Communicating High Expectations to Students; A Series of Practical Techniques (Part 4): Right Answers

A quick review of this blog series dealing with holding high expectations for students:

Part 1:Discusses what messages we send to students based on who we ask questions of in class.

Part 2: Deals with how to react to wrong answers while still keeping expectations high.

Part 3: Reminds us not to apologize for difficult and/or boring content.

In Part 4,  I want to explore how teachers can help reinforce high expectations by how we react to correct and partially correct answers.  I remember in my classrooms many times when I thought I asked the most thought provoking questions sometimes my students would respond with answers that were just… “meh.” They were correct, or at least partially so, but they did not hit the bar that I set for them.  I struggled with how to react to those answers.  On one hand, I was glad that they were at least on the right track, but I wanted to push them more without being overly demanding.  Below is a strategy that addresses how we react to those answers that are… just “meh.”


Hold Out For Right


In order to “hold our for right” teachers must avoid accepting partially correct answers as correct.  Sometimes in order to save time, or maybe even to help students save face, teachers end up adding on to partially correct answers for students.  For example:

Teacher: “Why do you think the apothecary sold Romeo the poison?”

Student: “He wanted money.”

Teacher: “Yes! Good! He was so poor that he felt he didn’t have anything to lose by risking breaking the law, so he sold Romeo the poison.”

In this example, it is clear that the teacher has done the majority of the analysis.  Holding out for right requires teachers to try to pull out those high quality answers from students.


It is important to place as much as the cognitive work on students as possible.  The person who does the majority of thinking and talking in class will also do the majority of learning. As we know, students are sometimes are smarter than we give them credit for.  When asked questions in which they don’t know the answer, they seem to have a few strategies of their own to evade actually answering the question.  They may, try to change the subject, ask an off topic question, use overly vague language, try some sort of emotional appeal, or offer correct information that doesn’t really answer the question you are asking.

In order to affect the culture of the classroom, teachers should make it a habit of holding out for the correct answer.  So when we ask “what is alliteration?” and they respond with “Peter Piper Picked a Peck…” We can stop them and inform them that they are providing an example when we are really looking for a definition.  This technique will help insure that instruction remains rigorous and communicate to students that you expect precision and focus when answering questions.


  • Prepare questions in advance.
  • Prepare “all the way” right answers in advance, so you will know right when you hear it.
  • Develop a few positive phrases you use when students are close such as “almost there” VS “No, still not good enough.”
  • These phrases should all be worded and spoken so that it is obvious the teacher believes the student will be able to answer.
  • Be sincere and honest when answers need more.
  • Respond swiftly without going into long mini lectures. We want students to get back to thinking immediately.
  • Respond with follow up questions that get to the heart of why their answer was partially correct. “You gave me an example, but can you give me the definition?”
  • Make sure students answer the question you asked rather than supplying something they do know, such as giving an example when you ask for a definition.
  • Remind students to be disciplined when it comes to specific vocabulary.  If the answer is 15kilometers and they only give you “15” then it is not a correct answer.

In the next and final post in the series, I will discuss how we react to correct answers in way that indicates we have high expectations.


One thought on “Communicating High Expectations to Students; A Series of Practical Techniques (Part 4): Right Answers

  1. Pingback: Communicating High Expectations to Students; A Series of Practical Techniques (Part 5): Beyond Right Answers | PC Instructional Coach Blog

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