Solving the Hand Raising Problem

Advice from Real Teachers

Today I’m excited to introduce a new blog series called Advice from Real Teachers. I’ll regularly I’ll post a call for teacher questions on my Facebook page. Then I’ll review the questions and choose a few to feature on Facebook , and you’ll be invited to chime in with your advice. When I see a post that receives a large number of responses, I’ll compile the best answers to create a helpful blog post. That way your great ideas won’t get lost in Facebook land!


Today’s Question
D’Anna asked for advice about how to handle students who raise their hands constantly while she’s giving instructions. She can’t deliver the lesson and asked for ideas for dealing with this situation.
There were so many great responses to D’Anna’s question – 175 in all! It was tough narrowing it down to just a few, but here are 15 responses that I think you’ll find helpful.
  1. Peggy Seals: I have 2 very anxious seventh grade students that used to do this. I solved the problem by giving them a sticky note privately when they come in and instructing them to write down their questions. If I did not answer their questions during my lecture time they could ask me privately after class. I told them their questions are important but it’s also important to all the students to have uninterrupted time during the lecture. Worked like a charm!
  2. Betsy Page: I have 11th graders. I hold up 1 finger for them to wait a minute. If they blurt out, stop talking and VERY dramatically say, “If you have something that you think absolutely CANNOT wait until I finish, raise your right hand (brief pause for the half-dozen hands to go up) and place it firmly over your mouth.” 😀
  3. Beth Pearson: At the beginning of the year, I tell students when your hand is up, your brain is off. You are thinking about what you want to say or ask. I need you thinking about what I am saying. When they raise their hands, I say, “Hand up, brain off,” and then go on with my lesson. You have to also train yourself to NOT answer or call on those students. If you do, the students won’t believe you and will keep raising their hands. It all goes back to consistency.
  4. Erin Rainey: We have signals for “I have a connection (to the story or what someone said)” “I agree” “I disagree” and “I’m confused.” It helps me instantly know whether I need to address their comment or not, and it helps them develop metacognitive skills to identify why on earth they are raising their hands to begin with.
  5. Sonia Freeburg Kunze: Give them sticky notes to write their questions on while you are doing direct instruction. When you are ready for questions, they won’t forget them and sometimes the questions get answered before they can ask!
  6. Stephen Richardson: I used sign language. I used an ‘h’ to show that they needed help, an ‘r’ for restroom, a ‘t’ if they wanted to tell/share something, and an ‘a’ if they wanted to give an answer to a question that had been asked. This let me have some idea of what the kids wanted.
  7. Tara Gann: I keep talking and push my hand in a downward angle to show them to put their hand down. They might not catch on at first but after a while they realize I am not going to answer their question while talking. It is an easy and polite way to handle the situation while not interrupting the lesson.
  8. Sandra Revie: Proactively I read My Mouth is a Volcano (Julia Cook) and then I teach that if they are thinking about something they want to say, asking a ton of questions, or blurting they are not getting all they can get from a lesson because their brains are not focused on what I am teaching. Most of my students get that. However, for the few that do not (and those who just love to interrupt), I give them 2 craft sticks per lesson. That gives them 2 questions, interruptions, or connections per lesson. They have to hand me one to speak. When they’re gone so are their chances to speak during the lesson.
  9. Lindsey Bingley: I teach 4th grade and I give my kids a “blurt” book, a small notebook to write down their thoughts and questions in, so that they don’t forget them and can wait until the right time to ask questions or make a connection.
  10. Matthew Arrua: Use a ruler and tape a red circle and a green circle to either side. Tell them that they cannot ask questions while the red light is up. It allows for thinking time. Works great.
  11. Clare Coynel: Give pupils a minute at the end to talk in pairs or trios about what they’ve learned and what the follow up task is, so they learn to support one another and don’t rely on me all the time. Also helps kids who find it hard to remember a lot of info/instructions if they know they’ll have peer support without it being obvious to the teacher every time that they’re unsure.
  12. Jennifer Gil: Say, “if you’re going to tell a story about something, there is not time for that right now.” You’ll see the hands drop like flies. Follow it up with, “If you have a question, you can still ask it.”
  13. Megan Holt: Question flags … you get a certain number per lesson so save them … when you want to ask a question you hold up your flag and it is taken away as your question is answered.
  14. Lynne Nowicki: Remember that while your instruction and information is important, students do best when the learning is student directed. Maybe if you are being interrupted a lot, you should consider a way for the students to be involved in the learning.
  15. Laura L. Letts-Wright: Have a parking lot. A place where students can post their questions that the teacher can answer later. Students can place sticky notes in a certain area, and have their questions answered by the end of class. If the question just cannot wait then the student can use a special signal to give the teacher.
Thank you to everyone who took time to answer this question. Your suggestions are so helpful to other teachers such as Mary  who said:
I am so grateful for this question. I just graduated in May with my education degree and I’ve been subbing ever since, and I never even considered this. This happened to me today. A kid had a question which had absolutely nothing to do with what I was talking about. I’m thrilled somebody asked this question. Thank you, D’Anna.

And Melissa:

I love this page because as a student teacher I get to hear different situations that I have or could encounter in my classroom, and then all of these experienced teachers give great advice that have worked for them in their own classrooms. I enjoy reading these. Keep them up please! It helps me!! Thank you teachers!
If you would like to submit a teacher question, visit the Teaching Resources Facebook page and look for the link in the sidebar. 
Great Questions + Advice from Real Teachers = The Question Connection! Enjoy!