Helping Students Learn to Ask for Help

Jessica Shaffer
Jessica Shaffer
5th grade teacher; M.A. in Administration, Leadership, Georgian Court University, NJ

Asking for help is not easy. There’s really no exact science behind why this is, but many students are afraid to ask for help. As adults, we become more comfortable with asking for help, but how do we help students overcome their fears?

Why are Some Students Hesitant to Ask for Help?

Many students are hesitant to ask for help for a variety of reasons. Students are oftentimes worried about their appearance to peers and don’t want to appear “dumb”. Many students feel ashamed of being unable to understand a concept or feel that they may upset the teacher if they ask questions about directions, as it may be offensive to the teacher. Self-confidence is a trait that teachers continually focus on with their students, and many students simply do not have enough self-confidence to ask questions or are just too shy.

Strategies for Encouraging Students to Ask for Help

Normalize Asking for Help

Make your classroom a safe space! First, make your classroom a “home”. In our “new normal” this is a bit challenging; but get creative and make your actual or virtual classroom look inviting! This helps to put the students at ease.

Second, and this is a big one, ask for help yourself when you need it! Be vocal when you don’t understand something. If you have a second teacher in the room, you can both ask each other questions and have the class chime in. Third, just stay calm and model kindness in responses. A little bit goes a long way!

Give Alternate Methods of Ways to Ask for Help

Giving students options to ask for help is a great way to encourage them to do so. If students do not feel comfortable raising a hand to ask for help in front of the class (or in front of the virtual meet), tell students to email you. This may not get an immediate response, but the teacher can then address the student on an individual level and help with the concept or direction that he/she is struggling with. If you are in class, students can have a method to ask for help. One example is you can have students leave a Post-It note on their desk (or the Plexiglass nowadays) which signals they have a question. You can then address the question without calling attention to it in front of the class.

Share Personal Examples

Sharing personal examples is a great way to get students more comfortable with asking for help. It helps students to know that even teachers have asked for help before! Examples from your childhood or even your adult life where your question “saved the day” are great to share with the students.

I always like to share an example from my seventh grade Algebra class. I will never forget my teacher, as she was the toughest in the school. I asked her so many questions, and I would always tell my mom how I felt that I annoyed my teacher. My mom always said, “Trust me sweetie, you aren’t.” All year, I continued to ask many questions to my stone-faced teacher.

Toward the end of the year, the bell rang and I was getting ready to head to my next class, and my teacher asked me to stay after. I was sweating bullets trying to think of what I could have possibly done wrong. My teacher smiled and said, “Thank you for asking your questions all year. I think the class learned so much from your questions, and quite frankly, so did I.” It was a game-changing moment for me, and a great story to share with my students now.

Encourage Asking Questions

You can encourage students to try to stump you! Have students ask you questions and try to get to a point where you can’t answer any more!  If you make it a challenge or a game, students are more likely to want to participate in asking questions. This goes back to the original point of normalizing asking for help in your classroom. The more comfortable and confident that your students feel, the more likely they will step out of their comfort zone and ask questions.

One important piece of advice in dealing with students and questions is: you know, as a teacher, you will get the questions of the students not paying attention asking what you just went over. We all know that is frustrating, but don’t make a big deal out of it and get down on the student for asking that question. Be more positive in your approach to these types of situations to keep laying the groundwork for making your classroom a safe place.

Show the Benefits of Asking Questions

Help students understand why questions are important. Highlight the students that ask great questions! Make the students feel proud of asking these questions that are sure to help the class and also your instruction. Point out to the students that questions can help drive your instruction and make you a better teacher.

Questions help students to think out loud and to truly connect with one another. Students can feel empowered by asking questions that give a great benefit to the whole. Questions can often lead to discussion where critical thinking skills are applied. The benefit list for asking questions goes on and on.

Questions are an important factor in school that contributes so much good to everyone, students and teachers included. The value of questions is immeasurable. As David Cooperrider stated, “We live in the world our questions create,” and the students have the ability to create a world within the four classroom walls and beyond by simply learning how to ask questions.

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