How to Kill the Dead Time: Handing Back Papers or Conferencing

This is part of a series of posts I’m writing about how I try to keep students engaged by killing deadtime in the classroom. You can read my main post on keeping dead time in class to a minimum and find links to the other posts–I’ve already covered some ideas for taking attendance.

Another area where the majority of the class is not paying attention is handing back homework or conferencing with students. I put these two together because I suspect the same solutions apply to both. Also, I don’t know about you but when I’m handing back worksheets, students often want to conference. It’s a time when students want or need individual attendance and you have to do something with the other students.

Keeping Students Active Especially While Conferencing

  • Something else to do: The classic way to keep students active while conferencing is to give them another assignment. I find that doesn’t always work because the students are dying to know their grade so they don’t take the assignment seriously. Plus, as you hand back essays students start chatting and comparing. I suppose you could give a graded exercise–then they have to take it seriously.
  • Something important to do: There are also some nice ideas on this article on Edutopia, How to Keep Kids Engaged in Class. You could give them review questions for an upcoming quiz or test. Or preview questions for the next lesson. I think the important point is that the busy work shouldn’t be busy work. It should matter to the class. And have consequences for not doing it.
  • Another route is fun work. I like handouts with riddles and brain teasers. They get really into them. Of course you have to think of your students’ levels. Also be careful of puns and plays on words. Those don’t always translate. But some riddles about language actually build awareness of spelling or double meanings. I like the question, “What’s the difference between here and there”? Answer: “The letter T”. (These also make good Do Nows!)
  • Give it back ahead of time: I have never gotten this one to work but I know some teachers hand out all the essays ahead of time. Students then have a chance to see their grade and prepare questions and complaints before you see them. I find that too many students look at the grade and then stuff it in their bag. But some teachers swear it works.

How to NOT Hand Back Homework

  • Record your feedback at home on Voice Thread or a similar program. Students can then talk to you later if they have specific questions.
  • Put the answers to the homework in a folder in the classroom. Students are on the honor system to do homework first and then check it.
  • Give students the answers to the homework and let them check their work. Then talk about only the ones they didn’t understand.
  • Give preview homework. Do not collect it–but do check who did it. Teach the lesson. Then for homework, students check and redo their preview homework.

As always, I am always thrilled to hear more ideas and suggestions in the comments!

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