How Do I Get My Unresponsive Class to Answer My Questions?

December 19, 2022
Teacher being supportive of a student

I have just taken on a small new class, it only has about 20 pupils, but they're really unresponsive. How do I get them to answer my questions? 
(Roisin, ECT, Primary Year 6)

This is likely because of the trust between the children in a group. Very often when children don’t speak out it is because they are concerned about what the other children might be thinking. There may be some difficult relationships within the group and there may be some difficult friendship groups to manage.

Start doing some deliberate activities that build trust with the children such as physical trust games. You need to build an understanding between two people that is unspoken. This is the level of trust you need in a productive classroom.

The team building activities can take place every week or even every day for just five minutes and they must focus on getting the children working and playing together. You can then take examples from the physical games and draw them back into the learning.

‘You know how you felt when we were playing the trust game and we were falling into each other’s arms? You know how you found it difficult, but in the end, you gave your trust to the five people standing around you because you knew they wouldn’t let you fall? That feeling is the same feeling as the feeling you’re feeling now. That feeling that you don’t want to take a risk in your reading/writing is the same feeling you had when you didn’t want to take a risk physically.'

This gives you a nice connection. You cannot gel a group together simply by teaching them knowledge, you must do something more than that.

The building blocks of great teaching lie in the ability of the children to be interdependent. Although independence is vital, we must accept that we are interdependent, we are in institutions together, classrooms together, we are sat next to each other all day and we are human beings.

The human condition is being interdependent and so we must give a little bit of time to that and highlight some of the key issues. When you do so, you start to build confidence so that the children once they have worked together physically, start to have less of a problem speaking out together.

In addition, when you are in the classroom, rather than just asking questions from the front, look to give the children opportunity to ask each other some of these questions. Have you tried questioning in pairs? In small groups? Have you given the students random numbers and randomly generated people to answer the questions? Could you use mini whiteboards or post-it notes so everyone can respond to a question?

There are a lot of ways of getting answers to your questions as an oppose to simply standing at the front and posing questions to everyone.

Furthermore, when you pose a question you want the answer almost immediately, but the longer you wait, the more chance you have of someone responding.

Wait 10, 15, sometimes even 30 seconds to where it gets quite awkward because some of the nuggets, the real pearls, come out after children have been given a little bit of thinking time. When you’re doing whole class questioning being aware of that is important. Those extra few seconds can extract an amazing answer from a child and suddenly really encourage them to respond to questions a lot faster.

Visit our pages for more information on the Classroom Culture train-the-trainer programme, our Hearts & Minds INSET, or how your school can get a Behaviour Health Check.

For more answers to your questions see our Q&A introduction page.

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