classroom management ideas

Sometimes an “I don’t know” comes from a child waving his or hand wildly, desperate to be called on, only to be at a loss for words once acknowledged. Sometimes you hear “I don’t know” because the child is shy, embarrassed to talk, or unsure of the answer. And sometimes “I don’t know” is said when a child is frustrated or disinterested and just doesn’t want to engage.

One secret I’ve learned is that kids usually do know something about the topic that they’re willing to share: you just have to jog their memory and help them respond with confidence. If you can get students to say something, you can guide them to figure out the answer.

responding when students say I don't know

So how do you get them talking? I learned years ago from an education professor that an encouraging smile and one simple phrase often does the trick:

If you did know, what would you say?

It sounds like a trick question, but you will be amazed at how well this works! The student is no longer under pressure to come up with a correct response right away, and instead can remove him or herself from the situation and think hypothetically.

Many times, kids will actually respond to you with the correct answer! They knew it all along, but were afraid to say it and second-guessing themselves.

Other times, they respond with, “I dunno, maybe I’d say something about ___” or “I’d probably say ___, but I don’t know ___.” Both of those responses give you valuable insight into kids’ thought processes and give you something to work with. You can then say, Tell me more about that or What else do you know about that? You can also follow up with topic-specific questions, providing some of the missing information or vocabulary the child needs to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Variations on this include:

  • I understand you don’t know. What would you say if you did know?
  • What part do you know for sure?
  • Pretend you had a choice of answers: which one would you pick?
  • What would be your best guess if you did know?
  • What are the possibilities?
  • If you did have an idea, what would it be?

I’d love to hear how you respond when students say “I don’t know”–please share your strategies in the comments. And if you haven’t tried the responses in this post, give one of them a shot with your students this week and let us know how it goes!

April bright ideas link upFor more bright ideas from 150 different bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic that interests you. What makes this link-up unique is that none of these posts have products or printables of any kind, just practical classroom solutions. The grade levels for each are listed in the post titles. Enjoy!

April bright ideas

Plus over a hundred more posts! Click to see the link up!

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7 ways to get students excited about reading

sponsors and supporters

This guest post is sponsored by SNAP Learning. With mobile devices and video games competing for students’ free time, getting your students excited about reading can be a daunting task for even the most determined teacher. Here are some ideas to inspire your students to get back to books: 1) Become a Book Character: Get […]

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A bright idea for breaking the nagging cycle

behavior management

Every teacher has fallen into the trap of repeating directions we’ve given a million times. Kids already know what they should be doing, so they tune us out. We say it again, they ignore it again. And we go home at the end of the day exhausted because we’ve spent our time trying to control […]

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5 clever ways to store and organize student materials

classroom management ideas

I’m always amazed at all the different systems teachers create to help their students organize materials. I see so many great ideas passed around in the Encouraging Teachers Facebook group that I asked to share a few of them here. Katie T uses magazine storage containers as kids’ work buckets. Students store iPads, head phones, and […]

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Introverts in the classroom: supporting the “quiet kids” (and possibly yourself!)

classroom management ideas

I’ve insisted on having some quiet time built into my day for as long as I can remember. I’d drop the class off at P.E. and retreat to my classroom, breathing a deep sigh and reveling in the silence. I always built down-time into our daily schedule, following up an intense period of direct instruction […]

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Using Class Dojo to reinforce positive behavior

behavior management

Class Dojo is a popular and somewhat controversial free tech tool for behavior management. I frequently hear it recommended by teachers at all grade levels, but am not familiar with it personally. So, I’ve invited a teacher who has used Class Dojo with her students to explain what’s worked for her.  Amanda Killough, who has been […]

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50 fun call-and-response ideas to get students’ attention

behavior management

Call-and-response is a time-tested technique for getting attention, not just in classrooms but in the military, in churches, at sports events, and in traditional cultures in various parts of the world.  Some of the tips and ideas I’ve compiled here are commonly and widely used so I didn’t credit anyone for them, but the ones […]

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Classroom management in the BYOD classroom

