Using ClassDojo to Teach Active Listening in Partner Work

Student A: “Ok, on to number 4.”

Student B: “I think the evidence shows that Hamlet is a hedgehog.”

Student A: “The evidence shows… that Hamlet is a … how do you spell hedgehog?”

You’ve heard partner-work sessions like this. No matter how many times you may remind students that they are not going into partner work in order to dodge half the work (or, heaven forbid, simply to copy each other’s answers), teenagers are programmed to save their energy for important things with real-life value. Like scoring invitations to parties. They are not automatically invested in hearing, understanding, assessing, and responding to their assigned partner’s ideas.

Rather, students must learn, month by month, and year by year, to listen like a therapist, assess like a scientist, and respond like a friend.

It’s a slow process. But the reward can be dynamic, thoughtful discussion. And students will thank you for teaching them skills that they use in their real-life relationships.

The first step to get there is to teach Compassionate Listening.

Compassionate Listening is not one student parroting the words of the other student, though, when done improperly, it sounds like that.

Compassionate listening is where the Listener

  • asks follow-up questions to “unpack” the speaker’s statement
  • “track the deeper meaning” of the speaker’s statement
  • carefully attending to the main kernal
  • and finally, expressing it in the listener’s own words.
  • When possible, the listener my employ a metaphor or image to encapsulate the meaning.
  • Then, critically, the Listener waits for acknowledgement that s/he has seen, heard, and understood the main idea. If s/he missed the point, or there is another level of meaning the Speaker wants to share, then the cycle goes around.

I call this process “Reflect Re-reflect” and you can read more about it here. And boiled down, it looks like this:

  • Listening / Unpacking
  • Reflecting.
  • Waiting for acknowledgement.

For example:

Listening / Unpacking

Student A: I think that Hamlet is a coward.

Student B: Why do you think that?

Student A: Because he won’t do what he is supposed to do.

Student B: Why do you think he won’t do what he is supposed to do?

Student A: Because he tosses and turns over it, and no matter the decision, he feels torn about whether it’s the right thing to do, or whether it will work, and whether it will actually accomplish anything.“

Reflecting (with metaphor):

Student B: So Hamlet is sort of in a maze…and whichever direction he tries to go, he finds himself at a dead end.

Waiting for acknowledgement:

Student A: Yeah.

Student B: So, it’s less that he’s a coward, and more like he’s paralyzed.

Student A: Hm. Yeah.

Notice the difference between Compassionate Listening and “parroting?” Parroting would have ended with:

“So, you think Hamlet is a coward.”


“Ok. Question 5.”

Compassionate listening is helping the partner to articulate his/her own ideas in a deeper, more accurate, and more nuanced way than s/he could by him/herself.

How does one teach this?

At the beginning of the year, you must spend some time unpacking what Compassionate Listening is. You might want to share some articles or video clips on the power of this sort of conversation, reflect on how it’s different from simple cooperation or from normal conversation.

Then, begin to focus on Reflection.

As complex as analysis, critique, and synthesizing new ideas may be, none of it happens without the first step of careful listening and reflecting.

On ClassDojo, create two badges: “Reflects without prompting” and “Reflects only after prompting.”

Show your students what ClassDojo looks like on your tablet / smartphone (so they know what you’re doing).

And when you send students into partner work, use the randomizer to send you to a pair of partners. Quietly sit down near them – do not speak to them or let them break conversation to talk to you – and listen.

  • After one student speaks, does the second student reflect? If not, gently remind him or her, and mark it on ClassDojo.
  • Does the initial speaker go on and on, not allowing the listener the chance to reflect and check for understanding?  If not, gently remind him or her, and mark it on ClassDojo.
  • If the initial speaker says something that requires “unpacking” – does the listener ask questions to unpack it? Or reflect at a superficial level? Again, you can gently remind him or her, and mark it on ClassDojo.

