The following is one of fifty engagement tasks in Aaron's newest book Worksheets Don't Work. Each image is hyperlinked to a Google Slide that can be copied and edited as needed. The last section has been added to modify this task for virtual learning. To have upcoming blog posts in this series sent directly to your inbox, add your email address here.
When questions are asked of students, typically the teacher is searching for one correct answer. While some students can answer completely and correctly, others have fragmentary knowledge and only partial solutions. One of the tragedies of discouraging student discussion is that often those with disconnected knowledge can piece together the answer if they only had the ability to talk things out. By placing students in groups and encouraging, rather than tamping down, discourse amongst peers, more students are given the keys to accessing content and improving their skills.
Using a class dynamic such as everybody knows, students can work together with their peers to work on and answer a series of questions. The twist to this technique is the collaboration that comes before seeking an answer from students. Students share their knowledge, build their best answer collectively, and make sure that everyone can answer it effectively. To keep groups honest, the teacher will then randomly pick a student and group to share the answer. More than simply receiving an answer, the teacher should probe the student to ensure that a fully-realized solution has been found and understood.
Why It Works
Students have the strongest likelihood of remembering what they teach others. For teachers to move instruction up the ladder of remembrance from direct instruction to doing or teaching a content or skill, they need to cultivate situations that allow this to happen. A common fear among educators, though, is that asking students to teach others will create errors and misconceptions. Without the ability to control the flow of knowledge directly, they fear that disinformation will flourish.
Using a structure such as everybody knows, however, can mitigate this potential deficiency. Students are given the opportunity to work in groups, sharing their knowledge and contributing their ideas into a collective pool of information. While teaching others, they are continually receiving feedback from their peers, both to confirm and disrupt their current understanding of the question. Collecting immediate responses to their own perceptions of how to answer a question allows students to fine tune their own ideas.
Yet this isn’t simply group work. The best part of this strategy is the teaching piece. Though the group might have collectively collaborated on a satisfactory response, they do not know which of them will be called upon to provide it. Rather than simply agreeing with whatever the smartest group member says, it is incumbent on each member to fully understand both the answer and its explanation. This shifts the focus of the group from consensus to deep comprehension, prompting the stronger students to provide explanations to those that might struggle. This ends up helping both parties, as the former further cement their understanding through teaching and the latter receives additional information from a peer on a topic already taught by the teacher.
When bringing a strategy like everybody knows to life, look over the following thoughts to ensure clarity.
1. Create groups of students. Each group needs to have its own designation and members within each group need to be numbered. In the ideal situation, the classroom would be divided into equal groups of three, four, or five. Rarely, however, are there such easy grouping options available to teachers. If one group is short a member, the teacher can assign one member two different numbers. If there’s a group with one too many members, two students can share a number. If the teacher knows ahead of time that this will be the case, struggling students can be strategically placed into the larger group and given a number to share with a stronger student for support.
2. Curate a list of prompts or questions for groups to respond to. If the questions contain multiple steps or demand some type of pictorial representation, be sure to include materials to write or draw on. One option would be to give each group a dry erase board and marker to share. As they work out the problem together, they collaborate on a solution and have one representation to share.
3. Consider how long it will take for students to reasonably solve each problem and then factor in time for partner teaching. With one of the primary benefits of this strategy being the peer tutoring that is bound to occur, teachers should plan for enough time to let this happen.
4. Devise a randomized system for calling on groups and numbers within each group. A simple solution would be to write each group name on a craft stick and each number on a craft stick. These sticks can be placed in two separate cups and pulled to generate a combination that identifies which student will answer the question.
5. To keep all students on their toes, replace each craft stick after it’s been pulled. If craft sticks are instead kept out of the cups, students will begin to relax, thinking that after they answer once they won’t have to do so again. Though this creates the small possibility that a student might answer more than once, it helps to keep everyone honest.
Mr. Archer just finished teaching fact and opinion to his 2nd grade students. Though a few of them had heard of them before, for many students classifying statements as either a fact or an opinion was a new construct. To review the concept, he wanted to devise a quick and easy game to engage students. More than just finding the right or wrong answer, he wanted his students to have conversations around their choices. Some children had a firm grasp on the differences between the two and he hoped that their expertise would help their groups as they not only identified statements as one or the other but also found evidence to support their choice.
