Talking Tokens – an Unexpected Success

When teaching classroom lessons in a self-contained Learning Support class, my efforts to elicit equal participation in discussions were thwarted by two distinct personalities:  “Blurters” and “Shy Guys.”  You know these students!  The Blurters call out answers and continually interrupt with questions and comments. The Shy Guys, on the other hand, would rather blend into the woodwork than ask or answer a question.  Not only was this situation lopsided in terms of active student involvement, but it made it impossible to assess what each of the students knew.  One day, out of desperation for data for progress reports (how often that sparks inspiration!), I came up with a solution — Talking Tokens.  I printed a page of symbols of students raising hands (not-so-subtle visual cue) on card stock, cut them apart, and gave 4 of these “tokens” to each student.  I explained that every time a student spoke, he or she would have to surrender one token.  When all 4 tokens were gone, they couldn’t talk again until everyone had used up all of their talking tokens.  I expected that the Blurters would use them up pretty quickly, leaving plenty of time for the Shy Guys to participate without being drowned out by their more vocal classmates.  Makes sense, right?

Well, the Talking Tokens worked better than I expected, but not in the way that I had anticipated.  The Blurters, realizing that they could only talk four times, actually hoarded their tokens!  There they sat, on the edge of their seats and bursting to talk, but remaining silent.  Apparently, the fear of having something to say but not being able to say it caused them to learn self-control that months of my prompting hadn’t accomplished.  By contrast, the Shy Guys all wanted to get rid of the pressure of having to talk ASAP so they volunteered, one after the other, until their tokens were gone and they could go back to being passive observers in the lesson.  With Talking Tokens, they initiated as never before!

Don’t you just love it?  Blurters learned control, Shy Guys learned to speak up, I got my data, and — once again — the students taught me a valuable lesson in human nature!

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