At the end of the quarter, scan the students badges, and share your observations with your students (in whatever form you usually do so – written, in reports, or in mini-meetings).

Differentiating in Baby Steps, Part 4: The Rolling Roster

You may want to read Part 1, 2, and 3 on Differentiating in Baby Steps first, here.

One incredibly simple model for getting students into pairs for work – and then keeping them in pairs for work – hit me this year (it only took me 10 years to come up with it).

The Rolling Roster.

Step 1: Give students a task, “First Thing Work:” something to get them focused at the start of class (Journal, a drill, etc.) For examples and more about “First Thing Work,” click the link above.

Step 2: Do your “Housekeeping” since you might not have a chance to speak to the class again: announcements, deadlines, instructions, homework-heads-up, and the like. For more about “Housekeeping,” click the link above.

Step 3: Give students their assignment. The assignment should have at least two, but no more than four sections. Design the assignment with the following criteria:

A. The individual can complete the assignemnt in 10-30 minutes.

B. The assignment must be somewhat open ended, allowing for multiple perspectives or multiple solutions.

C. Design the assignment such that students would need or spend about between 10 and 20 minutes discussing.


  • Students might work individually on a complex problem, and then share their findings, comparing and contrast solutions and capturing further questions.
  • Students might write a mini essay or essay outline, and then share their work with a partner. The partners give one another critique or feedback.
  • Students answer a series of interpretive literary questions. They compare their answers and challenge each other to back their interpretations up with text.

Step 4: When each student finishes her independent work, she writes her name on the board (and in some cases, the number of the problem / question / task she worked on. This is how the student indicates that he or she is ready to work with a partner.

Step 5: As soon as a suitable second student puts his or her name on the board, you, the teacher, take a marker and draw a line connecting the names of two students who will work together. Yell out, “Student (name) and Student (name)!” Other students continue working quietly.

Step 6: When the two students are done working together, they get up, erase the line connecting their names, and return to their desks for independent work until they finish the next problem… to put their name back on the board. If they are done, they move on to “anchor work.”

Your task: Roam the room, listen in on groups, and keep an eye on the board – for a student who is waiting to be matched with a partner. Use ClassDojo’s randomizer feature to make sure that you visit all students – not just the “problem students” or “advanced students.”


1. Don’t allow the student to draw their own brackets. Sometimes, you will want to skip over the next appearing name (Student A has already worked with Student C, Student A doesn’t work well with Student C, etc.)

2. Keep an eye on slower students in an odd-numbered room who might find that they are still working while everyone else has paired up. You might need to ask them to join a twosome even without completing their work.

3. Keep an eye out for students who might stall in order to work with someone they like – although in the grand scheme of things, even if you overlook this, it’s rarely harmful.

4. Be sure the anchor work for class is posted and clear. Though the anchor-work between round 1 and 2 would be preparing for round 2.

5. If you need to start everyone out at the same time, use this fantastic, adjustable randomizer by Mr. Matera, and if you’re using any kind of digital calendar, post that day’s roster for students to check upon arriving to class!

6. You may want to provide/allow headphones or earplugs for students who would be distracted by the sound of people talking. If headphones are allowed, spend some time at the start of the year talking about expectations with iPods: for example, students must prepare a mix of music for worktime to prevent shuffling and texting during work time.

7. Students must have “anchor work” to work on, to prevent a student who does not have a partner from distracting others and/or from misusing the computer in class, etc. For more on anchorwork, see Part 2 of this series.


1. Students never lose focus: from independent work, to partner work, and around again.

2. Gives you extended time to collect student data. I recommend using ClassDojo to record target behaviors you have already identified and discussed with students: for example, active listening. (For more on how I teach active/compassionate listening, see my blog post on

3. Students operating autonomously will streamline the extent to which you must serve as “logistic-ringmaster.” This conserves your energy, preserves your voice, and should you need to address the class, you will get better attention from the students as you have not been barking orders at them!

This is part 4 of a 4 part series. Read part 1, here.