21st century schools

If you’ve ever considered having students bring their own devices (BYOD) to class, you’ve probably worried…won’t the kids text all day long? How do I keep them from taking inappropriate photos or posting on Facebook while I’m teaching? Aren’t students’ phones a huge distraction? Here to help is Kristy from the 2 Peas and a Dog […]

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Discipline, not punishment: creating a personal improvement plan for a troubled kid

behavior management

This is the time of year when we tend to be especially short-tempered with our “frequent fliers”, as a principal of mine used to call those kids who seem to spend more time traveling down to her office than in the classroom. I wrote a post last week called Why discipline is different from punishment and […]

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Why discipline is different from punishment

behavior management

I shared this image recently on Facebook and was really surprised by the amount of pushback it received. There were a number of teachers who felt that punishment is the only thing that works at times, especially for students in high-poverty classrooms. Some commenters interpreted the quote to mean that positive reinforcement should be used […]

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What to do when you get the “class from hell”

behavior management

It’s a difficult phenomenon to describe to non-educators, but classroom teachers will instantly know what I’m referring to–having a group of students that just don’t click with you and are extremely difficult to handle, usually with more than the average extreme and violent behavior issues tossed into the mix. These experiences seem to suck the joy […]

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Powerful routines for the one iPad classroom

21st century schools

If you only have access to one or two mobile devices in your classroom, you’re going to love these ideas for how to really make the most of them! Karen Sabados is our guest blogger, and she’s taught elementary school for over ten years. Much of that time has been spent with first graders and […]

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Should teachers use collective punishment?

behavior management

“Alright, that’s it. You guys can’t handle this activity, we’re shutting it down right now. Everybody, clean up. It’s over.” Chances are, you’ve spoken words like that to your students at some point. You’ve given way too many warnings for the kids to get on task, quiet down, and/or get to work, and the classroom […]

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15 creative & respectful ways to quiet a class

behavior management

Have you fallen into the trap of saying “No talking!” or “I need quiet!” all day long? It’s exhausting to keep repeating your requests for silence, and after the hundredth time, kids just tune you out, anyway. There have been some great discussions about how to get students to quiet down on my Facebook page […]

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How to get rid of the teacher’s desk AND stay organized!

real teachers real tips

Lots of teachers are dumping their desks to make more space for student learning. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with having a teacher’s desk in your classroom (I was never bold enough to get rid of mine!), some teachers don’t want a desk because it takes up so much room, attracts clutter, and rarely gets used […]

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How to deal with co-workers who constantly complain

hot topics

Whether it’s in the teacher’s lounge, staff meetings, or just passing one another in the hallway, even a short conversation with a negative teacher can be totally draining. Everyone complains from time to time, of course. But what about those colleagues who never have anything positive to say and seem determined to tear everyone else […]

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101 read-alouds for creating a caring classroom

behavior management

One of the best ways to prevent behavioral issues and conflicts in the classroom is to teach kids how to get along with others. And what could be a more fun approach to that than a shared read-aloud? The slideshow below features some excellent books to read aloud to children ages 3-11, not only during […]

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The culture of cute in the classroom: readers respond

classroom management ideas

I thought I’d let the dust settle a bit after my post on the pressures and distractions of “cute-ifying” the classroom. Normally I like to respond to every comment on the blog, but with nearly 100 thoughtful readers chiming in with lengthy responses, that just wasn’t possible. It made more sense to post my response here […]

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10 back-to-school classroom management resources

classroom management ideas

These are some of my favorite tips and tricks for the first weeks of the school year. You’ll find articles to help you get set up, teach routines and procedures, and create a caring classroom environment. Click any picture in the slideshow below to read more about it.   Also…have you heard of Educents? I […]

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Teacher tips for organizing papers and digital files

real teachers real tips

Hi everyone!  I’m happy to be posting at the Cornerstone today!  My name is Megan Wheeler and I am a first grade teacher in Ohio.  I’ve been teaching first grade for 10 years!  It’s awesome!  I have a Master’s Degree in Literacy and am constantly continuing my education.  I am a self-proclaimed lifelong learner!  I […]

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