Know the answer in advance. Even though we know our content well, we may ask a question and not have a clear idea of exactly what we want students to say. In these cases, we risk telling students they’re right even if they’re only a little bit right, or adding on to their answer in order to make it correct. When we know ahead of time what the best answer is for the rigorous questions we ask our students, it makes it a lot easier for us to hold them accountable to articulating the full, high level answer.
Require complete thoughts. If we always require students to answer with a complete thought, we can better tell if they really understand what they’re trying to communicate. Brief or one-word answers allow students to settle for superficial thinking and can veil misunderstandings. Having to ‘talk it out’ for a moment and come to a clear articulation will help students clarify and deepen their understanding or alert you to an early misunderstanding.
Don’t repeat student answers. Our natural inclination after a student says an answer, is often to repeat their answer for the class. Often we end up rephrasing their answer in a clearer way instead of simply repeating. If you feel the urge to repeat or rephrase, instead put it back on the student and ask them to say it in a complete sentence, to explain further if it’s not clear, or to simply repeat it again if others didn’t hear. I liken it to when they have to complete essay questions on an assessment. We’re not going to be there to rephrase things more clearly for them then, so we shouldn’t always be there to save them during a lesson, either.
Ask why. This is just generally a good ‘go-to’ follow-up question. If students are required to explain in a complete sentence why they think something, you can be sure they truly understand and they’re also more likely to be able to explain it again later to themselves or friends when they’re studying, or on paper at test time.
Give specific feedback. If students give an answer that’s only partially right, tell them which part is right and then ask them to complete or clarify the answer. And if the answer is incorrect, tell them it’s incorrect. If we praise them and then add on more accurate information for them, we’re doing the whole class a disservice. Once they hear, ‘yes’ or ‘good,’ they think the answer given was correct and so may stop listening and internalize a wrong answer.
Make students reliant on each other. Unless you’re introducing a concept for the first time, try to have students rely on each other for explanations. Students will feel more responsible for explaining something clearly if they know they need to be the ‘correct answer.’ And when you’re able to take yourself out of the equation, it also pushes the whole class to listen more carefully to each other and ask each other for the clarification they need.