It is well known that kids learn best when they are actively participating in class. One way teachers can encourage active participation is by asking good questions. Good questions give kids the opportunity to think and respond and discuss.
Teachers should respond to the answers students give in a way that will encourage active participation.
What are the most common types of answers kids give and how should teachers respond to them?
Expect silly answers to questions and plan ahead of time how you will respond in a way that encourages further answers and discussion.
It is best to simply ignore silly answers. Say thank you and then turn to a student and rephrase the question you just asked.
We learn from our mistakes, from being wrong. So, if a student gives an incorrect answer it is a great opportunity for learning for the whole group. You will want to do two things – tactfully correct the wrong answer and come up with an encouragement for the student to correct wrong thinking.
Don’t put-down or embarrass the student. This only makes students less likely to speak up and participate. Instead, point out where they went wrong in their answer and then provide hints, suggestions, or follow-up questions that will help your students understand and correct their answers. “Not quite, but what if…” “Let’s all look at verse 11 again.”
When students give correct answers, you want to reinforce the answer and encourage the discussion to continue. Students need to learn how to have a discussion in class. One thing that can easily happen is for students to stop participating because a question was answered correctly. As the teacher you need to encourage your class to keep the discussion going even after a correct answer.
So, reinforce the correct answer by paraphrasing it or summarizing it and then ask the kids to provide another example to support or contradict the point just given. This encourages discussion to continue. Direct your students to respond to one another. “What do you think about the idea Emma just gave.” “Can you think of another way to solve that problem?” “Can you think of a Bible verse that talks about that?”
On-the-Right Track Answers
Sometimes, kids will give answers that are on-the-right track, but not quite there yet. They are specific but are just missing a piece. When this happens ask the responder to refine a statement or idea. “Is that response to the situation always the right one?” “Can you think of a Bible story or verse that talks about this situation?”
You want to respond in such a way that encourages students to keep thinking. Ask the rest of the class to respond to the idea that one kid just presented or ask the student who answered to explain the thinking that led to her answer.
When students give vague answers they may be parroting back something they have heard or giving generalizations of what they have heard in class. Vague answers demonstrate a lack of understanding.
When students give vague answers you want to respond with clear instruction and questions that will help them clarify their thinking.
If an answer is too general, try to draw out specifics. “That’s a good observation, Leona. Can you give me another example of mercy?
Ask the student to clarify a vague comment. “Can you explain what you mean?”
If the kids are parroting answers encourage them to explain or define in their own words. Then you can get a better understanding of what they know and what you need to teach.
Sometimes you will get no answers when you ask a question. First, allow for silence. A lot of teachers are afraid of silence, but silence is a good thing. Silence allows students to think before they answer and to put their thoughts together so that what they say makes sense when they do answer. After a minute or so, ask the question again. If there are still no answers you may need to rephrase the question. Maybe the kids didn’t understand it. If there are still no answers, you can answer the question yourself or choose to come back to the question later.
Another idea is to have kids write their answers on an index card. This allows them some time to think and encourages everyone to respond. You can choose to have the kids give their index cards to the person next to them, read them out loud themselves, or hand them in to you.
Encourage active participation in your Sunday School class! Ask good questions and respond to the answers students give in such a way as to encourage thinking, learning, and participation.