I have briefly written about how a foundation of my class is Harkness discussion. Recently, thanks to a collaborative effort with my friend and colleague Quentin Donnellan, I have been tweaking my methods. One tweak that I have especially loved is that I now have only half the class discuss at a time.
In order to provide accountability for actually reading the assignment, the students cannot know ahead of time who will have to discuss that day. Every time, I must select the names to discuss at random. This means that a student might have to discuss two days in a row or might not have to discuss two days in a row. The key here is that there must always be a chance that any student will be chosen on any given day.
Sort of like The Hunger Games.
I have done this in various ways. I have written each student’s name on a note card and picked. I have taken even or odd numbered names. I have considered many times running to the craft store to pick up a bag of popsicle sticks, but that hasn’t happened yet.
But one of the most efficient ways to create a random list of names is through the website Random.org.
Step One: Go to the Website (Hey, we’re warming up here).
Step Two: Scroll down to the section titled “List and Strings and Maps, Oh My!”
Step Three: Choose “List Randomizer”
Step Four: Enter the List of Names in the Box.
I will randomize a carefully chosen set of fruit names (This classroom tip brought to you by Michael Pollan: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”).
Step Five: Hit “Randomize” and View Your Random List
You can also randomize as many times as you like. To create more drama in the classroom (always fun), before I randomize I might ask a student to choose a number of times to randomize.
Step Six: Decide on a Portion of the List
This is also fun. I don’t always just take the first half of the list. Sometimes I take the bottom. Sometimes I take only the odd numbers. Sometimes I let the students decide beforehand which portion of the list to take (more drama).
Don’t forget: this works best if you make it as dramatic as possible. I kind of like to draw it out to see their reactions as they wonder who will be chosen.
“May the odds be ever in your favor.”