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Increasing Opportunities to Respond: Tools for Teachers and Administrators

Think back to your days as a student and visualize your favorite class or teacher.  What did the teacher do in that class?  What did the students do?  In all likelihood, you did not sit quietly for the entire class period while the teacher talked.  You probably focused more of your effort on creating new products or sharing ideas with your peers than on sitting still.  Unfortunately, for many students, including those with disabilities, the effort needed to sit quietly for long periods of time overrides any effort to learn.  Yet, active engagement is the strongest predictor of academic achievement (Dotterer & Lowe, 2011).

One way to increase active student engagement is by increasing opportunities to respond (OTRs). “An opportunity to respond (OTR) is a teacher behavior that prompts or solicits a student response (e.g., asking a question, presenting a demand)” (Simonsen, Fairbanks, Briesch, Myers, & Sugai, 2008, p. 359).  Archer and Hughes (2011) identify 16 elements of explicit instruction to maximize student growth.  Three of them – requiring frequent responses, monitoring student performance closely, and providing immediate affirmative and corrective feedback – can be targeted by OTRs (pp. 1-3). In addition to enhancing student engagement, OTRs provide the teacher with formative assessment data for progress monitoring.  This information supports the learning of all students and is critical when targeting IEP goals for students with disabilities.  In Total Participation Techniques, Himmele and Himmele (2011) explain “… unless you intentionally plan for and require students to demonstrate active participation and cognitive engagement with the topic that you are teaching, you have no way of knowing what students are learning until it’s often too late to repair misunderstanding” (p. 4).

Previous Link Lines articles, including “Doing One Thing (DOT) to Step up Student Engagement: Increasing Opportunities to Respond” (Gould, 2011) (Article not longer available) and “Increasing Student Opportunities to Respond” (Gould, 2013), have provided numerous examples of OTRs, such as individual response cards/whiteboards, choral responding, class-wide peer tutoring (CWPT), think-pair-share, thumbs up/thumbs down, etc. In addition to the examples of strategies and research showing the success of increased engagement found in these articles, additional support to implement these strategies is offered below.

To help ensure success, Simonsen, Freeman, and Dooley (2016) have adapted a self-regulation strategy to support teachers in increasing OTRs in their classrooms.  Utilizing this strategy, teachers record their behaviors to determine how many OTRs they currently employ, set a goal, determine a reinforcement or reward for reaching that goal, and then track their progress.  Participants in Simonsen et al.’s study also received daily email reminders of their established goals.

Readers who are interested in using this strategy can pair up with a “buddy” teacher.  The partners can then provide reminders and reinforcement to each other.  Administrators and “buddy” teachers who are supporting teachers in increasing their use of OTRs can use the Classroom Snapshot: Multiple Opportunities to Respond observation tool developed by the Mid-Atlantic PBIS Network.  Another simple tracking option is the “penny method.”  For example, if teachers decide they want to provide five OTRs within a given timeframe, they put five pennies in their right pocket.  Then each time they present an OTR to their students, they move a penny to the left pocket.  At the end of the designated time, the number of pennies transferred to the left pocket shows the number of OTRs presented.  This technique also works well for increasing use of behavior-specific praise or any other teacher behavior that is easily observed and counted.  Finally, the penny method can also be implemented as a self-regulation strategy with students.  For example, a student could track the number of times that they have positive interactions with peers, or the number of times they raise their hand and wait to be recognized rather than calling out.

“The more we observe excellent teachers teach, the more convinced we become that the common thread in their teaching is that these teachers ensure that students become actively, cognitively, and emotionally engaged in the content being taught” (Himmele & Himmele, 2011, p. 7).  In order to increase their use of OTRs, many teachers need to change their behavior in the classroom.  While this is not always easy, teachers can create engaging classrooms with support from administrators, fellow teachers, and effective implementation tools.


Archer, A. L., & Hughes, C. A. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Dotterer, A. M., & Lowe, K. J. (2011). Classroom context, school engagement, and academic achievement in early adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 1649-1660. doi:10.1007/s10964-011-9647-5

Himmele, P., & Himmele, W. (2011). Total participation techniques: Making every student an active learner. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Simonsen, B., Fairbanks, S., Briesch, A., Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices in classroom management: Considerations for research to practice, Education and Treatment of Children, 31, 351-380.

Simonsen, B., Freeman, J., & Dooley, K. (2016, April). Enhancing teachers’ classroom management: Efficient, effective, and teacher-driven implementation supports. Paper presented at 13th International Conference on Positive Behavior Supports, San Francisco, CA.

Additional Resources

Available for loan from our T/TAC W&M Library

Archer, A. L., & Hughes, C. A. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Himmele, P., & Himmele, W. (2011). Total participation techniques: Making every student an active learner. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Available on the T/TAC W&M Website

Techniques for Active Learners.  This Considerations Packet includes descriptions and instructions for several active engagement strategies.

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