Elementary Science

How to handle student's questions?

Hello all, I'm a future teacher, and one of the biggest struggles I think I will face as a teacher is how to handle student's questions. Although I have recently developed an interest in science, it is certainly not one of my strongest subjects! I am thankful for all of the resources available to me through the NSTA Learning Center as I feel they will help with my professional development. However, I am curious to know if there are any other teachers out there that also struggle with science concepts. If so, what's the best way to handle students that ask questions you may not know the answers to? I appreciate any insight and experience you can provide!

Brittany Carpenter
Brittany Carpenter
1875 Activity Points

Hello Brittany- First, do not feel that you can't tell your students that you do not know. Having a question that you and your class can explore together is a great way to learn. Also - are you in a state that has already adopted the NGSS? Teachers are needing to take on more of a coaching role - helping students tap into resources and guiding their inquiry rather than being the "sage on the stage". Being the content "expert" is not what you should expect to be - especially with the exponentially increasing knowledge base that makes up science today.

Cris DeWolf
Cris DeWolf
11335 Activity Points

Hi Brittany, I know that we are at the same level, but I know from my experience as a substitute teacher that there are plenty of times that I don't know the answers to questions. I don't have a problem letting the students know that I don't know either. Sometimes they think it's funny that a teacher doesn't know the answer, but I usually tell them that I am in school too and that I am learning new things. I think it helps me connect with the students. Also like Cris said it provides a great opportunity to find out something new. I will try to use something in the classroom (textbook, dictionary) to look up the answer, but sometimes I just have to look it up on my phone ( As a sub, I can't always access the computer). Tell the students that you love to learn new things too!

David Robinson
David Robinson
2110 Activity Points

Hey Brittany - I completely understand how you feel. It's hard for me to find the right answer to students' questions, especially for subjects that are difficult for me. Although NSTA is helping me gain more knowledge about topics in science, I still struggle with answering students' questions. The best way for me to handle it, is to let the students know that they asked a very good question, and that I will do some research and let them know later. This way, it gives me time to dig into the question and come back to the student with more than enough knowledge about the topic! I hope this helps. -Jane

Jane Kim
Jane Kim
2130 Activity Points

I am a student teacher and I find myself in this type of situation myself. What I try to do is let the students know that I don't know the answer but that we can look for it together. I let them know that many times we won't always know the answer to things and because of that that is how we learn. I try to connect myself with the students so they also know its ok not to know the answer sometimes but that is why there are many resources we can use to find an answer. So, from there we try to look for the answer together as a class. As of right now this has worked well for me.

Roxana Puga
Roxana Puga
1380 Activity Points

I feel the same way because science is not my expertise however I am gaining an interest as I explore NSTA and I agree with everyone else that working as a class to find out answers is a great way to get the children motivated. Another question I have is how can you discipline children when they are disruptive without hurting their feelings or is that something you can not avoid?

Ryan Connors
Ryan Connors
840 Activity Points

Honesty is always the best policy. Let the student know that you don't have the answer to that question. You may choose to research the question independently or as a class. The most important thing is to not let the question go unnoticed. Never ignore a student's question. If you say you're going to research it and return with an answer, be sure to do just that.

Guerline Florvil
Guerline Florvil
2065 Activity Points

Hey Ryan, That is a good question you have about discipline. I know from my experience as a teacher and a father that sometimes it is unavoidable that you will feelings, but it is important that you are consistent with what you tell them is going to happen when they do something inappropriate or act disruptive. You have to follow through with whatever discipline that you are going to assign regardless if it is going to make them upset. However, sometimes children will accept whatever disciplinary measures they are given because they know they deserve it. Sometimes kids know it is wrong and they do it anyway. They will push buttons on purpose too. This isn't always a bad thing. I think if children aren't pushing boundaries then you start worrying. Good luck.

David Robinson
David Robinson
2110 Activity Points

Hi everyone, I am a college student and I hope to start my internship in the fall. This is such a great forum because I believe that every teacher will go through this at some point of their teaching career. I find it interesting to see that everyone stated more or less the same response, "just let the student know that you do not know." Having students research the questions with the help of the teacher allows them to practice their research skills. Also, by being honest students will be able to understand that teachers do not know everything and that is okay. It will build a better connection, like someone stated earlier in the forum.

Cora Fernandez
Cora Fernandez
4540 Activity Points

I think that many of today’s teachers are fortunate to have technology available in the classroom to research the answer to a child’s question the teacher may not know. This experience will help the teacher better relate with their students as it will portray the teacher as a learner just as the students are. One of the best things about this profession is that each day, you always learn something new. For teachers who do not have access to technology it requires a little more effort to obtain an answer from a student that a teacher may not know. My initial thought is that this opportunity would create a chance to engage the class in a problem solving activity where they can brainstorm on how as a team we can get our answer. Teachers in this position must rely on school resources and other resources in the community to enhance the lesson.

Christian Garcia
Christian Garcia
2935 Activity Points

I think that many of today’s teachers are fortunate to have technology available in the classroom to research the answer to a child’s question the teacher may not know. This experience will help the teacher better relate with their students as it will portray the teacher as a learner just as the students are. One of the best things about this profession is that each day, you always learn something new. For teachers who do not have access to technology it requires a little more effort to obtain an answer from a student that a teacher may not know. My initial thought is that this opportunity would create a chance to engage the class in a problem solving activity where they can brainstorm on how as a team we can get our answer. Teachers in this position must rely on school resources and other resources in the community to enhance the lesson.

