Cold Calling

Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Questioning.

What is it and how does it work?

Cold Call is essentially framing an effective question and then selecting a student to respond regardless of whether they have indicated an urge to do so or not (i.e. with the raised hand). Cold Calling allows you to choose who answers, keeps the class involved, and provides better information and feedback to you as a teacher to inform next steps.

Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach Like a Champion 2.0’ has 62 Teaching and Learning techniques described within it, yet he admits that of all the teachers he has worked with and supported, Cold Calling is the one technique they believe has the greatest and quickest capacity to shift the culture in their classrooms. He also suggests that this technique can be practised by including as part of lesson planning, by signposting two or three occasions within a lesson that it would fit well and drafting the questions in your teacher planner in advance.

‘Teaching Walkthrus’ notes it as being a technique that addresses the two key purposes of questioning:

  • Making all students think.
  • Collecting inference based feedback on how the learning is going.

Cold Call as an approach

The following steps outline how to use Cold Call in the classroom effectively:

  1. Ask the question to the whole class: Cold Call works best when the question is posed to all. To make this clear you might want to name the approach as a cue “OK everybody, we are going to Cold Call this next question…”, “No hands up for this one I will Cold Call for an answer”. It is similar to any other techniques discussed like Call and Response where you need the class to be clear of what is happening if you want them to behave appropriately for it.
  2. Allow for thinking time: As discussed in the Wait Time section page, give time for the class to think (see that page for further advice if Wait Time is something you want to develop).
  3. Select someone to respond: There are many ways you can decide who to answer, knowledge of your class is key. It could be anyone (which is the point), including someone who has already answered recently (otherwise they think its ‘one and done!’). Diffusing questions can help encourage a response and personalise the interaction such as “Jamie, what were you thinking?”. Very importantly don’t over-stress the need for perfection at this stage, we need the classroom to become a safe space for errors and contribution, where misconceptions are par for the course.
  4. Provide your response and probe: If a good answer is given, provide an affirmation, and follow it up with a probing question or about process. For example, “Really good, well done…how did you reach that answer?” or “can you add another example for us?”. For advice on probing questions and depth see the section page on Socratic Questioning. If the answer is not quite right then still acknowledge their effort before then providing another prompt or rephrasing things to help (there are some useful ways to tweak questions on the Call and Response page in the ‘I Don’t Know’ section and also Breaking It Down has been written to support this approach).
  5. Select another student to answer and respond to them again: Basically repeat steps 3 and 4 with another student after the first exchange. They can respond to the exact same question, or you can ask them for a slight extension or modification. Use this step to bring in a combination of the enthusiastic students and those who are usually less confident and opt out. use your body language to show you are actively scanning the room so that all need to be alert. How long should this last? This step is about feedback for you as a teacher as well as making sure the class get to hear good learning content, stop when you feel you can decide whether to proceed or re-teach due to lots of issues.

The ‘Teach Like A Champion 2.0’ book has some useful companion video clips of teachers in action using this approach (login/account required). If you would like to discuss this please speak with Ashley Loynton (MACS Office 129

Cold Call as a technique is very similar to the Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce (PPPB) approach to questioning which is also a common and familiar technique across schools. The same principles are employed; pose or ask a question, pause or wait for thinking time, pounce or select someone to respond, bounce to another/select someone else to respond in the room. A handy one page guide for PPPB is available here from the Chartered College of Teaching.

The philosophies and value behind ‘no hands up’ approaches like Cold Calling and PPPB (any approach that encourages all to respond or be prepared to respond) are explained by Professor Dylan Wiliam in the insightful video, below:

Associated further reading and references:

  • Sherrington, T., and Caviglioli, O., 2020. TEACHING WALKTHRUS. [S.l.]: JOHN CATT EDUCATIONAL LTD.
  • Lemov, D., 2015. Teach Like A Champion 2.0. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Chartered College of Teaching: Pose Pause Pounce Bounce – Questioning Techniques

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