TEACHERS! Here’s a Free-RangeWay to Get Students to LISTEN

Hi irnrzhisyk
Folks!  I love this lesson, brought to us by Free-Range teacher Jennifer Tobin of Whitby, ON. (Where I recently gave a talk.) In my ramping-up efforts to get Free-Range projects into the schools, I welcome any more tales from teachers or principals who have used Free-Range in the classroom…or outside it. Thanks! – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I had wanted to do a Free-Range project with my students for a long time and I was inspired by my 8-year-old son.  I am a teacher and I volunteer with Scouts Canada as a Beavers leader.  My son recently moved up to Cubs  but comes to my Beavers meeting to help out as an unofficial Keeo (a third year Cub).  We often have him run simple games with the Beavers (aged 5-7 ) as we finish up crafts or activities with the early finishers, like Octopus or TV Tag.  He was complaining to me one night that sometimes the Beavers don’t listen so we talked about some strategies to encourage people to listen and accept that sometimes people still won’t.  LIGHTBULB MOMENT!  Maybe one of the reasons kids aren’t great listeners is because they don’t have the opportunity to be the speaker and see what it is like to be speaking and people aren’t listening.

I then challenged my fourth graders to pick a game that they would each like to teach the class.  Every day, one student has the role of “teacher” and teaches the class how to play a game or do an activity.  They need to bring the materials required (or make arrangements with me to get them from my supply cupboard) and be prepared to lead the activity.  Afterward, they reflect on how it went and how well they feel people listened to them.  It’s amazing to see how some of my usual “clowns” now listen!  They are loving the opportunity to be in charge, but are also seeing the perspective of the teacher and how frustrating it can be when you are trying to teach something and people keep interrupting.  As an added benefit: The games the kids are teaching are now being played at recess, so there are fewer problems arising since they have a ton of new games to try out!

Lenore here: When I asked Jennifer for the assignment so other teachers could try it, she graciously sent this:

Oral Presentation Assignment:  Teach the Class


               You are going to teach the class something!  You can teach the class a favorite game (a variation of tag, Octopus, a soccer drill, etc.,), a craft (paper airplane, origami), a song,  or anything you can think of that you can get the whole class to do (like how to eat an Oreo cookie)!  You will have 10 minutes to teach the class and must bring all of the supplies needed.  You can do this activity inside or outside.  Please let the teacher know if there is something that you need to borrow from the classroom supplies.  We have 26 students in the class so please keep that in mind when you are planning your activity.  The internet is a good place to search for kids’ games or craft ideas, but you don’t have to use the internet to do this assignment.

Success Criteria:

–        You must be heard by all of your classmates, speaking clearly with the appropriate volume

–        You must include all of the students in the class

–        You must lead or teach the class in your activity

–        You must be a respectful listener when others are teaching

–        You will write a reflection on the experience after your turn, in proper paragraph format and grade appropriate spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalization.


Have fun being the teacher!

Oral Presentation:  Teach the Class


Needs more work Getting There! Got It! WOW!
Speaking Skills:I spoke with a clear voice, at an appropriate volume level.I answered questions that people asked.
Communication:My instructions were easy to understand.My instructions were given in an organized manner.I had all of my materials prepared ahead of time.Everyone was encouraged to participate.
Listening Skills:I was a respectful listener when others were teaching.I asked appropriate questions so I could understand the instructions better.
Written Reflection:I wrote about what I did well, what I could work more on and what I would do differently next time.I wrote in paragraph format.I checked my spelling, grammar, punctuation and capitalization.

Name:  ___________________________________________________________________


Teach the Class Reflection


Write two to three paragraphs about your experience teaching the class your activity.  Tell what you think you did well, what you could have done better and what you think you should do next time.



How do you think this assignment has helped you to become a better listener?


 Lenore here again: I love the idea of kids sharing games, and also the way this assignment helps kids see what it means to be a leader (and a respectful follower). If any teachers start using this, I hope they will drop a line to tell us how it goes! 

But enough about me, class. It's time for YOU to teach!

But enough about me, class. It’s time for YOU to teach!


18 Responses to TEACHERS! Here’s a Free-RangeWay to Get Students to LISTEN

  1. SKL February 12, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    This reminds me of my 10th grade biology class. We had to take turns teaching the class. On one of my turns, I got a “B” because a boy fell asleep. LOL. I think he had had a really late night, because worker bees are fascinating!

