Skip to main content

The Story and Strategy Description

Recently, I had the opportunity to coach Sara Ribeiro, a 9th grade biology teacher at the Carlucci American International School in Lisbon, Portugal. She was eager to try a new strategy to engage her students and get them to interact with each other in English about academic content. She was concerned that if she didn’t have a clear structure in place, her students would just talk to others who spoke their native language. In order to gather formative assessment data before the final exam, she needed them to use English to express their content understanding.

When I heard her concerns, I proposed a variation of ‘speed dating’ for the test review. In the ‘speed dating’ format, students would work with one partner for just one question and then shift partners. Sara set up her classroom in a U-shape with half the students sitting on the inside of the U and half sitting on the outside facing each other. Because this was a test review, not an introductory activity, she strategically placed students with the same languages on the same side of the U, so they would not be paired during the activity. (See diagram)






When I walked into the room to observe the structure in practice, the first question for partners to answer was on the screen at the front of the room. Sara asked students to first answer the question individually. Then she asked the students sitting in the inside row of the U to explain their answers to their ‘speed date.’ Partners on the outside then explained their answers. The students were required to come to a consensus for the correct answer and explanation. Sara called on a pair after each discussion time to share their answers with the class and help them refine understanding or fill in any missing information. During the students’ ‘dates’, I scripted their responses and was impressed with how they were able to support and encourage each other with their explanations using more and more scientific language. In fact, one student even told his ‘date’, “You’re not being scientific!”

After each question, the students sitting on the inside of the U moved to the next seat and had a new partner. They interacted well with each other and stayed in English throughout the class. Sara’s response to her students’ engagement and their willingness to partner with each other during this activity was overwhelmingly positive. She reported later, “It was a hit!” She also noted that they all scored well on the final exam!

Sample Interactions

In the following scripted exchanges during the biology speed dates, notice how students gain academic vocabulary, clarity, and specificity during their interactions.


Prompt Question 4: Starting on bare rock, what is the usual ecological succession of organisms


Rita: It’s bare rock, so lichen helps it grow.

Niko: Yeah, the lichen break down the rock, so grasses can grow.

Rita: Yes! The lichen breaks the rock down into soil.

Niko: Right, the succession goes from simple to complex and the lichen has to break down the rock first.

Prompt Question 7: Look at the nitrogen cycle and answer the question Why are decomposers important for this cycle? What do denitrifying bacteria do?


Mario: They… um… yeah, ammonia

Rita: Because they put nitrogen in the soil.

Mario: Oh yeah, they take organic matter and transform it into ammonia

Rita: It’s because denitrifying bacteria grabs nitrates from the soil and transforms into nitrogen

Summary of the Strategy

“Speed dating” works well as a test review strategy and is simple to set up. Use test review questions for your prompts, place students’ desks in two concentric circles or U-shapes facing each other. Then:

  1. Post or ask the review question.
  2. All students answer individually first.
  3. Inside (or outside) students share first and explain why or how they arrived at their answer.
  4. The other partner explains their answer next.
  5. Students come to consensus.
  6. Teacher randomly calls on students to explain the answer.
  7. Inside (or outside) students move to the next partner.

Let me know, how speed dating works in your classes! Post a comment below on this blog, send me a tweet @easkelton, or comment on my Facebook page “Beth Skelton Consulting.”  I look forward to hearing from you.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

Leave a Reply