Ready Responses for Class Discussions

By Ruth Manna on September 8, 2010

A teacher recently asked how to include all students in class discussions.

One thing teachers can do to eliminate the deer caught in headlights phenomenon is offer students three ready responses. Responding verbally is preparation for the adult world in which it’s not okay to sit and stare when asked to contribute. Instead, they can say:

  • “Come back to me.” 
  • “I’m thinking.”
  • “I need more time.”

These three simple sentences are ready responses for students. Sentences are printed on laminated 3" x 5" cards and taped to the corner of students’ desks as visual reminders. When a teacher calls on students who don’t know, they give one of these responses.

If a student says, “Come back to me,” the teacher answers, “I’ll come back in a minute or two.” The student listens to other responses, and then his teacher asks him to repeat the correct answer. This is similar to Doug Lemov’s technique, “No Opt Out,” which he explains in his book Teach Like a Champion.

If a student says, “I’m thinking,” or “I need more time,” the teacher increases the think time and then calls on that student again. This way, slow processors have more time to consider a question without feeling pressured to blurt out a response. Again, it’s the teacher’s job to come back to that student.

I hope you'll share your strategies for inclusive class discussions.


Jenna, Check back on Wednesdays. I will have a new post every Wednesday.

Hi Jenna, I'm so glad to hear that you're a teacher! I hope all is going well for you and your third graders. This year I left my Conway classroom and am now Director of Curriculum and Assessment for Mohawk School System. I hope you'll visit this blog again and post comments. Best wishes, Jenna, for a wonderful school year!

Hi Ms. Manna,

I was delighted to come across your blog here on Scholastic! I like your discussion response idea. It doesn't seem like long ago that I was a student in your 5-6 class at Conway :) Now, believe it or not, I'm in my third year of teaching third grade! I'm always looking for new ideas, and hearing what works for other teachers. I hope you're doing well!

Jenna Luce

Sandy, I really like your response choices, especially the idea of "phoning a friend" for help. Hope you have a good week! Ruth

Hi Ruth, My fourth-grade students have four response choices: 1. Please repeat the question. 2. I need time to think. 3. I need to check my notes. 4. I'd like to "phone a friend". I have these responses posted under a heading that reads "Illegal response: I don't know". This helps eliminate the deer in the headlights syndrome while keeping everyone resonsible.

Lisa, Good luck with your third grade this year! The secret of using think time is remembering to circle back and call on the student who says, "Come back to me."

Thanks for sharing, Ruth. I am teaching students in a full inclusion 3rd grade class. Having both general education and ESE students, like any class - I'm sure, the think time can greatly vary. I beleive this will be beneficial to all of my students. Thanks again!

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