Christian Garcia
Christian Garcia
2935 Activity Points

Do not be afraid of not knowing an answer. You are growing and learning alongside your students. Take advantage of the technology we have today and search to find the answer with your class. Depending on the grade level, you could have students work in pairs to find the answer to the question and have the various groups share what they found. It will teach them about science content, technology, and building social skills. Try and find the positives in all situations.

Alexandra Turpin
Alexandra Turpin
1375 Activity Points

Hello, That is actually one problem I feel I would face in the classroom as well. I think having a 'wonder wall' could be really helpful. If it is a question the students have and you do not know how to answer the students can post their question and the class can work together to figure it out themselves before telling them that you do not know the answer. Having confidence is the most important key though! :)

Christina Manriquez
Christina Manriquez
1190 Activity Points

I'm also a future teacher and find that students questions can sometimes be unpredictable and may sometimes be things that you may not know. What I have done before is research background information on the topic that I am teaching and take notes on a flash card or print them. I keep the card with me while teaching to refer to throughout the lesson. If a student asks me something that I may not know, I refer to my flash card. If it is not on my flash card what I do is say, "That is a great question! I often wonder that myself! Let's try researching that and find out!" I will then stop the lesson or research this after the lesson and display the screen on the SmartBoard as I look up the information and answer the question for the student. I have also seen teachers whom make this a research project and provide students with redirection and access to informational library books and supervised computer access to research the topic. Hope this helps! :-)

Abnerys Leon
Abnerys Leon
4810 Activity Points

Hello, i totally understand where you are coming from, i subbed for couple years and i am finishing up my student teaching. When i taught a science lesson i was very nervous because i know science is not my strong subject, but i realized you learn something new everyday and you will be surprised on how much you can learn from your students. If you do not know an answer just say. hmm that is a good question, write it down on the board and tell them you will come back to them with an answer, or you can ask them, how they think that question can be answered, maybe talking to an expertise, or looking it up on an accurate website. I hope this helps Marisol

Marisol Rios
Marisol Rios
1280 Activity Points

Hello, i totally understand where you are coming from, i subbed for couple years and i am finishing up my student teaching. When i taught a science lesson i was very nervous because i know science is not my strong subject, but i realized you learn something new everyday and you will be surprised on how much you can learn from your students. If you do not know an answer just say. hmm that is a good question, write it down on the board and tell them you will come back to them with an answer, or you can ask them, how they think that question can be answered, maybe talking to an expertise, or looking it up on an accurate website. I hope this helps Marisol

Marisol Rios
Marisol Rios
1280 Activity Points

Hi Brittany. I am an aspiring teacher and so I share your concern, especially considering that questioning makes up such a great facet of science learning. However, I agree with Cris that having a question that you and you class can explore together is a great way for learning to take place. His statement about not being the “content expert” was quite reassuring to me as I am sure it was for you. I think when considering the subject area science, there are so many unanswered questions that the occurrence of a student asking a question you may not know the answer to is extremely possible. However, hopefully this experience will provide an opportunity for teacher and students to discover solutions together. On more than one occasion I have not been able to immediately answer a student while I worked as a teacher’s assistant and I found a good way to handle the situation was to grab a textbook and allow a student to look for the answer and discuss the outcome as a whole class activity. I think by being honest and admitting that teachers do not always know the answer reinforces the welcoming classroom environment that you would want to foster in the first place, where everyone is comfortable sharing questions and findings even when they are not sure- this includes the teacher.

Erica Powell
Erica Powell
675 Activity Points

Very informative.

Najah Hijazi
Najah Hijazi
1365 Activity Points

Hello, I am not a teacher yet, but I feel the same way as you. Often times, I see teachers that have a puzzled look on their face when they do not know the answer to a student's question. I feel like the best thing to do is maybe ask other students to see their thoughts about the topic, because sometimes you can learn from your students. Also, you may want to refer to a reliable resource, such as, the textbook or internet. Maybe you can say, "That is a good question! Let's look up the answer as a class." This shows that you are trying to get other students involved, not that you aren't sure of the answer.

Mecarra Easley
Mecarra Easley
765 Activity Points

Hey, I know how you feel and I feel the same way. I am future teacher it has happen to me plenty of times where the students would ask a question and I wouldn't know how to respond. Or if a students makes a comment and don't know how to respond to the student comments. I know that at the beginning it will be difficult but it will get better because we all are gaining experience. Good Luck on your journey, your not alone a alone.

Karina Alcala
Karina Alcala
1550 Activity Points

I am currently a student teacher and I agree that I worry when the students ask a question and I don't know the answer. But like many of the post say it is fine and sometimes good to tell the students that you do not know the answer, to work on solving it together. In some experiences I have seen that the students like to figure something out the teacher doesn't know, and once they get their answer they will come back to tell you and then you do know for the future. This helps get them engaged to go out and look at things outside of the classroom to make connections, which is better then always getting the answer from the teacher, so sometimes its best if we don't know yet.

Candace Warden
Candace Warden
520 Activity Points

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