Partner Learning Logistics Made Easy: The Rolling Roster

One incredibly simple model for getting students into pairs for work – and then keeping them in pairs for work — hit me this year (and it only took me 10 years to come up with it).

The Rolling Roster. Here’s what it looks like.

 How and Why?

Step 1: Give students a task, “First Thing Work:” something to get them focused at the start of class (Journal, a drill, etc.) For examples and more about “First Thing Work,” click the link above.

Step 2: After getting set up and taking attendance, conduct your “Housekeeping” since you might not have a chance to speak to the class again: announcements, deadlines, instructions, homework-heads-up, and the like. For more about “Housekeeping,” click the link above.

Step 3: Give students their assignment. The assignment should have at least two, but no more than four sections. Design the assignment with the following criteria:

  1. The individual can complete the assignment in 10-30 minutes.
  2. The assignment must be somewhat open ended, allowing for multiple perspectives or multiple solutions.
  3. Design the assignment such that students would need or spend about between 10 and 20 minutes discussing.


  • Students might work individually on a complex problem, and then share their findings, comparing and contrast solutions and capturing further questions.
  • Students might write a mini essay or essay outline, and then share their work with a partner. The partners give one another critique or feedback.
  • Students answer a series of interpretive literary questions. They compare their answers and challenge each other to back their interpretations up with text.

Step 4: When each student finishes her independent work, she writes her name on the board (and in some cases, the number of the problem / question / task she worked on. This is how the student indicates that he or she is ready to work with a partner.

Step 5: As soon as a suitable second student puts his or her name on the board, you, the teacher, take a marker and draw a line connecting the names of two students who will work together. Yell out, “Student (name) and Student (name)!” Other students continue working quietly.

Step 6: When the two students are done working together, they get up, erase the line connecting their names, and return to their desks for independent work until they finish the next problem…to put their name back on the board. If they are done, they move on to “anchor work.”

Your task: roam the room, listen in on groups, and keep an eye on the board – for a student who is waiting to be matched with a partner. Use Class Dojo’s randomizer feature to make sure that you visit all students – not just the “problem students” or “advanced students.”


  1. Don’t allow the student to draw their own brackets. Sometimes, you will want to skip over the next appearing name (Student A has already worked with Student C, Student A doesn’t work well with Student C, etc.)
  2. Keep an eye on slower students in an odd-numbered room who might find that they are still working while everyone else has paired up. You might need to ask them to join a twosome even without completing their work.
  3. Keep an eye out for students who might stall in order to work with someone they like – although in the grand scheme of things, even if you overlook this, it’s rarely harmful.
  4. Be sure the anchor work for class is posted and clear. Though the anchor-work between round 1 and 2 would be preparing for round 2.
  5. If you need to start everyone out at the same time, use this fantastic, adjustable randomizer by Mr. Matera, and if you’re using any kind of digital calendar, post that day’s roster for students to check upon arriving to class!
  6. You may want to provide/allow headphones or earplugs for students who would be distracted by the sound of people talking. If headphones are allowed, spend some time at the start of the year talking about expectations with ipods: for example, students must prepare a mix of music for worktime to prevent shuffling and texting during work time.
  7. Students must have “anchor work” to work on, to prevent a student who does not have a partner from distracting others and/or from misusing the computer in class, etc. For more on anchorwork, see:


  1. Students never lose focus: from independent work, to partner work, and around again.
  2. Gives you extended time to collect student data. I recommend using Class Dojo to record target behaviors you have already identified and discussed with students: for example, active listening. (For more on how I teachactive/compassionate listening, see my blog post on


Students operating autonomously will streamline the extent to which you must serve as “logistic-ringmaster.” This conserves your energy, preserves your voice, and should you need to address the class, you will get better attention from the students since you have not been barking orders at them!

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Helping Students Get Ready for an Essay: Outline Peer Review

lolcat paperOne of the biggest problems with teaching students to write a paper is that students need to learn about a million skills – usage, style, grammar, syntax.

But if the essay argument is unclear or undeveloped, or the paper “through-line” – the flow of the argument – is unclear, the whole paper is shot.

How can you harness the power of peer review to get a paper’s “through-line” set before students take a swing at a first draft?

1. Give students an outline of the paper.

2. Ask students to write a thesis, supporting point 1, and supporting point 2 section, each with one piece of textual support.

3. Put them in groups of 3 or 4. I suggest Mr. Mater’s amazing Super Grouper for randomizing.

4. Give them 20 minutes to review the 3-4 outline(s). If the logic is unclear, they must clarify. If the supporting point is invalid, they must find a better one.

6. Before sending them off, explain that the group gets the grade of the weakest outline. Teach about the value of peer-mentoring, and the idea of win-win collaboration.

7. After class, grade each outline. If the paper will be worth 100, grade the outline as a separate 10 point assignment. This will not damage anyone’s grade, but will incentivize careful peer review.

8. The next day, you can give them a chance to fix any member of their group’s outline to lift the collective grade!

Better Outlines + Peer Review = Better Papers and Better Learning!

For more on the power of offering students an outline, click here!

The first slide of a student's presenation

“If this was my project…” : Using Pooled Resources for peer feedback and evalution

The first slide of a student's presenation

A slide from a student’s presentation

This post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.

This is part 2 of a mini-series on Pooled Resources / Individual Collaboration. For part one, click here.

Let’s say that you come up with a cool project for class.

Say: Design and build (using computer drafting programs or 3d craft and found materials) a monument to be placed in the Mall in Washington DC for something that has affected American society during your lifetime.

1331Let’s say you teach all the concepts of brainstorming and bouncing ideas around – planning, building, revising – getting feedback. The whole shebang.

Now what? You grade it with a rubric?

Sure. You can do that.

I have a better idea:

boothHave students link to their projects on a shared class document – either to a photo, a screenshot, or to whatever online link brings a visitor to the students’ work – along with a document providing a “tour” of their project, an explanation.

Next, assign an essay that requires students to explore a topic, where a component of the analysis requires them to review their classmates projects and, choosing 2-3 from below:

A. Compare / contrast / critique various projects’ details, approach, and / or themes, statements

B. Riff off ideas begun by various projects

C. Suggest changes the artist could (hypothetically?) make to make a more effective piece – using the phrase: “If this was my project,” I would ______.

Additional Notes:

1. Students may analyze their own buildings; include a slightly adjusted set of prompts for this.

2. This allows even students who bomb the project to recover and learn from the unit.

3. Knowing that others students will see their work is an incentive to create a polished piece of work!