Saturday, 11 December 2010 17:45

Tip #16: Appointment Clocks

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 An Appointment Clock is a classroom management tool that teachers can use in situations where students will be working in pairs.  Appointment Clocks save valuable class time, empower kids to make meaningful choices, ensure that students have the opportunity to work with a variety of classmates, and facilitate smooth transitions.

Here’s how Appointment Clocks work.  Imagine that you are planning a classroom activity in which you would like your students to work in pairs.  When you have finished explaining the directions and are ready for the kids to begin the activity, you ask everyone to find one partner and get started.  Though this request may seem simple enough to follow, many students will struggle.  Some may not feel comfortable approaching a classmate, others may not be able to decide how to choose one friend over another, and still others may choose the same friend every time you schedule cooperative learning.  The potential exists for wasted time, hurt feelings, and a loss of focus from the activity itself.


All these potential problems can be avoided through the use of Appointment Clocks.  This tool is simply a sheet of paper with a traditional clock printed on it.  Though there are twelve hours on a clock, I have my students use only six of the hours at the beginning of the year (from 1:00 to 6:00).  I have my students complete these hours on their Appointment Clocks before we ever attempt cooperative learning.

Before having my kids fill the clocks out, I explain that everyone should use these sheets to record the names of six different people with which they would like to work.  I emphasize the importance of choosing people with which they will get along and be able to focus.  I have found that having six different partners on the clock works well for middle grade students because it ensures variety while still providing the opportunity to work with close friends frequently.

It usually takes about 20-25 minutes for the students to walk around and find their six partners.  When almost all students have completed this task, I call them back together to check for accuracy.  When I say “1:00”, all the kids stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their 1:00 partners.  If some students accidentally wrote a name in the wrong space on the clock or if some students do not yet have a 1:00 partner, we can make corrections at this time.  I proceed through all six hours of the clock until everything is correctly recorded.  Sometimes, making everything work isn't easy.  To achieve a correct set of classroom clocks, some students may need to work with the same classmate for more than one hour on the clock, and if your class has an odd number students, each hour of the clock will contain a trio.

With our clocks complete, organizing cooperative learning is much easier.  I attach a 1-6 spinner to the top of the white board.  For our first pair activity I point the spinner to the “1” and have the kids work with their 1:00 partners.  Next time around I move the spinner to the “2” and ask everyone to work with their 2:00 partners.  The spinner enables me to keep track of where we are in the sequence so that students work with all their partners the same number of times.  It also keeps me from having to remember where we are in the sequence.  Students will quickly memorize their six partners.  Until they do, I have them tape a small list of their “Clock Partners” at the top corners of their desks for easy reference.

Now, for example, whenever I need students to work in pairs, I simply say, “You will work on this activity with your 4:00 partner."  Our transition into the activity is a smooth one, and students are happy because they have the chance to work with someone that they, themselves, have chosen.  I have found that there’s a certain psychological comfort in this fact.  Students are more invested in the activity and more motivated because they were the ones who chose their six partners.  Later in the year, I often have my students complete the rest of their Appointment Clocks so they have the opportunity to work with a wider variety of classmates.  With these six new spaces on the clock, I’ll allow them to repeat one of two of their original six partners.


New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.