  2. Emily February 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    I love it!!! When I was in grade four, we began doing speeches in front of the class, and then the best speeches (between one and three; I forget which) would go on to the school competition, and then the area competition, and so forth, but those weren’t useful “teach the class to do something” presentations; they were just 2-4 minutes about [whatever topic]. Popular options included pets, younger siblings, and various vacation trips. I did my speech about a camping trip I went on with a YMCA day camp group. We also did speeches from grades 5-8 at the elementary school that my brother and I got moved to, because of bullying problems at the previous school. Anyway, a lot of kids didn’t like doing speeches, because they didn’t see the point, and I kind of agree, looking back. If the exercise had been something like “teach the class how to make a hat out of newspaper,” or some other simple task, then I think more students would have gotten more into it, because they would have been able to see a more concrete end result–as in, they’d know if they’d done well, by whether or not people were able to successfully complete the task according to their instructions.

  3. hineata February 12, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    Cool idea. I use this often with my Girl Guides, but haven’t bothered doing it with my classes yet. Usually they make up their own plays and have to direct the other kids in those. This would be a useful alternative for those kids who don’t find making up stuff terribly easy.

  4. Warren February 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    Another nominee for Free Range Teacher of the Year.

  5. Becky February 12, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    wow, what a great idea! 😀

  6. Kurt Kemmerer February 12, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    I’m a bit puzzled by this one. This is a technique used by many teachers for decades. They may have formalized it like this, but I’m not all that fond of making it so formal, anyway.

    Even in my child’s class in kindergarten last year, the kids shared information with the whole class each week. The teacher also made sure the kids answered questions to teach each other, rather than simply listen to her.

    In first grade, the kids take turns teaching other throughout the day, often using a computer projector to show pictures and other examples of what they are discussing.

    Thus, I’m not sure how this is anything new.

  7. hineata February 12, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    @Kurt – it’s not . It’s just a good reminder for teachers. You might be surprised how much stuff comes our way, and how much crap has to be fitted into the ‘curriculum’ and it is nice to have a reminder of something sensible to work on.

    Not sure that I would call it ‘free range’ though. Free range, in my opinion, is something like what happens when the teacher is held up, and the kids get out their own work to carry on with etc. Or, in the case of one particular moron (myself!), snaps tendon, and class gets up and takes itself off (under the tutelage of one or two bossy older kids) to the field, while adults deal with teacher-moron!

    Now if I could only get my kids to run themselves all day my life would be sweet!

  8. MHM February 12, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    This is a great lesson. And have experienced it myself at various stages in my educational career.
    I am happy the subject matter you have them present is something fun. This makes the subject for the kids more interesting and could be something they would know enough to teach. Plus, the great side effect that now every kid has learned a new game to play at recess or after school.

  9. Crystal February 12, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    Great idea! Reminds me of being homeschooled; my mom often had me teach my younger brother some of his lessons. It taught me VERY quickly the importance of making things fun and interesting! 😉

  10. Eliza February 12, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    I’ve been doing this for years. One of the activities my students have taken over is morning roll and ‘news.’ To make it interesting, every few days I change the names around on the roll book the students mark jsut to make sure students are listening (I mark the official one later in the day). Through out the day I will ask random students what information they needed to hear and remember. Because they are 5 and 6 year olds, I give them a sticker if they can tell me something. The students learn the morning routine so well that for the first 1hour, as part of our morning routine is partner reading, I am able to listen to individual students read or do individual testing.

  11. Kenny Felder February 12, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Speaking as a high school teacher, I *always* make a point of putting my students in the “teacher” position. It has a lot of benefits, not the least of which is, you never learn the math as well as you learn it when you have to teach it!

  12. Puzzled February 12, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    This is a fine idea. Too many teachers I know, though, would poo-poo it because “it takes too long and we have too much to teach in the course of the year.” I can understand this response coming from those who do have these kinds of content standards – kind of*. I hear it often, though, from those who don’t – in fact, from those I supervise, and who I tell I don’t care if they ‘get through the material’ – I care if the kids learn to think better.

    My point is – teacher initiatives are fine, but we need large-scale educational reform. It’s a top-down system, and what’s coming from the top is worse than useless.

