Teacher’s Guide to Polling in the Classrooms

After you’ve introduced your class to the concept of derivatives, how can you be sure your students understood the topic? How can you increase student-to-student interaction? So many teachers feel like they only get feedback from the most outgoing students. They wonder what the quieter students are thinking and how much of the lesson the class really understands.

Great educators know that teaching is not a one-way street. Getting students involved and engaged is key to helping lessons stick. Technology that builds engagement can help students learn better.

Image from Flickr via Matt Brown

Image from Flickr by Matt Brown

Why Use Surveys and Polls?

When teachers want to get feedback from the class, it’s easy to just ask for a show of hands. But the response might not be so clear. Answers may not necessarily be in the form of a yes or no. Students may cave to peer pressure and vote with the majority, regardless of how they really feel.

Teachers can also ask students to give verbal answers, but this can get hairy too. Students have to wait and take turns to speak, which means not everyone may get a chance. Some students who are more vocal may speak first, so others are less likely to voice an opposing opinion. Students who have questions, or those who are confused, may be hesitant to admit this in front of their classmates.

Surveys and polls give teachers tools to use to elicit student opinions. Newer technology, such as audio response systems (clickers) and web-based software linked to mobile devices, offers teachers a way to get an answer from every student.

Benefits of Using Polls and Surveys

Polls and surveys provide several advantages in a classroom.

  • They give immediate feedback. Teachers can break up a lesson with a survey or poll and gauge the students’ understanding of the information that’s just been presented. If students indicate the lesson is unclear, the teacher can go back through it, instead of forging ahead with the lesson while the class remains confused.
  • They provide a break for students to assess their learning. Research has shown that students absorb new information into chunks, with 20 minutes being the limit for that information to go from short-term to long-term memory. Polling students near that 20-minute mark gives them a chance to analyze what they’ve learned, making the lesson more effective and lasting.
  • Polls can improve attendance. A report showed that when teachers used polls as a daily part of class, with clicker points as 10% of the course grade, student attendance increased.
  • Surveys stimulate conversation in the class. By asking a question with multiple correct answers or only partially correct answers, you’ll spur discussion.

Poll and Survey Options

One of the most popular technologies for surveying and polling is the clicker. One of the leading brands, iClicker, is a small handheld device, about the size of a remote. Each student has his or her own clicker and can press the appropriate button when the teacher shows the prepared question on the board. The teacher can ask questions that are multiple choice, true or false, or yes or no.

Another option is web-based software that allows students to complete polls and surveys by responding through their mobile devices. Popular software includes Socrative, Poll Everywhere, and Survey Anyplace. With these options, teachers can create surveys in advance or on the fly, and students can respond via SMS text.

Ways to Use Surveys and Polls

Educators are using polls and surveys to increase interaction at all levels of teaching, from elementary school to higher education. They’re also using them in a variety of subject areas including economics, physics, math, philosophy, psychology, computer science, and communication.

Here are some ideas for using polling tools in your classroom:

  1. Ask students how long they studied for a test.
  2. Check for understanding after a difficult topic.
  3. Use an initial poll to get discussion started at the beginning of class.
  4. Find out what your class knows about a subject before you cover it.
  5. Make classroom decisions, i.e., which book to read next.
  6. Get anonymous feedback on teacher instruction/strategy.
  7. Review assigned readings.
  8. Take attendance.

In Short

Getting student feedback is essential in helping a teacher know how the class is progressing. Polls and surveys increase the likelihood of getting honest answers and greater participation from the class. And, with technology that simplifies the process, polls and surveys can be an integral part of an educator’s lesson plan.


Editor’s note: This piece was originally written by Jeff Dunn and ran on April 2, 2012. A lot has changed since then, so we’ve had author Pamela DeLoatch update this piece with the latest techniques and innovations.


1 Comment

  1. ask

    April 30, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    I do believe all the ideas you have offered on your post.
    They are very convincing and can certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too
    quick for beginners. Could you please extend them a bit from next time?
    Thanks for the post.