Active learning activities such as polls and clicker questions test students’ comprehension on the fly. While some approaches to in-class polling require special equipment and an instructor learning curve in a physical classroom, there are also many options with lower learning curves, as well as options that work well in virtual class environments. 

Why Use Polling?

Polling lets you collect a fast snapshot of the full class’s views, while also providing an anonymous way for shy students to participate. To learn more, explore Dan Levy’s (Harvard) explaination of how and why he uses polling.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a fun or low-stakes poll at the beginning of class to break the ice or gauge students’ energy levels
  • Use a review question at the beginning of class to assess what students learned and retain from last class, homework, or pre-class preparation. A carefully crafted poll on a key idea may help you determine whether you need to dedicate a few minutes to review, and addressing the question can help you start a Q&A without any individual person having to be “the one who didn’t get it”
  • Use a mid-class poll question to collect opinions, pose a practice problem to check for comprehension, or just make sure people are still awake
  • An end-of-class poll question can give you information about what you might want to start with at the beginning of the next class meeting

Polls and clicker questions can be extremely helpful for including more perspectives in discussions on contentious issues. Many students may hesitate to register their opinion by speaking up or even a show of hands, especially if they have a minoritized identity, an unpopular opinion, or are simply anxious, but may reveal their thoughts in anonymous feedback. In addition to getting a broad survey of opinion, this can help you manage challenging discussions by working through ideas and addressing biases rather than adding the difficult dynamic of a person-to-person confrontation.

Polling Tools and Technologies

For on-campus classes, the CLT has clickers available for loan, first come, first served. To make arrangements, email Learn more about how to use clickers in the Further Resources section below.

There are many options for creating web-based or smartphone polls that can be used in virtual environments (where it’s easy to simply paste a link into the videoconference platform chat or Canvas) or in the classroom. Be aware that classroom polling with these tools will require students to use their own device, so if you have a device ban in your classroom, they may not be a good strategy.

  • The free version of PollEverywhere allows you to create polls that you can easily send your students with a link, and lets you show real-time anonymous results on screen (there is also a PollEverywhere extension for Google Slides)
  • Google Forms allows you to create polls and display aggregate results; you can easily invite all your students to take a poll using the course Google Group email address
  • Other Google tools like Docs allow the creation of shared spaces in which students can respond to open-ended “poll” questions
  • For videoconference classes, Google Meet’s multiple choice polling tool can be set up in advance, allowing the instructor to release questions to attendees at the appropriate time

Further Resources

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