Making Plickers work for you

What follows is a practical guide to using Plickers in your classroom. I have included a link to example Biology question banks near the end of the article – once you have a Plickers account, click here if you’re just after those. 

1. You will require these (free!) things:

  • An account on Plickers.com
  • A printed set of Plickers barcodes for your class (from here, or the above site)
  • The Plickers app on your phone (available on both Apple and Google platforms)

2. In class, I introduce Plickers as a way that we can “play” quizzes during lessons. I hand out the codes and get them to stick them on the back of their books (death to the scourge of loose sheets).

My general script to students (and rationale) is:

“These codes let you answer multiple-choice quiz questions, and because everyone’s codes look random, you can silently answer without other students in class knowing what you have chosen. This means you can honestly choose an answer, even if you think other people would disagree with you.”

This, alongside verbal reinforcement that you do not want discussion before an answer, means all students are free to tell you what they really think.

3. Students are not universally going to like that you need to scan the room with your phone to collect answers. You can use Plickers without making students uncomfortable though – the whole point is to make it easier for them to all tell you what they think. My general script is:

“To collect our answers, I will scan the room with an app on my phone. The app only scans your codes:

  • It doesn’t take photos
  • It doesn’t take video 
  • But if you are at all uncomfortable with the camera pointing at you, that is completely fine. I still want you to share your answer with me, so simply hold your code in front of your head, and I will loudly tell the room when I have finished scanning.”

Reiterating the importance of their answers to me, whilst preempting any uneasiness, has led to 100% participation in my lessons.

4. The four sides of the student codes have a tiny A, B, C and D, so after projecting your prepared questions on the board, the students answer by simply turning their codes answer-side upwards. You need to check the students can actually use this properly before you ask them any of your questions! If they don’t know what they’re doing, the data you collect with be unreliable, and your decision-making will be hampered. I specifically have a practice question with “Hold your book up to give the answer A” to make sure everyone’s on the same page before using the codes properly. 

5. I have a range of work-in-progress Biology question sets: www.plickers.com/drnicoll (you will need a Plickers account first). If you follow a set, it will be made available in your account to use with your classes. These are live documents, so sets will be added and edited as needed in my department.

6. When you set up your classes on your Plickers account, you can upload your students’ names. This is useful if you want to review the data at a later time, but honestly, I have found the real impact of the platform lies in its use in class, and the discussions that follow from it – I don’t find I have the time to look through the results at a later time. You can see whether Alfie, Beth or Charlie got it right or wrong from your phone, live in class – you don’t need to make more work for yourself when setting everything up. Save yourself time and simply list your students as numbers 1-40, then copy and paste that into every class. Here’s a 1-40 ready for you:

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