Educational Fad: Lollipop Sticks

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Does anyone still use lollipop questioning?

If that’s you then stop, immediately. Why? Lollipop questioning is a glorious waste of time and an educational fad that sucks.

Why on earth would you be using lollipop questions in the first place? It’s probably because someone told you it was an ‘amazing’ strategy and their use spread like a pedagogical virus. What is the point?

Throw out the lolly sticks

Lollipop questioning makes some teachers squirm.

Tait Coles (2014) in his book Never Mind The Inspectors asks, “Why spend more time deciding whom to ask questions rather than spending time and effort crafting great questions?”

Tom Bennett doesn’t care for lollipop sticks either. In fact, he thinks you can stick ’em. He once posted on Twitter “Save $$$ by simply choosing for yourself like an adult.” He was pleasantly surprised to find himself having to dig out his knight’s armour after a backlash of teachers jumped in defence of using them and a Lollipop War ensued.

Lots of teachers rely on lollipop questions and use them to avoid the any unconscious bias towards particular children. If that’s the case Tom has a suggestion:

“Then that teacher needs to think more closely about how he or she asks questions. If you seriously need lolly sticks to avoid picking children based on preference/ gender/ ethnicity/ agreeability etc then you don’t need lolly sticks, you need a sabbatical and a career adviser.”

Tom hates the randomisation of the sticks and points out that “they can potentially be duplicitous, and they potentially undermine the authority and professionalism of the teacher.”

Sticky Questions

As Richard McFahn says in his blog, “What schools need to do is spend their time and energy thinking about what questioning is for: to help students think through talk.”

It is absolutely essential that you ask the correct question in the first place, and then use a mechanism to find a student to answer. If you do it the other way round, first, all the other students can relax, and second, you will probably merely replicate your existing expectations of the student.

Used by many teachers in their fast-track induction, lollipop sticks are a neat little trick to ensure that every child takes part in the lesson to appease observers. But, what are they learning and what is the teacher assessing by doing so?

As David Didau says, “the power to select who answers our questions should be treasured.” The result? Follysticks. Just ask a question and allow a hands-up culture to thrive.

Overall, whatever mechanism you use to ask questions, it’s the quality of your question – who it is targeted to and why – and the quality of feedback that counts.

What other Fads have you wasted your time on? Read 20 Years of Educational Fads to find out.

7 thoughts on “Educational Fad: Lollipop Sticks

  1. Although I agree that there are important points to be made against lollipop questioning, it is also important to address the benefits of cold-calling and the positive effects it has on classrooms as a whole. According to a study published by Elise Dallimore, Julie Hertenstein and Marjorie Platt, cold-calling provides significant improvements not only to the individual students but to the classroom as well. In the study titled, “Impact of Cold-Calling on Student Voluntary Participation”, the authors found that significantly more students answer questions voluntarily in classes with high cold-calling, and that the number of students who answer questions voluntarily increases over time in classes with high cold-calling. Additionally, they found that in classes with high cold-calling, students’ comfort participating in class discussions increases while in classes with low cold-calling, students’ comfort participating does not change.

    While I agree that teachers should be able to choose who to ask by themselves instead of relying on a random system like lollipop sticks, it is also important to point out that teachers can and should use cold-calling in their classrooms without having to use a randomizer. However, teachers should always make sure to ask all students about the studied topics and not just a selected few. By asking all students, they can make sure that their students are all actively engaged and they don’t have anyone falling behind without them knowing.

    Source: Dallimore, E. J., Hertenstein, J. H., & Platt, M. B. (2012, May 8). Impact of Cold-Calling on Student Voluntary Participation. Retrieved May 1, 2018, from

    1. Really agree about the power of ‘cold calling’ techniques in the classroom. Don’t think lollipop sticks are the best way to address good questioning techniques – instead it’s a tool to ensure teachers ask every child a question; becomes a fad when observers insist that then a teacher must ask every child a question in class and tracks their performance against being able to do this. e.g. you didn’t ask Ross a question this lesson = this lesson is unsatisfactory. Solution? Try lollipop sticks so that you can track all the students you DO ask a question of to reduce switching off.

  2. I use v occasionally. Each stick is colour coded by me…so I know instantly if child has SEN, is PP, AEL, etc, so I can push, extend, rephrase etc. I only see classes once a week so find useful, and as someone said above, the confidence builds over time. Also, I give time to pair and share and/or rehearse answers/think first. I’m explicit about developing those skills. It’s PSHE after all.

  3. Sticks are useful when you have a new class, and like the above, can annotate them with quick codes. Also even of you do use them, you can still ask the question to whomever you like – the stick just makes it *look* random. Because no-one sees the name but you…

  4. As a student teacher I’m finding them useful as it lets me pick people without knowing the class. Once I get to know the names of the pupils I’ve tended to not use them. I do think that more time should be spent helping student teachers on their questioning technique than using silly fads in the classroom.

  5. As a student teacher who moves rooms regularly I adapted the stick to make them more useful and less cumbersome. I find they work well to encourage quite pupils to engage in class while sensitively encouraging the over-enthusiastic pupil to wait their turn.

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