How To Get Students To Raise Their Hand

Smart Classroom Management: How To Get Students To Raise Their HandCalling out is a momentum killer of the highest order and can turn a well-planned lesson into a halting mess.

But that isn’t the only reason why you should require your students to raise their hand.

Here are a few more:

Calling out is unfair

Every student has a right to participate, not just those who are more assertive. If calling out is allowed, a segment of your classroom will rarely be heard from.

Calling out inhibits learning

Good teaching allows students to form their own ideas, opinions, and conclusions before an answer is revealed or a thought expressed. Students need time—even if it’s just a few seconds—to puzzle over the presented material before discussion takes place. Calling out interferes with this process.

Calling out tilts the playing field

Students who participate do better than those who don’t. Allowing students to call out gives socially confident students an unfair advantage. Shy or less confident students, then, are left feeling unwelcome and disconnected from the rest of the class.

Calling out is rude

Allowing students to call out encourages selfishness. Students think, if I want something in this class, I’m going to have to bully my way to the front because that’s what everyone else is doing. In this environment, rudeness, unhappiness, and misbehavior are commonplace.

Teaching Students To Raise Their Hand

Requiring students to raise their hand before speaking is a must. However, I’m aware that many teachers struggle to get students to do so consistently.

The following steps are a proven solution.

1. Model

Few teaching strategies are as effective as detailed modeling, especially for teaching procedures. Your students need to know exactly what you expect from them. The most effective way to do this is to sit in a student’s chair, and show them precisely how you want them to raise their hand.

2. Use the “how not” strategy

Show your students how not to raise their hand. Act out common unacceptable behaviors. You know the ones: waving their hand to get your attention, calling out with their hand up, sighing and drawing attention to themselves, beginning to speak before you actually address them. Your students need to be clear about what hand raising does and doesn’t look like.

3. Practice

Have your students show you what proper hand raising looks like. Have them practice by asking you questions about your favorite sport or hobby, or by offering information about their own.

4. Limit

Students need plenty of opportunities to ask questions and share their thoughts. But there are times when your room needs to be closed for discussion. For example, you might say, “We’re going to start independent reading in a few minutes. Are there any questions… about anything? Now is a good time to ask. Once we begin reading, you’ll have to hold your questions or comments until we’re finished.”

5. Ignore

If a student calls out and waves their hand at you, first ignore them. Send the message that you don’t respond to anything except proper hand raising. This also keeps you from accidentally responding—which is a no-no.

6. Enforce

Continue to ignore, but move over to the whiteboard and put the student’s name up—or turn their card over or whatever system you use to communicate a consequence. As part of your classroom management plan, hand raising should be an enforceable rule. (See The Only Classroom Rules You’ll Ever Need.)

One Exception

The only exception to the hand-raising rule is when you’re working with a small group of students. Guided reading or literature circles should allow for polite but free-flowing conversation.

Hand raising is a critical element of effective teaching. I’ve never known a teacher who was lax in this area and didn’t have problems with student behavior, learning, engagement, time management, and more.

So is it really doable?

Absolutely. Follow the steps above and stick with it. Never give in and accept less than what is right for your students.

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16 Responses to How To Get Students To Raise Their Hand

  1. Jill Valentine September 5, 2011 at 6:21 am #

    Love the articles,, very helpful and informative. Just the boost I needed.

  2. Rosalinda March 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Thanks for all the helpful advice!!

    • Michael Linsin March 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

      You’re welcome, Rose!

  3. Kara March 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    I’m learning in my preservice teacher program that many times “call-outs” are simply reflective of a student’s culture or background. “Raising your hand” is a white middle class value and practice, and by enforcing it on all students in the class, it puts students from a minority background at a disadvantage (because at home their communication patterns might be different from what occurs in the classroom). I’m constantly told that it’s not about “equality” but about “equity,” and part of that is taking student background and funds of knowledge into consideration (and for some kids, those “funds of knowledge” include shout-outs). What are your thoughts on keeping classroom practices fair while still respecting ALL students’ backgrounds?

    (Sorry for the loaded question, but I’m very curious to see what you think and what you’ve found to work best in your experience.)

    • Michael Linsin March 5, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

      Hi Kara,

      Asking students to raise their hand is a way to ensure fairness. It helps protect every student’s right to learn and be active and valued participants in a classroom free of chaos, disruption, and disrespect.


  4. Heather May 31, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Michael, I think you are right on track with your answer to Kara’s question. Raising one’s hand is a classroom behavior, not a behavior that is learned in any home. If a teacher establishes on day one that hand-raising is the expectation, and consistently reinforces the policy daily, students will rise to meet that expectation regardless of how they answer questions in other environments, be it their homes or in other classrooms. I would recommend Harry and Rosemary Wong’s book The First Days of School to Kara and all other preservice teachers.

  5. Jim May 31, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    Hand-raising was invented in the German school system as a way to cultivate compliance. It is of recent vintage. The custom dates from the 1800’s if I am not mistaken. It is only one way of keeping order and providing fairness. Our society has many customs and “rules” that are really quite arbitrary but we treat them like people have always done it this way. I think it is helpful to step back and look at why certain customs were implemented. The germans did many things to allow teachers to have more students. That is how testing originated. I watch all the people who were taught to raise their hands and consider hand-raising to be a sacracment violate the law about making a complete stop at a stop sign. They would consider a “blurter” like myself to be rude but they think nothing of a “sign” that does have potential significance if it is violated

  6. Elisa April 29, 2013 at 3:18 am #

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your articles, they’re all really interesting to read!

    I’ve heard about a strategy slightly different to choosing students with their hands raised to answer the question. Instead, you have a container full of cards, each with a student’s name on it. Instead of asking to students to raise their hand, you choose a card and ask them. The reasoning was that this keeps the students alert and engaged, as they know their name might be picked out at any moment. (Once a student has been asked, you leave their name out of the container so everyone gets a go). Also, it prevents the same students from answering over and over again.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    Elisa (London)

    • Michael Linsin April 29, 2013 at 6:51 am #

      Hi Elisa,

      Yes, I know about this strategy and have used it myself. I like it. My friend Rick Morris has a book about it called, Class Cards.


  7. Chris June 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Kara –

    Raising hands is not a “white middle class” value. Children in “white middle class” homes do not raise their hands to speak. It is a practice implemented in schools to ensure fairness and allows all students to have a chance.

    In fact, if anything I would guess that non-white-middle-class students would do *worse* with a “calling out” model – simply because in many other cultures, collective fairness is more strongly emphasized. That is, certain non-white-American cultures put a stronger emphasis on working for your fellow man than the middle-class-white-American culture which often teaches kids to put themselves first. The fact that there may be a few poorly-raised children who always call out rudely and silence others in such a situation does not merit abandoing the method altogether.

  8. Melissa Sokol August 9, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    Do you deal with rules and procedures for coop groups?

  9. Hassan Aftab August 19, 2013 at 1:25 am #

    hi michael my question is that why should you raise your hand when you want to ask a question

    • Michael Linsin August 19, 2013 at 7:18 am #

      Hi Hassan,

      The reasons are noted in the above article.


  10. Emily September 18, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Hi, Michael,

    How do you handle large-group or whole-class reactions to student comments or questions? For example, if a student calls out and says something silly, on or off-topic, and everyone erupts in laughter. I struggle when more than one or two students are the problem all at once.

    • Michael Linsin September 18, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

      Hi Emily,

      Ignore the laughter and enforce a consequence with the student who calls out.