Student Engagement: Choral Response in Middle School

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Using choral response is one of the easiest ways to improve your student engagement.  However, getting your middle school students to participate in it can be a challenge without the right routines and procedures. So, let’s chat about that.

What is a choral response?

Choral response is when you ask your students to repeat something you just said or to provide you with an answer at the same time, in unison.

Why is choral response useful for student engagement?

Choral response is useful for student engagement for many reasons. First, it is hard to fall asleep in class when you are constantly being required to repeat answers out loud. Hey, I’m just keeping it real here. My students often stay up late into the night playing video games, watching movies, or chatting with their friends. Consequently, during the day, if the classroom is too quiet and cozy, they put their heads down and take a little nap. Even my pastor uses this technique during his sermons. 😊

Second, it helps them learn to pronounce those all important academic vocabulary terms, like constant of proportionality, supplementary, or distributive property. I have many students whose second language is English and using choral response helps them to solidify their pronunciation of the words and even their meanings. 

Another reason, choral response is a useful student engagement technique is because it requires students to use a different sense or modality. If I display the vocabulary word, they are seeing it and then when I require them to say it they are hearing the word. Many of my students are auditory learners.  Plus, they aren’t just hearing me say it. When they say it, they are internalizing it.

Finally, choral response is one of the easiest student engagement techniques to implement. It doesn’t take a lot of prep on my part. I just have to remember to do it frequently throughout the period.

How does choral response work?

When I am introducing a concept or reviewing what they learned in sixth grade, such as order of operations, I may ask students to repeat the steps out loud. For instance, if you use PEMDAS as a way to teach order of operations, you may ask, “Class, what does the P stand for?” They would all reply in unison, “Parentheses.” After we talk about parentheses for a while I might say, “Everyone, what does the E stand for?” and they would all reply at the same time, “Exponents.”

Throughout the period, as we are working through problems, I might ask, after the appropriate amount of think time, “Class, what should we do next in this problem?” They would respond to the question in unison. Hopefully, they all say the same answer, but if I hear multiple answers I can stop and assess or reteach.  I might say, “Okay, I heard ‘add” and I heard ‘subtract.’ Someone who said ‘add,’ can you raise your hand and tell me why you said that?”

How do you get students to do choral response?

Just like anything else in class, it comes down to routines and procedures, as well as, buy in. At the beginning of the year, I spend time explaining to students why I have them do choral responses.  I get them to buy into it as a way to improve their memory of math terms and algorithms.  

I explain my expectations to them and I also practice the procedure with them. If I have a lackluster response, they know I am going to make them repeat it. “Class, what’s the word?” They also know that if I  notice they aren’t participating, I may call on them individually to repeat the word. They know they can’t opt out. 

It sounds simple. You just have to “notice” who isn’t participating and call them on it, right? But many teachers have trouble noticing who isn’t responding so they just keep rolling through their lesson plan. They never address the fact that only a handful of students are responding. I have a technique I call “pause and scan” that I use. Here is a blog post all about it.

I am also very clear when I am expecting a single student response or a whole class response. In the examples I provided above, I was very clear at the beginning of the question to say, “Class,” or “Everyone.”

One of the mistakes I have seen other teachers make when using this strategy is to ask a question that requires too long of a response. The answer you want students to provide should only be between 1-3 words. Also, some teachers ask ambiguous questions and the class just winds up staring at them. The students have no idea what answer is expected. It shouldn’t be a guessing game. The answer you want should be obvious.

If you have never used choral response as a way to increase student engagement, I encourage you to try it. My students always say that the period goes by so fast, and that’s because they are actively engaged. If you have tried choral response before, leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts.

Until next time. Thank you for being a teacher. 🌸

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