The process of learning involves questioning but somewhere along the way, students often learn that answering questions can be a risk. They are afraid to be made fun of, to get things wrong or to be perceived as a “know-it-all”. One way to prevent this mentality is to be careful how you handle a student who does respond incorrectly. Setting a tone of acceptance is vitally important to maintaining a classroom of questioning. Below are a few ways to say “no” in a productive manner.

1. Did you think about _____?

If they’re on the right track but just jumped the gun before considering all elements of the problem, this is a good way to prompt them to think deeper. Nudge them towards the missing piece!

2. Change the perspective

Social stories can really help in situations where the word “no” is a response to inappropriate behavior–think off-task during group work, for example. Social stories involve telling a student about a scenario similar to the one they’re currently in–except changing their role in that situation so they can see a different perspective. Tell your offending student a story in which they are the one doing the brunt of the work while everyone else goofs off. A switch in perspective can help!

3. Remind them!

Remember last time we discussed this same concept?” Give them some words or examples that may trigger them to remember the process you used before. For example, “When we did this last week, Joe had 14 apples. Do you remember how we figured out how many more he needed?

4. Find Helpers

Allowing other students to help buoy the one struggling can foster a community feel in your classroom if done correctly. Instead of just moving to the next student, use phrasing that allows them to help. “Can anyone add to what Tommy said to get us to the right answer?

5. Validate their Confusion

This is a tricky question! I had a feeling I would trip someone up with this one–it uses all of our strategies! Let’s walk through it together.” You get the point. Being wrong stinks but it stinks less when someone agrees you were faced with a challenge.

6. Thank Them for Contributing

Sometimes students just want to participate, even if they’re totally lost. Saying things like “I appreciate your input!” or “I love your perspective” can encourage kids to keep trying, particularly when discussing more abstract topics that do have room for some “gray” area.

7. Give Them a Resource

Rather than just telling a student they’re wrong, help them use their resources to correct their answers. “Reread page 45 and then see what you think. Ask your table their thoughts and then raise your hand and try again“. These are good ways to foster investigative learning.

8. Switch from “You” to “I”

Instead of saying “You’re wrong” try using phrasing that shifts the dialogue to a more student-friendly atmosphere. “I was looking for a different answer” or “We had discussed a different strategy” reminds students that it’s not personal to get things wrong.

9. Make Sure it Has Been Taught!

This seems like a no-brainer but when it comes to classroom rules and expectations, it can be easy to expect something from students who aren’t familiar with procedures. This is particularly true at the beginning (when everything is new) and the end (when everything is crazy). If your kids have never had a field day, set expectations and rules specific to the day and don’t assume they’ll apply your classroom rules to the chaos–then you can feel justified in saying “no” when they mess up!

10. Identify with Their Line of Reasoning

I can see why you thought that but I was looking for this answer“. “I know you’re full of energy after testing, but running in the halls isn’t safe“. Sometimes it just means a lot to be understood–even if you’re wrong!

10 better ways to say “NO” to students when they’re wrong