Surviving a ”no hands up” school policy- 5 alternatives!

”Raised hands” has been the most common way for a pupil to show that they want to answer a question or have a go during a whole-class activity. However, several schools in the UK are increasingly banning a ‘’hands up’’ approach and establish a strictly ‘’no hands up’’ policy in the classroom.

The reasons can vary from school to school; Some schools consider ‘’hands up’’ pedagogically wrong whilst some others simply believe that too many hands up in the air can cause hassle and unnecessary noise. No matter the reason, it is very common for teachers to work in a school where ‘’hands up’’ is banned or is about to get banned. As a result, many teachers may wonder ‘’now what?’’ as this can make things challenging especially for pupils who are always very eager to join in.

Here are some tips that can be used in your classroom as an alternative to ‘’hands up’’!

1. Question sticks

Question sticks are very loved by many practitioners and teachers. The questions sticks are nothing more and nothing less than colourful lolly sticks with the pupils’ names on them. When the teacher has a topic to discuss or a question to ask they simply choose a lolly stick with a child’s name on it, which means it’s that child’s turn to answer or have a go.

However, lolly sticks are frequently differentiated and colour coded: Many teachers group lolly sticks by colour based on a pupil’s ability, using for example yellow sticks for middle attainers and green sticks for higher attainers.

The questions asked are also differentiated according to the level of the pupils: Lower attainers may be asked simple ‘’who, what, why’’ questions which are easier for them to respond to, whilst higher attainers may be asked higher-order thinking questions focusing on applying, analysing and the use of inference.

2. Partner talk

The use of ‘’talking partners’’ has been very popular in British classrooms. The children are sat in pairs with their talking partner on the floor (or at their tables for older age groups). When the teacher asks a question or presents a topic for discussion, the children are asked to discuss this with their partner. The teacher then selects a few pairs to share their ideas with the classroom. The children feedback what their answer was, or what their partner’s answer was (great for encouraging attentive listening).

 The ‘’talking partners’’ can be used in different ways:

  • Mixed ability pairs, which means that a higher attainer can help a lower attainer or a pupil with no English.
  • Some teachers like to pair their pupils in similar attainment levels as this helps them to have all lower attainers in one place so that they can offer support and adequate visuals. Another member of staff can challenge higher attaining groups.

3. Response slips

Pupils can write their answer and present it to the teacher. The teacher can then read aloud a selection of answers. This method is ideal for shy pupils, pupils with anxiety as well as those with selective mutism -as no talking in front of others is required! There are different ways of doing this:

  • Post-it notes on a board. Children can write their answers on a post-it note and stick it on a big board (they love that!)
  • Whiteboards and pens.
  • Chalk boards and pens.

4. Thumbs up- thumbs down

Identifying a right or wrong answer is a very important part of children’s development. It enhances their comprehension, which assists with guided reading, literacy as well as following instructions. The teacher provides a question and different answers. The pupils can show thumbs up if they agree, or thumbs down if they disagree.

5. The magic wand

This is a noisy option but I love it! The teacher uses a pointy finger or a wand and asks pupils to give their answers in a loud voice when the wand points towards them. For example when the wand points right, all the children on that side of the classroom can say their answers out loud, then they stay quiet when the wand points to another group. This method often helps the children identify the most popular answer among pupils.

Stay tuned for our English and Spanish speaking content and translations on our website!

About The Author


Η Χριστίνα Παναγοπούλου ζει και εργάζεται στο Λονδίνο ως εκπαιδευτικός απο το 2008. Είναι πτυχιούχος Προσχολικής Αγωγής του Πανεπιστημίου Πατρών, με μεταπτυχιακές σπουδές στον τομέα Comparative Education του UCL.Τα πρώτα 5 χρόνια στο Λονδίνο εργάστηκε σε ιδιωτικούς παιδικούς σταθμούς, με έμφαση στις ηλικίες 0-3. Απο το 2015 διδάσκει μόνιμα στο Αγγλικό δημόσιο στην προδημοτική τάξη Reception.

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