    * I say kind of because I come from the school of thought where teaching is more than a job – it’s a life and an obligation. I think we owe students more than the time we spend teaching and prepping. If we need to risk our jobs to teach our kids better, I think we need to take those risks.

  13. Emily February 12, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    @Puzzled–I agree with you. In the long run, I think education has become too focused on stuffing children’s brains with various fragments of factual information, and then checking off on a list that you spouted said facts at them from a textbook, and they spouted them back at you in the form of test answers, or poster-board projects that were most likely done by their parents. When teachers get too absorbed with that way of teaching, they miss the bigger lessons, like leadership, self-confidence, and self-directed learning–as in, the student chooses what he or she is going to present/teach to the class (within reason), and makes it happen. Unfortunately, when the teachers miss those bigger lessons, the kids miss them too, and that’s sad, because a teacher may get to teach, say, five different grade three classes over a 20-year career, but each individual student is only going to get one shot at grade three, so I think the teachers owe it to the students to teach them some “life lessons” along with what’s in the syllabus.

  14. Tsu Dho Nimh February 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    I would break out each of the points being graded, and score them separately so it’s clear where the presenter had it and where they didn’t.

  15. Kay February 14, 2013 at 12:29 am #

    Well, I hate to say it, but this looks like another project for the parents to have to conjure up when I wish elementary students could keep their “projects” in the classroom. Elementary students are not responsible enough to come up with this all on their own, it really isn’t just a little assistance and it really is a pain in the neck. All for the sake for them to be “leaders” in the classroom? How is a parent crutch at home teaching them to take the initiative? Keep it in the classroom and I’m fine with whatever they want to try.

  16. Emily February 14, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Yeah, I agree with Kay. The “classroom leadership” project should be a “strictly at school” project, or else parents could co-opt it like they already do with science fair projects. I really didn’t like those, because it always seemed like kids from wealthier families with involved parents had an unfair advantage. My parents could afford the money for project supplies, and the time to help me, but even as a kid, I felt badly for the “poor” kids who got bad grades on their projects, and then got blamed for it, when they simply didn’t have the resources necessary to complete the project to the school’s standards. Also, a lot of teachers put WAY too much emphasis on the appearance of the display, rather than the scientific content of the project. A lot of the projects were just product comparisons, such as “which laundry detergent is more effective?”; but you could get an A for that if it looked “pretty” enough.

  17. Jennifer Tobin February 14, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    @Kay and Emily- Just to let you know, my school is in a low income community and we have a high immigrant population. Home support is non-existant for most of my students. We spent class time preparing for the presentations, with a modeled lesson, guided practice, and time to plan and prepare their lesson. I sent the assignment home as an FYI for the parents as to what we are currently working and and can support this children with. No one HAD to do this at home but could if they wanted to. In Ontario, any work that is done at home can not be counted towards assessment or used for assessment purposes because it is not clear how much or little adult support the student received. Work done at home is for practice and review only. If a teacher sends home a project, then there is always an oral component, which is what the student will be assessed on. A `pretty project’ done by the parents won’t get you a good grade if you don’t know your stuff.

  18. Emily February 15, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    Jennifer–That may be the way things are now, but I was in the public school system from 1989-2003. I finished high school almost ten years ago, so I was in elementary school long before now, when things were different. Peanut products were allowed (in fact, my first field trip consisted of my kindergarten class making PBJ’s and going on a picnic in the park), bullying was “just a part of growing up,” we used X-Acto knives in art class, and power tools in shop class, slid down hills on Crazy Carpets and ran and slid on icy pavement at recess, had Halloween parties on Halloween, and sang Christmas carols at Christmas time.

    Unfortunately, the flip side to the pre-P.C. era was that not everything was fair, and the science fair was one of those things where affluent kids with involved parents had an unfair advantage. So, people’s experiences can vary, and my experience of grade four during 1993/1994 is of course going to be different from what it’s like now. I don’t think everything was perfect back then–in fact, I really didn’t like elementary school, and I especially hated being told to “just ignore it” when I was having my face pounded into a chain-link fence after school every day in grade four, or to “learn to share” when I was having things stolen from me in grade six. But, things change as social consciousness shifts, and if one of those changes is that kids aren’t penalized academically for being disadvantaged financially, then I think that’s awesome.