For Teachers

Teaching Students Who Blurt—or Who Never Volunteer to Answer Questions

Expert strategies to help teachers elicit good in-class participation from all students — especially those with ADHD and learning disabilities.

Tips for Teachers of ADHD Kids: Encourage Class Participation

Children learn better when they participate in classroom discussions. But what do you do with a child who never volunteers to answer a question – who refrains from speaking up because he has trouble formulating his answers in time or is painfully shy? How about an impulsive child who repeatedly “hogs the spotlight” by blurting out answers even when you’ve called on another student? Here are a couple of strategies to consider:

Whole-group learning

Rather than calling on students one by one, try having them respond to your questions in unison – and only when you direct them to do so.

Hold up your hand, as if directing traffic. Then, slowly and clearly, state a question that can be answered by a single word or phrase. Pause for at least five seconds to give everyone a chance to formulate an answer. Then say, “everyone,” and lower your hand. At this point, your students should call out the answer in a single voice.

A related approach is to pose a question to the class, and then have students give you a “thumbs up” when they know the answer. Wait until a number of thumbs are up, then give them the signal to respond.

If five seconds doesn’t seem to be enough time for a child to gather his thoughts and come up with an answer, you might ask students to pair up. That way, partners can share their thoughts with one another before answering the question.

Do your best to protect your students from embarrassment. If a student worries that his classmates will think him “dumb” because he is unable to answer many of your questions, devise a secret signal. For example, you could tell him that he should raise his hand each time you ask a question-whether he knows the answer or not – but that you will consider calling on him only if he shows his palm. If he raises his hand with a closed fist, you’ll know to call on someone else.

Nonverbal techniques

Don’t lose sight of the fact that children can participate in lessons without speaking. One approach is to have each child hold up a card or a dry-erase board on which he or she has written the correct answer.

Alternatively, you could write answers appropriate to your questions on stacks of cards connected with brass fasteners, and give one stack to each student. For example, for a section on basic math skills, you could hand out sets of four cards, marked ADD, SUBTRACT, MULTIPLY, and DIVIDE. You could give your students a word problem and ask them what they would do to find the solution.

Adapted with permission from and How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, Second Edition, Copyright 2005 by Sandra F. Rief.

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