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Teaching Strategies to Respond to Wrong Answers

Janelle Cox

What happens when a student participates in class, but gives a wrong answer? How do you respond? Getting students to participate in class is a struggle for many classroom teachers. So when a student finally decides to participate in a classroom discussion, but gives a wrong answer, it can be embarrassing or discouraging for the student to want to share again in the future. They key to responding to students’ wrong answers is the way that you react to them. Here are a few teaching strategies for how to handle wrong answers in your classroom.

Teaching Strategies: Ask Open-Ended Questions

One solution is to ask the student a few open-ended questions, such as, “How did you arrive at your answer?” Or, you can ask the student to give you an example of what they meant by their answer. By asking open-ended questions you are see where their thinking is. You may find that their answer is not wrong in itself, it’s just how they may have communicated their answer that is wrong. The more questions that you ask, the more information that you’ll have to help you understand how they go to their answer. You may even find that the student will work their way to the correct answer themselves.

Probe for More Information

Invite the student to give you an example of how they came to the answer. This is a great technique to lead the student to discover how they got their answer on their own. Oftentimes, when students are telling you how they arrived at their answer, they will actually catch where they went astray. Or, if they don’t see where they got it wrong while they are explaining how they got to their answer, you can take this opportunity to point it out to them.

Identify Where the Error Is

If you find that part of the answer is correct, you can help the student identify where their error may be. You can say, “You’re on the right track for this part, however …” or “You’re right regarding this part, however in order to fully answer correctly, you need to give this part another try.” You can also take this as an opportunity to invite other students’ suggestions. You might say, “Thank you for giving it a try, would you like to hear how other students may have answered?” After hearing others’ responses, the student may be able to work through what they didn’t understand beforehand.

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Respond with Compassion

For some students, it takes a lot to get to the courage to participate, so when they finally get the nerve, and they get it wrong, it can be humiliating. To help soften the humiliation, and save face, you can simply respond by saying something like, “I see where you are going” or “I can see why you may have come to that answer.” When you respond by telling the student you feel the same way that they do, or you understand how they came to that conclusion, you are building trust with the student. This is a great way to show the student that you respect their answer, and that you are not trying to embarrass them.

Be Honest

Students need feedback, especially when their answer is incorrect. The key to getting students to participate is to make them feel comfortable enough to want to answer a question. You must be honest with students if they answer incorrectly, while at the same time doing it in a manner that’s respectful. Giving them a smile, using an encouraging voice, and being honest with them are all great ways to ensure students they should continuing to participate even when their answer may be incorrect.

Build On the Student’s Answer

Another great teaching strategy is to build on the students’ answer even if it’s not fully right. Try and pick out the part that they did get right and ask the classmates to build on that. This is a great way to keep the whole class engaged and involved at the same time.

There are many teaching strategies for responding to wrong answers: From asking questions and prompting students for more information, to trying to identify where the student went wrong, responding with compassion, and building on what the student did get right. By giving genuine feedback without discouragement, you can ensure that your students will continue to participate in all classroom discussions.

How do you respond to wrong answers in your classroom? Do you have any teaching strategies or techniques that work well for you? Please share with us in the comment section below, we’d love to hear what you have to say on this topic.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.