Should Students Raise Their Hand In Small Groups?

Should Students Raise Their Hand In Small Groups?Requiring students to raise their hand before speaking is good classroom management practice.

You can’t very well control the flow of learning and discussion while being interrupted every few minutes.

Inspiration will sag. Trains of thought will vanish.

Boredom and inattentiveness will pervade your classroom like a Golden Gate fog.

It’s also impolite to call out, like cutting in line at the box office.

Hand-raising, on the other hand, is fair to every student—which is why we recommend it as part of an effective classroom management plan.

But what about when you’re working with small groups, say four or five students? Should you require hand-raising then?

The truth is, with groups this size, it’s best to shelve the practice.

Here’s why:

It dampens the experience.

Asking students to raise their hand takes the joy out of being in a small group. It removes the essence, the seasoning, the élan of debate and discussion. Without the spark of give-and-take spontaneity, it’s hardly worth doing at all.

It discourages active participation.

Your students must be able to speak directly to fellow group members without going through you first. Otherwise, they’ll grow bored with the process. They’ll become less interested, less invested, and less motivated to try and understand one another’s point of view.

It makes students self-conscious.

Because the intimacy of small groups can be intimidating, your primary goal should be to get your students lost in conversation—which makes creating a natural, organic experience all the more important. Being ‘in the moment’ also increases learning tenfold.

It’s poor preparation for their own groups.

Another important goal should be to become less and less involved, to raise questions or advance ideas and then fade into the background. You’re preparing them, after all, to conduct their own groups, to have stimulating debate and discourse without you.

It’s no fun for you.

Done right, and in a way that allows you to all but forget about the rest of your class, leading small groups is one of the great joys of teaching. But you have to allow free-flowing expression in order to experience the empathy, humor, and camaraderie of inspired group learning.

A Deft Touch

Before jumping into small groups it’s important to model in detail what productive conversation looks like, including how to make eye contact, ask polite questions, and chime in without interrupting.

Still, your success is largely dependent on your role as leader and facilitator of the group.

It’s dependent on your reassuring looks and quiet encouragement . . . your gentle corrections and calm persistence . . . your ability to pull from students the thoughts, ideas, and passion they feel on the inside but struggle to express.

Through your artful prompts, probing questions, and evidential challenges, you’ll get there. You’ll sculpt your students into a whole that is greater than its parts.

A disparate crew that relishes learning together.

A small, tender group that gets lost in the moment.

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6 Responses to Should Students Raise Their Hand In Small Groups?

  1. Catherine February 23, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    Thanks for bringing this topic up. I always want students to figure things out together and only come to me if there is an impasse. Your article is confirmation of this practice!

    • Michael Linsin February 23, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

      Good to hear, Catherine!


  2. B Cook March 3, 2015 at 8:45 am #

    It’s not necessay for students to raise their hands in small group learning environments. This type of learning strategy is used by teachers to greater accommodate those students who may need a less open and more informal way of making inquiries regarding their learning. Also,teachers reach out to those students who may benefit academically from specifically – targeted,and uninhibited instruction using small groups, In such cases, to encourage student group participation and promote a less restrictive atmosphere, raising hands during small group instruction is not necessary. Yet, students continue to review group norms prior to group assemblies

  3. LaMarvin Bell May 2, 2016 at 7:14 am #

    I am happy to see that someone gave this topic consideration. Let’s start with your statement that” you can”t control the flow of learning and discussion while being interrupted every few minutes. I start by saying, I would like you to raise your hand if you want to participate in the discussion. The reason I ask you to raise your hand is because I believe that everything said once group starts is very important and I don’t want to miss something that was said while someone else is talking. When the train of thought vanishes I facilitate and remind them what we were discussing when they tried to interject ( Improves memory).Boredom and inattentiveness are handled by picking the quite or the inattentive student by saying ” what do you think of what he/she just said .I find that exciting topics generate exciting groups.I use group rules to state that you should use I statements when speaking , your responses should be constructive and you should talk directly to the person you are addressing. I’ll close using you comment , ” through artful prompts, probing questions and evidential challenges I sculpt groups into a whole that is greater than it’s parts. But you have to raise your hand to get involved.

  4. Tessa October 31, 2016 at 10:10 pm #

    What about in small classes? I have only seven third graders. I don’t want to get off track in lessons, but I also have time to hear from everyone in a conversational manner, if I chose to.

  5. Brian November 18, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    What about in kindergarten guided reading groups where answers are simple and there is no real depth of discussion? Like if you are just looking for word or even letter recognition? Seems like blurting in this instance would be counterproductive.