Polling and peer instruction harnesses the power of the students to generate learning. It requires a way to quickly tally responses from students (usually with clickers or from a cellphone/computer). However, there are many ways to gather that information that do not require technology.

Polling is a good way to check-in with students' understanding of course material. It can help an instructor gauge common misconceptions in a class so that they can be addressed directly. Good questions often allow students to discuss their answers amongst themselves - further helping studetns learn through peer instruction. 

In classical Peer Instruction, the instructor poses a question to the class on a topic just discussed (or that the students read about before class) and polls them for their individual responses.  Based on the results s/he chooses to move on to the next topic or not. If more attention is needed, students are asked to discuss the reasoning behind their responses with their immediate neighbors; after a few minutes the instructor re-polls.  Variations include the instructor showing the students the polling results after the first round or not, choosing whether to ask follow-up questions for polling/discussion, and how to cover the topic prior to polling.

Instructors[1] who implemented PI in this sense were initially polling the class in order to ascertain whether students were learning in lecture-style classes; the "turn to your neighbor" aspect was a follow-on aimed at overcoming student confusion in specific cases. Thus the research focuses on learning gains, both after a given poll/discussion/re-poll episode and for entire courses.  Studies in STEM fields show that PI can greatly increase student comprehension of conceptual material[2] even when the questions asked are not themselves purely conceptual[3].  While it is most prevalent in STEM fields, PI has been implemented in other fields [for example (4), and see also (5) and (6)].

Even though the technique has come to be associated with specific tech (clickers and more sophisticated response systems), the main result from the research is that it is the students' interactive struggling with concepts that produces learning gains, which are likely to occur even when two students discussing together both initially had an incorrect response[5]. A low-tech implemention involves simply provide students with a sheet of paper with each letter "A B C D" (representing response choices) in a different corner of the page, in different colors, so they can fold it to show only one letter and so vote with it for easy, if appproximate visual collation by the instructor.  For gathering data for research however a more robust system (clickers, Learning Catalytics, etc.) would be required.

- J. Girash, Harvard University

[1] Crouch, C. H.; Mazur, E. Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results. Am. J. Phys. 2001, 69, 970.
[2] Fagen, A. P.; Crouch, C. H.; Mazur, E. Peer instruction: Results from a range of classrooms. The Physics Teacher 2002, 40, 206.
[3] Miller, R. L.; Santana-Vega, E.; Terrell, M. S. Can good questions and peer discussion improve calculus instruction? Problems, Resources,
and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies 2006, 16, 193-203.
[4] Butchart, S.; Handfield, T.; Restall, G., 2009.  "Using Peer Instruction to teach Philosophy, Logic and Critical Thinking". Teaching Philosophy, 32:1, 1-40.
[5] Turn to Your Neighbor ("Official PI blog") blog.peerinstruction.net
[6] Agile Learning blog derekbruff.org/teachingwithcrs
[7] for example, learningcatalytics.com
[8] Smith, M. K.; Wood, W. B.; Adams, W. K.; Wieman, C.; Knight, J. K.; Guild, N.; Su, T. T. Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science 2009, 323, 122-124.


Additional resources:


Create a series of multiple choice questions about the content.
  • They can be interspersed throughout the lecture, or gathered at the beginning or midpoint of your lesson.
  • The questions are usually closed­ended. For instance, questions that have the following type of answers:
    • yes/no
    • true/false
    • one right answer out of several options
  • Try to make the wrong answers plausible so students have to think about the answer.
  • This type of activity can also be used with normative questions that do not have correct answers, but that prompt students to choose a stance from several options.
Embed the questions into the visuals of your presentation or create slides with the questions on them.  
  •  Review the requirements of the technology so you are comfortable with it before using it in the classroom.
  •  Ensure the questions are legible to everyone in the class.
Ensure each student has a device with clicker capabilities when they enter the classroom.
  • If you are using clickers:
    • In some cases, students purchase their own clicker, which they can use in multiple classes.
    • Your school or department might have clickers that students can borrow.
    • In some cases, students borrow a clicker for the entire semester.
    • In other cases, you could distribute clickers to students as they walk into the classroom or have the clickers on students’ desks.
  •  If students are using their smartphones or computers:
    • make sure they are familiar with the website you are using.
  • For the first time that students use clickers or a polling website, instruct students how to access the clicker questions and have the students try them out before class begins


Display the question to the class.
  • Give students time to read the question and reflect before prompting them to answer.
  • Be prepared to read the question and choices for students with visual impairment.
Tally the results.
  • Let students know when you are going to close the survey.
  • The software will add the totals and format them in a graph.
  • Depending on your learning objectives, decide whether to reveal the results of the first round of polling.
Give students a few minutes to “turn­and­talk” with a neighbor about some aspect of the question.
  • Only allow four to five minutes.
There are many follow­up questions to choose from, including:
  • asking students to explain why they chose their answer
  •  having students convince their partner to change their answer
  • Optional: Ask one or two students to share what he/she learned from his/her conversation. This can be useful to get feedback on students’ thinking processes.
  • At this stage, consider having students make an argument for one answer or another.
Ask the students to again respond to the poll to see if the results change.
  • It is recommended that you reveal the answer after a second round of polling, and then discuss your rationale.


Collect clickers from students, if students used clickers provided by the class.
  • If you provided clickers to the students, ask students to deposit their clickers as they leave the classroom or have a student(s) collect them.
Use the information from the polling to craft the foci of your next class.
  • If there remains major confusion or misunderstanding of the content, you may need to review it during your next class meeting.