Teaching Strategies

Thinking on Their Feet: Instructional Carousels

July 21, 2015

Carousels (the instructional kind - not the amusemant park kind) are ubiqitous in my work. I see them used (and use them myself) as a great way to get learners up on their feet and moving. If you're not familiar with the Carousel, it's a tool for discussion in which prompts or questions are posted on charts around the room (on the walls or on tables). 

Groups of students move as a team from chart to chart at timed intervals (usually only 3-4 minutes) responding in writing to the prompt and to the comments from other groups. The activity wraps up with each group presenting a summary of the comments from their "home" chart (the one at which they started). You can see a more complete write up here.

I love the Carousel because it provides an accessible way for my students to talk together about a lot of different topics or the same topic through different lenses. This comes with the added bonus of encouraging creative thinking and input from our less talkative team members across disciplines and grade-levels. Plus once we get the hang of the tool, we can use it in all kinds of settings! I'm a big fan of simple, elegant tools that do a lot of different jobs.

The tricky part with the Carousel is coming up with the right questions - the kind that push thinking without pushing people out of the conversation. In my work at Antioch, we've used a 3 Ws and an H formula for years with really good results:

  • What
  • Why
  • How
  • What If

So, for example:

  • What do you need to know to solve this problem?
  • Why do you need to know it?
  • How can you find out?
  • What if you don't find it there?


  • What do you think is the most important event in this story?
  • Why did Katniss choose to save Peeta?
  • How would you have approached the games if you'd been a tribute?
  • What if Prim had been the tribute instead of Katniss?

I've found that these stems provide a door into the content for a variety of learning styles and thinkers. It's always interesting to ask students which question was hardest or easiest. They always give different answers, and often we find that they align with what they already know about their prefered modalities. I've also seen teachers use different questions to address different aspects of a topic, such as starting groups of students with a specific question that it fits their interest, previous content knowledge, or learning style. It's an easy way to start thinking about the Carousel as a tool for differentiation, too!  

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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