Keeping kids engaged in learning is hard, harder when the subject is math, and worse when so many of them lack fundamental skills. So you do what you can, and you smile when you stumble on something that works.

On this day, we had a block of time at the end of class for the kids to work on some independent practice problems. There would be an exit ticket that they would have to turn in (as evidence that they were doing something with the time they were given). And the block of time was generously long, because most of the students were in a different part of the building taking a standardized English test.

It was quiet in the classroom — blissfully quiet for this normally raucous period. We had just finished talking about *greatest common factors*, and now the kids were working the exit tickets.

Overheard from two students sitting at a table not too far away:…

“…what you do is pull out the GCF like this…”

He pointed to his paper. The two of them were bent over the table. Then the other one started to ask a question.

“But what’s this here?”

He paused momentarily and then said, “Ohhh.”

He picked up his pencil and began writing on his own paper. The first student continues with his. The two of them fell silent. Not long after that, I looked up, and I saw them comparing answers.

These exit tickets have been effective. Actually, they aren’t really exit tickets but rather smallish sets of problems — short enough not to feel like an assignment, long enough to keep them working, varied enough that they don’t have to slog thru one problem on end before they get to claim victory. And they get to work together in groups of their own choosing.

On a bad day, these groups can turn into loud, unfocused chit-chat sessions in which no one gets credit for the exit ticket, because no work got done. But on a good day, like this one, they actually do math and talk about it to each other. You got that? They *talk about math to each other*… well, on a good day they do.

This was one of those.