After an observation my first year teaching, my principal told me, “I noticed you said ‘shh’ a lot.” Management issues aside, this piece of feedback was very indicative of my (then) idea of an ideal classroom. Over the years, I’ve learned to push the value of student voices in my classroom and added some new terms to my vocabulary like “ratio of student to teacher voice”.

This past year I spent a lot of time in the beginning of the year establishing routines and structures that focus on student voice. At my last school we called these strategies, input protocols. I have all the input protocols I use hung up in my classroom. However, today I want to focus on the top three input protocols I use in my room: think-pair-share, pick a stick, and raised hand.


When to Use:

Discussion question, sharing work, best paired with a pick a stick after to hear answers

Set Up: 

  1. Make sure task/prompt is clear to students. Are they discussing the problem? Checking annotations? or Reviewing the solution? If possible have their task/prompt projected onto the front board for them to reference.
  2. Provide sentence stems for students to use in their discussion
  3. Assign which partner goes first. My tables are set up in rows of pairs. I use my table labels to assign who goes first (Ex. Partner A will share and Partner B will listen then switch (or) Partner with the even number shares first and the other will listen then switch.)

If you don’t have labels on your desk you can also use…

a.) Passenger and Driver: I introduce this by asking students, “Raise your hand if you’ve been in a car.” Having taught in large cities, some students have not. However this gets them hooked about what is about to happen. I explain, “In cars there is always a driver and a passenger *point to appropriate desks for each* just like in our partner pairs!” “Raise your hand if you are on the driver side of your partner pair” *quickly check and correct if needed* “Hands down. Raise your hand if you are on the passenger side of your partner pair.” *quickly check and correct if needed.” 

b.) Silly Questions: 

Partner with the shorter hair goes first.

Partner with the shorter pinkie goes first.

Partner who is older goes first. Etc…

Before releasing students to think pair shares with these questions, make sure they know who is starting otherwise they will spend most of the share time deciding who goes first. This can look like…

“Partner with the shorter hair goes first.”

“Raise your hand if you are going first.” *quickly scan and check*


Pick a Stick (Equity Stick)

When to Use:

Use your sticks after a think-pair-share to hear what was shared in discussion, reading out loud in class I like this protocol because it holds students accountable for their learning. 

Set Up: 

  1. Purchase popsicle sticks. I prefer the large popsicle sticks since it has more space for student names. However I have also used the small popsicle sticks and they’ve worked fine.  
  2. Write student names onto sticks. If you have multiple classes create class sets of sticks by choosing one color to write with per class. For example, Period 1 names were written in Blue, Period 2 names were written in Red, Period 3 names were written in Orange and Period 4 names were written in Green. This way if I accidentally misplaced a stick I can easily tell which class it belongs to. 
  3. Decide how you will store the sticks. This past year, my white boards were magnetic so I bought four magnetic pencil holders from Target. The ones I bought were meant to be used with lockers. I purchased three holders that have just one section and one holder with two sections. I rotated my stick for each class and the class I was teaching would have their sticks rotated into the two section holder. At the beginning of class the larger holder would hold all the sticks. When I picked a stick and called on the student their stick would then go into the smaller holder so that I can make sure every student get a chance to have their voice heard. Other years, I’ve purchased pencil holders from the Target Dollar Spot and assigned one pencil holder per class. The holders sat on my teaching desk. Teacher Hack: put a used tissue paper roll into each holder to store used sticks. 

Ways to Support Students:

Differentiating Sticks: I saw this idea before starting my second year teaching somewhere on instagram. The randomness of popsicle sticks sometimes makes it difficult to provide the necessary accommodations to all students. My second year teaching, I ordered students by scores after their first test and grouped them into quartiles. Each quartile was given a different color. I purchased colorful popsicle sticks and labeled sticks according to the quartiles. This allowed me to have an idea of what kind of scaffolding or supports I might need to provide the student before reading the name on the stick. 

Practice Warm Calling: When students are participating in a think-pair-share pre-pick a stick. Before bringing the whole class back, quickly check in with the student, “Hey ____ I picked your stick to share after this think-pair-share. Are you ready to share something?”

Raised Hand

When To Use:

Hearing quick thoughts from students, Taking questions

Set Up:

This one is pretty straight forward. If I am using raised hand as my input protocol I’ll prompt students by saying, “I’ll take a hand.” Make sure students are clear this is the protocol you are using. If they are calling out, remind them by silently raising your hand or call on another student who’s hand is raised and prefacing it with “_____ hand is silently raised.”

Ways to Support Students:

While monitoring during class, encourage students to raise their hand. Noticing exemplar responses while monitoring and let them know that! Ex. “You did a great job clearly explaining the steps you took to solve this problem. I’d love for you to raise your hand and share with our team and family when I bring us back.”


These input protocols have helped me shift the ratio of teacher voice to student voice in my classroom to be more student focused. It does take practice and lots of coaching to get students to where you want them to be but its so worth it! 

Check out the input protocol labels that I use in my classroom.

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