“Today students you’re going to work in teams to review what we’ve been learning about fact and opinion. As you can see on the board, I’ve created a simple tally chart. We’re going to keep score and the first team to 10 points wins. The winning team will get first pick of the playground equipment during recess today,” Mr. Archer said. He had to stop for a moment as he waited for his students to quiet back down. His class was very competitive and he knew that this would quickly get their attention.
“This is how we are going to play. I’ll put a sentence on the screen and give you one minute to discuss it with your table. Your job will be to work together and decide on two things. First, is the statement a fact or an opinion? Second, how do you know? What word or words give you a clue that the statement is either a fact or an opinion? Remember our discussion about key words. If you get stuck, you can use the anchor chart on the back wall. Each team has a whiteboard and a marker in the middle. The table captain for the day will write either fact or opinion on the whiteboard. Make sure to turn it over so no other table can see your answer.
“This is where it gets interesting, though. I’m going to use our random craft sticks to pick a group name and number for each statement. You each know your group name and your seat number. If I call your group name and seat number, you must show the class your answer. If you get the answer right, your team gets one point. If within ten seconds you can also explain why you chose your answer, such as the key words or phrases that let you know whether it is a fact or an opinion, you get an extra point for your team. No one else at your table can help you during these ten seconds.
“Finally, we’ll let every group show the answer they wrote on their whiteboards. Teams with the correct answer get one point each. After every pull of the craft sticks I’ll put them both back in the cups. Your table might get called on twice or not at all. Everyone must be ready to answer every time. Does anyone have any questions?” Mr. Archer finished.
A young boy, the self-elected class know-it-all, raised his hand. Mr. Archer nodded to him and he asked, “But what if a person from our group gets picked and they don’t know the key words for the extra point? That’s not fair that we might lose the point if other people in the group don’t know the answer.”
Mr. Archer smiled and nodded. “I thought you might be worried about that, Jonathan. That’s why you have 60 seconds as a group before I even ask for the answer. Your job as a group is to not only to decide on the answer but teach each other why that answer is correct. Make sure you explain why sentences are facts or opinions so that everyone understands. Can you all do that?” he asked the class. As they nodded their heads, he walked over to his computer. “Okay, here’s your first sentence. You have one minute, starting now!”
Students can still use a structure like everybody knows even if they are not fully independent with the content or skill. To provide additional support for young or struggling learners, students can be given a token to use once per game or event. If a student answering a question needs some help, a shame-free way to provide this would to be allow students one free lifeline for assistance. They can choose to ask the teacher for a hint or their group member for the answer. Though every student would have a token, most would not cash it in. They either wouldn’t need it or simply wouldn’t be called on. If for some reason a student is called twice and uses the token during the first answer attempt, the second answer would have no support. For these students, even if they get the second answer wrong, they most likely got the first one correct with support.
The key component of everybody knows is the peer discussion and teaching. With that intact, all other variations are welcome to keep the activity fresh for students. Instead of simply calling on one member within a group, the teacher can call a single number, such as four, and every student with that number would need to stand and give their group’s answer. From among those students, the teacher can then pull a group name and ask that particular student for evidence or justification. This gets more students up and answering while still randomly probing deeper and necessitating strong teaching within the group discussion time.
Along the same lines, groups can work on something fairly open-ended, like representing numbers or quantities through multiple methods. Given a short time period, groups collaborate to create as many representations they can think of. A number is then called and each team sends up that person to the board with their group’s work. Randomly calling groups, each associated student shares a different answer from their group’s work. Once all available answers are shared, the points are totaled and play begins again.
Modifying This For Virtual Learning
Many collaborative tools open up to students when moving this worksheet alternative online. A popular option for teachers is to have students work together to type something in a Google Doc. While this helps accountability, it sometimes leaves personal accountability a little short. One easy trick to rectify this is to have all students who work collaboratively type in a different color font. This makes it clear who worked on what and who wasn't contributing.
Remember, however, that the purpose is that all students know the answer in the end, not that they necessarily all contribute equally. If using a licensed Zoom account, Everybody Knows can be easily accessed by using the breakout rooms feature. Manually sort students into breakout rooms and don't reassign them. Zoom remembers your most recent breakout room configuration so that you can jump in and out of them easily without having to reset them. Students can be given a question, go to their breakout rooms for 1 minute, and then rejoin the whole group to go over the answer.