Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

02.15.23“Polling” As a Prelude to Cold Call

How Many Of You Think This Might Make Your Cold Calling More Natural??


Been thinking a lot lately about how much what a teacher does before a Cold Call shapes its success.

Watch for example how in this clip BreOnna Tindall has her students write a response to a key question, then Turn and Talk to discuss their thoughts. When she Cold Calls the first student to share–he’s a bit of a reluctant sharer usually–he’s prepared and ready. If you want students to be successful with Cold Call, especially when you are first using it, let them write first or discuss first via a Turn and Talk. Or both.


Or watch, here, how Denarius Frazier gives his students about 7 seconds of Wait Time to prepare and study the diagram before he begins asking them about it.

Lately though, I’ve been thinking about another step teachers can take before a Cold Call. Let’s say give your students 30 seconds to think about this question–“What are some reasons why Jonas is feeling anxious? Try to think of more than one.” Then you give students time to think, or write or Turn and Talk.

You next step might be to say: “Ok, how many of you were able to come up with more than one reason? Just show me with your hands.” Maybe three quarters of your students make some sort of gesture to indicate they have thought about the question and came up with an answer.  Their signal to you affirms that they have thoughts they can share, that they are prepared. A simple nod and “Great, Kevin tell us one reason you came up with…” starts the conversation. It’s a Cold Call but it feels natural and easy.

You can see Brittany Moore do a version of that here. After one student responds to her question she asks the class, “What do you think?” They make a gesture to show they agree, disagree or want to build on their classmate’s idea and this signal, which again affirms they they are prepared and have something to say, facilitates an easy, positive, natural Cold Call.


This idea–of asking students or participants to make a gesture affirming that they have thought about a question and have an answer, could be used in a variety of ways and settings…

For example:

“Take ten seconds to try to think of at least two times when there is a phase change in the water cycle.” [Pause for Turn and Talk or just wait time] “Ok Great. How many people thought of at least one? Ok. Good Work. Larissa, let’s hear yours…”


“How many agree that Sarah is being brave in this scene? Oh, interesting, Cherise, tell us why.”

Let’s call this idea “polling”–asking participants to signal back to you whether they agree or have answers or have noticed something. As a prelude to Cold Calling, polling can make the process more natural and the environment much more interactive.


Another place this could be useful is in settings where participants tend not to raise their hands and therefore it’s either Cold Call all session long or answer the questions yourself. This is often the case of settings with adult learners.

So, for teachers in PD after a video: “Great how many people saw something they could use or adapt from the video?  Great. Get us started please, Carlos….

Film sessions among professional athletes are this way for example. The athletes studying film rarely raise their hands and the awkwardness of Cold Calling without hands often wears on coaches.  Asking for a signal–“How many people saw something we could improve in in our defensive shape?” more or less makes a proxy for hand raising and makes it easy for me to call on a wide range of participants naturally and easily even when they don’t offer to share.


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