Just a Pinch

TECHNIQUE # 36:  Pepper

600_ChilesFrescoA great tool for incorporating ‘Recycling’ opportunities in the classroom.  Pepper is a quick, rapid fire verbal review of “familiar information and foundational skills”.  The key qualifier is to not slow down, don’t engage in conversation or discuss questions.  I digress; in the spirit of this strategy, I’ll try to keep this post brief.  Pepper is a perfect vehicle to review, quickly:

  • vocabulary lists
  • multiplication tables
  • terminology/definitions of concepts
  • conjugations of verbs
  • review questions from the previous chapter/lesson

If I had been in charge of labeling this technique, I might have dubbed it ‘Hot Potato’.  Pepper, not created by TLAC research development educators, but is explained well in the text¹.  It is a highly recommended practice and is used prolifically in many classrooms.  Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹, brings to the foreground some rudimentary classroom practices that can be kneaded into the daily mixture of drills, protocol, and strategy.  Another “neat” selling point for Pepper is that it is intended to be approached as a game.  In the following video clip, you can see the Uncommon Schools teacher, Ms. Riffle, introducing the game with a specific Call and Response clapping drill.  You’ll also note that Ms. Riffle uses Pepper as a means to Every Minute Matters.  As one student is completing a problem for the overhead screen, instead of waiting, watching and wasting minutes, the class is engaged in a round of Pepper.

Pepper can be conducted in several ways.  Students can be seated, as in the clip shown above.  Or they can be asked to stand.  In this second video clip, starring Mr. Rector, *(the first minute is sufficient viewing time to process the general idea), the students stand in a circle formation, facing one another, instead of looking forward at the teacher.  This is a strategy that I’ve never used and would like to try this arrangement in the future. An additional TLAC suggestion is that students stand, Head to Head (when one student answers correctly, they are seated and another student takes their place), or simply once a student has answered correctly they are seated.  This tactic allows the teacher to gather observable objective data.

As a “fast-paced, unpredictable review of fundamentals”, who participates is another level to this technique.  Sprinkle in some variety to the strategy:

  • Cold Call students/Popsicle sticks
  • Ask for raised hands from Girls, then Boys
  • Alphabetized/randomly generated class list
  • Target students that should be encouraged to participate more

pp16Another integral level of Pepper is when to use this strategy.  A rigorous assessment of how frequently or infrequently the educator is recycling content in the classroom is a great objective starting point.   Here are some specific suggestions for when to use Pepper.

  • Warm-Up activity.  Overwhelmingly, many teachers use Pepper at the beginning of class.
  • Changing the pace.  When attention spans are waning, use Pepper to re-invigorate or recharge the energy of the class.
  • Stray minutes/Every Minute Matters.  If a few students are engaged in an assigned task, handing out worksheets, writing up problems on the board, setting up posters/preparation for a presentation, etc, engage the rest of the class in Pepper.
  • Back Pocket Activity:  Extra 5 minutes at the end of class, waiting in line in the hallways, waiting for fire drills to play themselves out
    • Wrapping up a lesson/review for the next days quiz or test.


  • Questions should be formulated in advance.  A great tip from the book suggests the use of past test questions or review questions from the classroom text from previous units.
  • Select questions that require brief responses.  Nothing deep here!
  • Recycle the fundamentals, building block information
  • Topics/questions do not have to be related; go back to the first unit!
  • Assess which fundamental skills need reinforcement. Students seem to have mastered the content from Chapter 3, but are not demonstrating a level of mastery of Chapter 2. Here’s a deliberate, quick chance to review.



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