In this activity, inspired by The Teaching Channel, students will answer a question provided by their teacher and then analyze a wrong answer given by a classmate. The purpose of this activity is for the teacher to quickly assess how many students are grasping the concept and for those who are not, what in particular is causing their misunderstanding. It is essentially a formative assessment that works particularly well as a warm-up or do now to start a class. It is imperative that enough time be allotted for the analysis of the wrong answer. It can work in all content areas and across grade levels.
Gather enough index cards to distribute one per question to each student. Create a question that will assess the students’ understanding of your specific concept.
- Introduce the activity.
This activity can be a daily classroom ritual. The first few times it is important to reinforce for students the purpose of the activity. Over time, this will become unnecessary. Share the purpose with students and stress that analyzing the wrong answer is a great opportunity for learning and not about punishing students publicly for wrong answers. A positive tone about everyone making mistakes and the importance of learning from them is key to this activity.
- Share the question with students and distribute index cards.
It is important that your question has a right and wrong answer and be complex enough for it to warrant an analysis. For example, in math this could be a multi-step problem or in social studies it could be a question about the causes or effects of a historical event.
- Students answer the question.
This should be a timed activity. Keeping it to less than five minutes as a warm-up/do now is a general recommendation.
- Collect the index cards and tally the results.
Sort the index cards aloud into simple “Yes” and “No” piles. Share the data with students, e.g., 12 students were correct, 10 students were not.
- Select the Favorite No.
As you sort the index cards think about what the “Yes” pile did that the “No” pile did not do. What is the mistake most students are making? Which student’s answer would help you get to the heart of the misunderstanding the best? You will have to decide quickly. One way to help in this process is to prepare for this when writing the question. Have specific things in mind that you are looking for in the right answers and anticipate where students may show misunderstandings.
- Share the Favorite No.
As you share the Favorite No, it is important to emphasize two things. First, that this is the wrong answer. Second, that everyone makes mistakes and it is about learning from our mistakes. The student whose answer you share should remain anonymous.
- Analyze the positives of the answer.
Ask the class to analyze what this student did right in the answer. Sample questions include: · What in this problem am I happy to see? · What is right? · What do you think I like about this answer?
In math this might be that the student had part of the calculations correct or knew they had to multiply. In ELA this could be they used complete sentences and explained this one component well.
- Analyze what made the answer wrong.
· What made this answer incorrect? · Where did this student make a mistake? · How do you know that it is the wrong answer? In math this could sound like, “I know it is wrong because when you multiply exponents…” or in science it could be “I know it is wrong because when you test the pH balance…” You want students to explain their thinking as they analyze the answer.
- End on a positive note.
Do something age-appropriate that acknowledges the difficulty in having a student’s wrong answer analyzed by the class. An example might be finger snaps or a quick applause for the anonymous person whose answer was analyzed. It could be a simple statement of encouragement from the teacher, “We’re all working to get better…”
Adaptation for the Math Classroom
Have students solve a multistep problem, create a diagram to represent a word problem, rephrase an complex problem statement, develop a definition or describe a process on index cards. Then, identify one interesting wrong answer that can serve as a way to address a common misconception or enhance a fragile understanding of the topic and have the class analyze the answer, being sure to include both what is right and what is wrong about it.