When Kids Don’t Answer

Checking for understanding sometimes reveals a child doesn’t know the answer or doesn’t comprehend the question. Here’s a look at that and something you can say in that situation.

kids in a lineChecking for understanding sometimes reveals a child doesn’t know the answer or doesn’t comprehend the question. Here’s a look at that and something you can say in that situation. Using popsicle sticks to call on randon non-volunteers is an excellent way to check for understanding (CFU) during a lesson. You can use a number of things besides sticks, for example I use a deck of cards and the kids are numbered, but the important thing is that the kids do not know who’ll be called next and they must think you are doing it at random. I might say: “The kids in this picture are eating and laughing.” to a group of 1st graders. Then, I might explicitly show the way I know they are eating and laughing etc. After that I would say something like: “Ok, now I will ask you a question to check for understanding, the kids are eating and what else?” Then I would wait 3 seconds for each kid to summon the answer in her/his head and pull the card. “#13?” If 13 is silent or says she/he doesn’t know, this can mean one of several things. They may have understood but are unable to answer the question due to the way it was asked etc. One suggestion I have for you in this situation is to simply lookin them in the eye and say: “I’ll come back to you.”

This takes the pressure off the kid but keeps them paying attention because you have promised to come back. Here are some sample lessons.

What other things do you suggest when kids don’t know the answer?

Author: Damien Riley

Having been a public school teacher since 1997, I've gained valuable classroom experience. Sometimes a great tool is a dynamite lesson plan. These posts are from a real teaching journey. I hope they inspire you. Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “When Kids Don’t Answer”

  1. I like your suggestions for calling kids randomly. It definitely keeps them on their toes and makes it fun at the same time. I’ve been teaching for a long time (since 1990) but it wasn’t until last year that it hit me like a ton of bricks: why call on the kids whose hands are raised? They already know the answer! So simple. Guess I’m a slow learner. As of this year, I decided to ditch raising hands. I draw names, randomly choose kids, etc. And they know that once they’re called, they’re not off the hook. (My memory stinks!) It’s made such a huge difference. Great post!

  2. @diane: Sounds like you recognize this as something valuable. If you think about it, when you are in a class or meeting and they call on one person, don’t you tune out when the pressure is off?

    Thanks for your valuable input.

  3. @Meaghan: That’s a great idea and I think it works based on the same principle of calling on “random non-volunteers.” However, I avoid “kids” calling on other kids during CFU. In my class all CFU is random in hopes that all kids will be focused, alert, and ready to be called on. In fact, that is why I carry shuffled cards with me as I walk around doing CFU. Thanks for your valuable sharing on this topic of CFU, it is much appreciated, I hope we can have more public dialog on this.

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