It’s important for teachers to ask their students questions during a lesson, for multiple reasons:
- Student interaction is crucial for the learning process; learners are liable to forget things quickly if the lesson is only a lecture, or perhaps not even fully comprehend the material in the first place.
- Comprehension Checks show whether the teacher and the students are on the same page, so to speak. If the students aren’t able to answer questions about what was just taught, the teacher probably needs to back up and slow down a bit.
But of course, it’s not enough for the teacher to ask a question; the students also need to answer that question (even if the answer is “I don’t know.”)
This might seem obvious, but for some teachers (especially newer ones), it can feel like the lesson quickly stalls out if no one answers within the first two or three seconds. So instead of continuing to wait, those teachers just reveal the answer themselves so that they can move on with the lesson. You might have a lot of material to cover, so waiting in silence seems like a waste of time. For some of us, time seems to slow during those silent moments, and each second just drags on. Even two or three seconds might feel awkward if your not used to it, especially when you’re the one at the front of the room and most everyone else is looking at you.
This odd sensation is almost certainly worse for teachers/speakers/presenters than it is for the students/audience. While the person at the front who asked the question might be feeling the weight of the silence, at least some of the people sitting in chairs are thinking about the question and its possible answers. Some students need more time to come up with an answer (I’ve always been one of those people). If you cut these students off by revealing the answer yourself, you deny students the opportunity to solve problems or express themselves.
If your students don’t answer right away, don’t assume they don’t know the answer. Maybe they just need a few more seconds to think about the solution, or perhaps think about what phrasing they should use to express the answer.
By the way, when I first started teaching I had a similar problem of calling on the first student to raise their hand. Again, it would be better had I waited a bit for more students to raise their hands. The solution to both these issues is pretty much the same.
Try this: after asking a question and while waiting for answers, count out seven to ten seconds in your head before moving on. If there’s a clock with a seconds hand that you can see, keep an eye on that. Again, if you’re not used to waiting more than two or three seconds, this can feel a little weird at first. But it’s okay. You may be surprised by the hands that start popping up.
Final note: It’s okay for students not to immediately have the right answer. It actually is a good thing if students need to think about something for a bit before they can reply. Read our post on Why Forced Recall is Important.