How to let students choose learning objectives with Poll Ev + Post-it® Notes


Guest Post by Nicholas Provenzano, The Nerdy Teacher. Follow him on Twitter @thenerdyteacher

Traditionally, I choose the learning objective of each lesson and unit, and decide how students are going to approach a certain piece of literature. I post the learning objective on Evernote and share it with students at the start of class. This is a pretty standard approach to setting up a lesson for many teachers. But having students select the learning objective turned out to be much easier than I thought it would be.

These are the tools I used:

Screenshot 2015-03-31 17.25.23Poll Everywhere: I’ve used this in sessions at conferences, but I had not really used it in the classroom. It was so easy to set up, and the students loved the quick feedback in class. If you don’t have one yet, sign up for a free educator account (good for up to 40 students at a time), and use it when you need to collect some quick information. Pro tip: They’re really awesome on Twitter, so give them a shout out if you have any questions about using Poll Everywhere in the classroom.

Screenshot 2015-03-31 17.01.03Post-It® Notes: These have always been a big part of my life. I use them for so many different things there isn’t time to go over them all. Post-it® Notes allowed me to quickly get the information from my students, then have them share it with the rest of their table, then place it on the board for easy grouping. The extra-sticky notes were perfect and stayed securely on the whiteboard in the back of my room. Teachers everywhere use Post-it® Notes, and there are tons of fun and creative ways to use them in the classroom. Here’s how I did it this time…

First comes the prep work

We were starting our Emily Dickinson unit, and I wanted my students to do some research on her life. I assigned them eight parts of her life to explore:

  •   * Childhood
  •   * Education
  •   * Religion
  •   * Health
  •   * Relationships (Family and Social)
  •   * Adult Life
  •   * Writing Career
  •   * Death

Students split these areas with others at the table and spent the whole class period doing research. They were to come to class the next day and share their findings.

Then the small group discussion

On the next day, students were instructed to discuss their findings at their tables, and decide what they thought were the five most influential events in Emily Dickinson’s life. They were to place these 5 events on Post-it® Notes provided on their desks.

The students discussed their research and started to write out their thoughts on the top five events. Once they were done, they had to place them on the dry-erase board.

Screenshot 2015-03-31 17.01.03

Organize the ideas

I set up the board with 5 slots color-coded to match the Post-it® Notes. It was so nice to be able to easily organize students’ ideas using the notes. Pro tip: Use the extra-sticky notes, so they can be moved around from desk to wall, and from place to place on the wall, too.


Large group discussion

Once all the ideas were on the board, the class looked them over and discussed them. I moved them around and grouped them based on shared concepts. (Next time, I will have students do this part of the process. Yes, it was easier for me to do it myself, but I think it’s better if let them do it.)


Arrive at a decision

After the ideas were well-organized, we went to the voting phase, to decide the learning objective for the unit. I numbered the concepts the students had chosen to group their ideas. Then I created a multiple choice Poll Everywhere poll, so students could vote anonymously from their mobile devices. It was a very quick poll– took a few minutes at most. The students loved getting a chance to use their mobile devices, and having a say in the way they were going to learn.

Screenshot 2015-04-13 17.31.28


Each class had a different discussion, with different ideas and a different set of over-arching concepts to group their ideas. From my perspective, it made for a more interesting class each time around, instead of leading the same discussion multiple times. The process really let students take the lead, and that was the whole point of the exercise.

When the dust settled, each class chose a different learning objective. Some might view that as more work for me, preparing multiple class discussions for each group of students, but it won’t be much harder, as far as I’m concerned. The students are invested in the class discussion because they have ownership of the learning objective. They will be the ones who lead the discussion, because they know exactly how to approach the topic… because they chose it. I see this as a great way to get more students involved in class ownership, and look forward to trying it out in other units.