Tools: Lollipop Sticks – Random Questions

Lollipop Sticks

What are they?

Lollipop sticks are simple: small cards, with every student’s name written upon them, used to nominate students.

Some commentators are not keen!

Ways to use them


This can be used as process or as individual techniques..

Students prepare an answer to an open question. 

Lots of ways to do this.

write ideas on mini-whiteboards

talk to partners

jot down notes

The teacher can use this time to circulate and look at what students are writing offering help as needed


Questions, directed using lollipop sticks. 

Pose a question, pause, and choose a student at random. It is useful to allow a pause and to be ready to use no-opt out

(When a student says they can’t answer a question bounce the question to another child then return to the child and ask them to repeat the correct answer.)


Follow-up questions. 

This is the key to differentiation and challenge.  

  • elaboration (But what would the implications have been?)
  • evidence (Can you give me an example ..)
  • reformulation (1) (Try again, giving the point first, then the supporting evidence).
  • reformulation (2) (That evidence doesn’t prove the case – what else would?)
  • responses to contradictory information (Why might …?)
  • links (Which other …?  What did he do?)


Questions bounced to other students. 

Again, using lollipop sticks to nominate:

  • Do you agree
  • Why might someone disagree?
  • How could you improve that answer?



  • They are democratising…  every student in the class has an equal part to play.
  • They help me balance access and challenge…  It forces the teacher to ask a question to which every student can respond while inviting high level responses
  • They discourage passengers… 
  • They raise expectation I force myself to expect everyone to be able to answer constructively, thoughtfully and with evidence at any time.  


“Stop picking on people”

Removing choice over participation radically changes the classroom contract.  It’s universally unpopular: students who consider themselves weak don’t want this publicised; those who consider themselves smart are frustrated they can no longer dominate discussions and that time is being wasted on students who don’t know the answers.

Without lollipop sticks (or something similar), only a few students will consistently participate.  Of the others, some will be listening; some will have great ideas but keep quiet, not realising; some will tune out.  Everyone can offer something to discussions, but a little force is needed to demonstrate this.  Ensuring all students are listening and responding sends a critical message that everyone should be participating in learning.


What about differentiation?

Many would argue that lollipop sticks need not be used to enforce participation.  David Didau has written: “I’m not a fan of randomisers; the power to select who answers our questions should be treasured.”

All questions should be sufficiently clear and challenging that everyone benefits.  I can then differentiate in follow-up questions, as I’ve described above.

Selecting students for our ‘targeted’ questions can, I believe, embed low expectations: I’ll ask X that, because he’ll get it right; I’ll save the hard question for Y.  ‘Weak’ students never cease to surprise me with brilliant answers to hard questions, because they get the chance to answer.  Equally, asking ‘simpler’ questions to ‘smarter’ students offers the chance to hear good answers modelled or, on occasion, highlights surprising gaps in their knowledge.

But what if some students don’t understand the question?

Why would a teacher ask a question they do not expect students to understand?

It takes time to make them.

About half an hour at the beginning of the year.



In my view they are great tool to support learning 


This was adapted/plagiarised from a hand out at a training I attended.