Chances are, you are. My students are 12th graders, so, by definition, they are not.

I had a gameshow-type contest between two halves of the class as a review for how a bill becomes a law. I projected my diagram onto the whiteboard, and I asked somewhat tricky questions to see if they could fill it out.

The first class was bored. We finished half an hour before the class ended.

The second class was crazily involved, to the point of chaos. We went into the second hour. Needless to say, I had changed my approach in at least five ways.

1. Students were involved every step of the way. For the first class, I chose the asleep or bored students who generally fly under the radar, and I called them up in front of the class. In the second class, each side chose their own opponent. The uncouth students once yelled out for “the quiet girl who doesn’t say much,” and I chided them appropriately.

Then, the quiet girl who doesn’t say much came up to answer her group’s question.

2. I gave them desirable incentive. The second class ends just before lunch. Therefore, I added a scoring mechanism — one point for every correct answer — and then told them whichever group won would get out 5 minutes early. Nothing gets the pre-lunch period going like the chance to get out early.

I didn’t tell them, but I let everyone out a few minutes early. I knew there was no way to keep the losing group from leaving once they went back to their regular seats.

3. I set participation goals, and formed the game around them. I wanted everyone who came up to the front to at least answer a question, and we winged a few extra rules about how the person with the whiteboard marker couldn’t ask his group for the answer, but that person had the first crack at answering the question for the first point. If the first guy didn’t know, he could ask his group for the answer once he passed it off to the enemy group member.

In a nutshell, our settled-on rule: whoever has the marker is the only one who may answer the question.

4. Everyone participated. Once a question was answered correctly, the representative from the other group had the opportunity to have an “answering point,” but could not ask for help from his group for the answer. The question was usually harder and higher level or simply more obscure.

The first question asked them who could filibuster. The second asked why a senator would filibuster — stall voting on legislation you oppose — or how many people a filibuster requires — one, but the more the merrier.

5. I was unpredictable in interesting ways. I threw out a few crazy one-offs where the first person to snatch the marker from my hand could answer the question once I finished the question. If you answered it incorrectly, your group lost a point.

There were a few more rules about being quiet and not shouting out the answer, but my class didn’t observe them too well. Now that I know what I’m doing, though, I’ll know to clear them up for next time.

Moral of the story? Daytime television is my surest inspiration.


  1. There were a few more rules about being quiet and not shouting out the answer, but my class didn’t observe them too well.

    Where this gets interesting is when students start intentionally shouting the wrong answer to try to trip up other groups.

    What, in your opinion, is the wackiest filibuster ever? Surely the Washington Comedy Show has deep riches.

  2. Wackiest? I’ve never heard of a wacky filibuster before and, apparently, neither has Google.

    What’s your wackiest filibuster ever?

  3. But I’m not sure, that’s why I asked you!

    One of Huey Long’s runs might be a candidate. He read shrimp recipes, and Shakespeare.

    There was the time where he opened up for suggestions as to what to talk about next, and audience members watching sent in suggestions, kind of like a reality TV show.

    Then he had to go to the bathroom, and the filibuster was ended.

    The next time your students want to go to the bathroom but they can’t because your school is on lockdown because a students smoking marijuana in the bathroom tossed their joint in the trash can and started a fire for the second time in two weeks (no I’m not bitter) —

    — you can tell them they’re practicing to be Huey Long.

  4. My problem was that I could only think of the filibuster against the 1964 civil rights legislation. Owing to the circumstances, I couldn’t in good conscience label it as wacky.

    The second time in two weeks, eh? You’re a better man than I, because I know I’d be bitter.




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