I've seen clickers/pollers/etc. used in classrooms for many things, such as evaluation and assessment and agile/contingent teaching.

What other uses are there for clickers in the classroom?

To clarify: I'm looking for a list of constructive uses for classroom teaching.


3 Answers 3


The question basically says, "I have a tool, tell me some uses for it." That's fine, but we could also approach this from the opposite side, and ask why the tool was invented in the first place. It's good to know that a flat-head screwdriver works as a makeshift ice pick, murder weapon, or hair pin, but its original purpose was to put in screws and take them out.

There was an educational innovation that was widely popularized by Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur in a 1996 book, Peer Instruction: A User's Manual. The book is still in print. It describes a particular active-learning technique, but it also contains a handy summary of the evidence that traditional teaching techniques work badly in freshman physics, and that active-learning techniques in general (not just this specific one) work better. The findings have been replicated in fields other than physics [Freeman 2014].

In Mazur's technique, a purely conceptual multiple-choice question is displayed to the students. The purpose is not to find out whether the students understand the topic already. In fact, the technique works best if the questions are carefully chosen based on past experience so that you know that roughly half your students understand well enough to get the right answer, and half don't. After a couple of minutes of silent thought, students are polled. Mazur originally did the polling using pieces of cardboard that the students held up. I currently do it by having them hold up fingers (one for a, two for b, etc.). If there is a total consensus for the right answer, the technique has failed and you move on. If some students get it right and some get it wrong, you have them break up into groups and discuss it. Once they've had 5-10 minutes to discuss it, you poll them again. If they now all give the right answer, then the technique has worked correctly. The purpose of the technique is to get students talking about concepts, in their own words. Regardless of the specific technique used, what the research seems to show is that the crucial thing is to get students to talk about concepts.

Over time, some people started using expensive electronic clickers to do what could just as well have been done using cards or fingers. As more time passed, the expensive electronic clickers became "edutainment" devices, designed to make students feel that sitting through a boring lecture wasn't quite such an unendurable waste of time.

Freeman et al., "Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics," http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/05/08/1319030111

  • I heard an NPR program about this. You wrote a helpful description. I would just add that in the program, I learned about Mazur's motivation. He had noticed that beginning physics classes involve some concepts that are hard to get a complete intuitive grasp of, and that many good students who were working hard on the reading and the homework were, nevertheless, getting tripped up on some conceptual understanding; and he noticed that the best way for students to realize and correct some flaw in their reasoning was to hear the correction from a peer rather than from a professor. I have... May 16, 2017 at 3:19
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    ... seen this in my language teaching. When Student A makes a mistake, such as "I not go", he is much more likely to learn the correct pattern if a fellow student is the one to tell him the auxiliary "do" is needed ("I did not go"). May 16, 2017 at 3:21
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    Some more references: Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions: science.sciencemag.org/content/323/5910/122.full , a short video, “Clickers in the Classroom: ... Do clickers help students learn? youtube.com/watch?v=PxKHXyVtVIA May 16, 2017 at 14:22
  • Excellent background, hence my +1, but it doesn't answer the question. We could ask why a tool was invented in the first place, but that is a different question.
    – jvriesem
    May 16, 2017 at 18:40

Possible uses


  • How many of my students already know what I'm about to teach? (If most do, perhaps I can briefly summarize it.)
  • Did my students understand what I just taught? (If not, perhaps I should review it.)

Peer instruction

  • If a certain percentage of students answer incorrectly, students turn to their neighbor and discuss their answer for a minute or two (e.g. Mazur, 1996).

Anonymized responses

  • How many students have experienced ______?


  • Teacher asks numerous questions to show students what they don't know. Students are expected to review on their own.

Formal evaluation (quizzes and exams)

  • Typically multiple-choice, sometimes true/false questions, though advanced clickers allow for other question types.

Student attendance

Student "participation points"

  • (Either for an attempt or for correct answer)


  • What date works best for the field trip?
  • When should we hold a review session?

More resources

Here's a good site with some discussion about clickers: http://www.nea.org/home/34690.htm


I will describe how I have seen the clicker used in large lecture undergraduate physics classes. Four or five years ago I visited mechanics classes with my son, who was deciding what universities he wanted to apply to.

In all of these classes, I observed the clicker being used as a way to substantiate that students were present and paying enough attention to respond to the clicker questions when they came up. Each clicker was registered to a specific student ID. There was no small group discussion.

In some classes, the professor would display the bar graph of responses to the clicker question.

I sat in the back. Many students were shoe shopping (or the equivalent) on their laptops, doing homework, etc. There would be a visible, audible shift when the clicker question came up.

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