“Ditch the Traditional Hands-Up Approach and Maximize Student Engagement to 100%”

If you've ever felt the struggle of maintaining enthusiasm and student engagement in your classroom, you're not alone. Many educators face the challenge of sustaining students’ active engagement in the learning process. The traditional hands-up approach, while a common method of interaction in the classroom, often results in eliminating -believe it or not- 75% of your classroom. But…what if there were simple strategies and tools that you could use to captivate your students' attention EFFORTLESSLY and thus maximize student engagement to 100%?

The Downside of Hands-Up and Why Students Opt Out

Despite its widespread use, the traditional hands-up method (ie. The teacher asks a question, and ONE student answers) comes with its drawbacks. The main problem with questions is that you accidentally eliminate about 75% of your classroom. Studies suggest that extended exposure to a single approach (which is about 2 minutes!!!), such as excessive teacher talking time or repetitive questioning, leads to disengagement and mental zoning out.

Educators must acknowledge that when using hands-up children are NOT equal partners in the lesson. Some of them switch on and are eager to answer but others zone out and just sit back without listening or paying attention. Another big problem with hands-up is PACE. Asking questions has a really big impact on your lesson’s pace which in turn impacts your classroom management, since students who opt out may start displaying unsettled behavior out of boredom.

Another factor that is imperative to consider is: the emotional toll questions can have on students. The emotional impact on students should not be underestimated or overlooked as it may contribute to a lack of interest and disengagement in the learning process. Some students might experience negative feelings when asked a question, including feelings of confusion, low self-esteem, and stress. On the other hand, those not selected by the teacher to answer might feel upset and disappointed as the uneven allocation of chances for participation leaves them without a voice.

So here’s what educators can do to avoid slowing down the pace of the lesson or even worse triggering unsettled behavior arising from student disengagement and boredom.

The Power of Movement in Learning and Insights from Research

From a research perspective, adding movement to teaching isn't just a break from learning; it's a necessity for our students' success. It goes beyond moving or playing- it gets them doing and experiencing the subject matter firsthand.

According to research, there's a strong and positive correlation between movement and effective learning. So, by incorporating movement into their teaching techniques and routines, educators can support students in becoming the main characters of learning and reaching prime productivity. In turn, the shift from sedentary and passive listening to being actively involved can dramatically transform the classroom environment for both students AND teachers.

However, don’t fall for the trap of brain breaks (or movement breaks). A lot of educators use brain breaks now and then (which is brilliant) BUT…relying solely on such breaks may lead to unsettled behavior or unexpected challenges. The key here lies in understanding that brain breaks ALONE will not significantly enhance student engagement nor will they transform your classroom atmosphere. Instead, a holistic approach to active learning within the lesson is essential.

Alternatives to Hands-Up and Tools for Maximum Engagement

So…to inject enthusiasm back into your classroom and create an inclusive learning environment, consider the following techniques that can be used (instead of hands-up) in EVERY lesson, regardless of students' age or level. These tools require ZERO preparation and promise maximum student engagement, and less stress while at the same time, they’re making room for better formative assessment. Some of them are:

  1. Don’t Say it, Mime It: When possible, encourage the whole class to answer a question by using gestures. If students tend to copy each other's answers, ask them to close their eyes while miming. This simple adjustment ensures they refrain from copying each other and adds an element of mystery.
  2. ABCDE Fingers: Hand signals can be used as a simple and effective way to communicate their answers. For example, in the case of multiple-choice questions (a, b, c, d), encourage students to use their fingers to signify their responses (one finger is for A, two fingers for B, etc.). Another example would be True or False questions. In this case, you can have them stand up for TRUE or fold their arms for FALSE. The possibilities for creative variations are endless.
  3. Draw and Compare: Get students to use mini boards or a piece of paper and draw their answers instead of saying or writing them. To increase collaboration and speaking skills, ask them to compare their drawings. It is an excellent way to check reading and listening comprehension as well.
  4. Explain it to Your Neighbor:

Another brilliant way to cultivate a collaborative classroom environment is by encouraging students to explain their understanding (eg. of a text, a question, a word, etc.) to their ‘neighbor’, instead of having a single student respond to a question. This method not only fosters collaborative learning but also strengthens

communication skills as it allows students to express their perspectives. To ensure students remain on task, the teacher can circulate and provide instant feedback.

  • Prove It to Your Partner: Ask students to discuss in pairs/groups and provide proof that THEIR response is the correct one. This way, students are not only required to provide answers but are also encouraged to justify their responses to their peers.
  • Mini Whiteboards: Students get to write their responses on individual whiteboards and then share their answers with the rest of the class or their pair/group.
  • Hot Potato: A variation of the classic game Hot Potato. All you need is a softball and a timer. Whenever someone gets the Hot Potato, they have 5 seconds to answer and then can pass it to the next student. It is ideal for brainstorming.

Imagine a classroom where every student is NOT JUST PRESENT but actively and enthusiastically participating. Moving away from the traditional hands-up approach is not just a change in your teaching routines; it's a shift that can bring the buzz back into your classroom atmosphere. Let's redefine the way we invite our students into the world of participating and learning.


Angeliki Daviti

Angeliki Daviti

FLS Owner, Young Travelers School