strategies mentioned above, and call on a student to repeat or summarize what the student just said

Choral Responding – all students in class respond in unison to a teacher question (VIDEO)

  • Suitable for review or rote rehearsal
  • To teach new skills
  • As a drill
  • As a focusing tool
  • To rehearse academic language
  • As a lesson summary

Quartet Quiz (VIDEO)

  • Teacher poses question
  • Students write/prepare response
  • Students meet in quads and check answers
  • Summarizer reports “we know.. we wonder.. “
  • Teacher records/clarifies/gives next steps

Whip Around  used to do a quick survey of students’ knowledge or generate new ideas

  • Teacher poses open-ended question
  • Students write response individually
  • Students read written responses rapidly, in specified order (encouraged to not repeat)
  • Teacher hears all responses, takes notes (either mentally, or written)
  • Develop closure/summary/clarification

Cold Calling (VIDEO: 6th grade student interviews about the strategy used with them)

Numbered Heads Together (VIDEO)

  • Students in quads, assigned a number
  • Teacher poses question
  • Group discusses/agrees on answer
  • Random/specific numbered students get called on to report

Body Movement (VIDEO: 7th graders demonstrating Total Physical Response Vocabulary)

Total Physical Response: Middle School

Total Physical Response Teaching Strategy: High School AP Literature Class

Whole Brain Teaching: 7th Grade Science 

Stoplight (exit pass and formative information for teacher) (VIDEO)

Chalk Talk (VIDEO)

Think-Pair-Share (VIDEO: 7th grade math example with simplifying expressions)

Take a Stand (VIDEO)

Playing Cards (VIDEO: 7th grade math)

Guided Notes – teacher prepared handouts leading students through a presentation or lecture with visual cues or prepared blank spaces to fill in key facts or concepts

  • Increases attention and engagement (especially helpful for struggling learners)
  • Provides a standard set of notes with the information you want on them
  • Helps with outlining skills (can wean them over time)
  • Can differentiate based on who no longer needs the guided notes (more open ended)
  • Consider inserting concept maps or a chart, diagram, or graph to help with understanding
  • Provide students with formatting clues such as blank lines, numbers, bullets, etc.
  • Guided notes maker tool:

Response Cards pre-printed cards, signs or items that have choice words on each side held up simultaneously (VIDEO)

  • Yes/No, True/False, Odd/Even, Agree/Disagree
  • Set of few choices (e.g., noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, letters, numbers, story elements)
  • Maintain lively pace with short time between questions
  • Give clear cues
  • OK to look at classmates’ cards
  • Specific, positive feedback for correct answers and use of cards
  • Teach, model and practice the routine

Response Cards vs. Traditional Hand Raising

If response cards were used instead of hand raising for just 30 minutes per day, each student would make more than 3,700 additional academic responses during the school year!

Time Used Response Card Hand Raising
30 Minutes22 Responses/child1.5 Responses/child
180 days3700 Responses/child270 Responses/child

USE TECHNOLOGY Highly motivating; students may respond anonymously (need to teach the procedures!)


    • During class discussion, the teacher displays or asks a question
    • All students key in their answer using a hand-held keypad or other web-based device
    • Responses are received and displayed on the teacher’s computer monitor and on an overhead projector screen

Game-Based Learning, Quizzes or Poll-Taking


White Boards | Non-Verbal Signaling | Popsicle Sticks | Fist of Five | Thumbs Up | Think-Turn-Talk | Jigsaw | Right/left Shoulder Partner | Stand Up/Sit Down if…

Can you find the many ways this teacher gives her students OTR?

Shortly after science class started, the teacher announced, “We have a small block of ice and the same sized block of butter. Tell your neighbor which one would melt first.” A few seconds later the teacher said, “Please write down in one sentence an explanation for your answer.” A few minutes later, the teacher told students to share with their neighbor what they had written. Shortly thereafter, the teacher called on one student to tell the class her answer. The teacher then asked to the class to raise their hand if they agreed with the answer. Then the teacher asked students to give a thumb down if anyone disagreed.

Some final thoughts on OTR

If you are like every teacher on the planet, you really just want to help your students make sense of the content, and understand fully what you are teaching them. After all, it’s no fun spending your semester wondering in frustration why it is that they didn’t “get it” after you “just taught it”.

While giving kids more opportunities to be active learners, it’s important to remember that not all OTRs are created equal (and that there are many others you can try that are beyond the scope of this article). As mentioned, you may not have success with some of them, and yet, with others you’ll knock it out of the park!

As you continue to strive for more engagement, the goal is that your students will be more excited about learning for learning’s sake, and not worry solely if “this is on the test”. With increased opportunities to respond, you’ll be helping your students see that learning is a process that is important, challenging, engaging, and even fun!

What are some ways you might increase your OTR rate in the classroom this year?

Good luck! 


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