The Power of Cold Calling: A Teaching Technique That Promotes Engagement and Participation

Cold calling is a teaching technique that requires the instructor to ask questions of students without prior notice or hand-raising, in order to encourage engagement, participation, and critical thinking. It is a popular technique used by many instructors at various educational levels, from K-12 to higher education. Cold calling has been shown to have a positive impact on student learning, as it helps to promote active participation and reduce the reliance on the few students who always volunteer. This article explores the power of cold calling as a teaching technique, examining its benefits, drawbacks, and best practices.

Benefits of Cold Calling

Encourages Participation

Cold calling encourages students to be actively engaged in the learning process. Instructors often use this technique to involve all students in the class, including those who may be shy or less confident about their knowledge. By creating an environment where everyone is expected to participate, students are more likely to pay attention and be prepared to answer questions. This can lead to more informed and interesting class discussions, as well as a more engaged and active student body.

Enhances Critical Thinking

Cold calling can also help students develop their critical thinking skills. By posing unexpected questions and requiring students to respond on the spot, cold calling challenges students to think on their feet and analyze information quickly. It can also encourage students to think more deeply about the material, as they are forced to consider a wider range of ideas and perspectives.

Provides Feedback

Cold calling can provide instructors with valuable feedback on student comprehension and progress. By asking questions throughout the class, instructors can quickly assess student understanding and adjust their teaching as needed. This can be especially useful for identifying and addressing any misconceptions or areas of confusion before they become more serious problems.

Drawbacks of Cold Calling

Anxiety and Stress

One of the main drawbacks of cold calling is that it can be stressful and anxiety-inducing for students. Students may feel pressured to come up with a response on the spot, which can lead to anxiety and stress. This can be especially challenging for students who struggle with public speaking or who have social anxiety. In some cases, cold calling may be counterproductive, as it may cause some students to disengage or become less motivated.

Inequity and Bias

Another potential drawback of cold calling is that it can reinforce inequity and bias in the classroom. Instructors may inadvertently call on certain students more frequently than others or may call on students who they perceive to be more knowledgeable or articulate. This can lead to feelings of exclusion and frustration for some students and can perpetuate social and academic inequalities.

Best Practices for Cold Calling

To mitigate the potential drawbacks of cold calling, instructors should follow certain best practices:

  • Establish clear expectations: Instructors should communicate to students the purpose of cold calling and what is expected of them in terms of participation. This can help to reduce anxiety and uncertainty and create a more inclusive learning environment.
  • Vary the frequency and intensity of cold calling: Instructors should use cold calling sparingly and vary the frequency and intensity of the technique. This can help to prevent anxiety and disengagement and ensure that all students have a chance to participate.
  • Use a random selection process: Instructors should use a random selection process when cold calling to ensure that all students have an equal chance of being called on. This can help to reduce bias and promote equity in the classroom.
  • Provide support and feedback: Instructors should provide support and feedback to students during and after cold calling. This can include offering positive feedback and constructive criticism, as well as providing resources and assistance to students who may be struggling.


Cold calling is a powerful teaching technique that can promote engagement, participation, and critical thinking in the classroom. While there are potential drawbacks to this technique, following best practices and using it in a thoughtful and intentional way can help to maximize the benefits while minimizing any negative effects.

By encouraging participation and critical thinking, cold calling can help to create a more inclusive and dynamic learning environment, in which all students feel valued and engaged. Furthermore, by providing valuable feedback to instructors and helping to identify areas of confusion or misunderstanding, cold calling can help to improve student learning outcomes and contribute to a more effective and productive classroom experience.

Overall, cold calling is a powerful tool that can be used to enhance student learning and engagement, when used in a responsible and intentional way. By following best practices and being mindful of the potential drawbacks, instructors can create a more dynamic and inclusive learning environment that encourages active participation and critical thinking.

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