1. Brainstorm conversation starters
Students who are introverted or shy may feel overwhelmed or anxious about initiating a conversation with their teacher. Practicing or role-playing this kind of conversation can help shy students build confidence. Teachers can also suggest that students use just two words to signal that they need help: “I’m struggling.”
Evidence shows that having students brainstorm increases their mental flexibility and creative problem-solving. After they think of ways to initiate a conversation, have them role-play talking with a teacher. This can be done as a small group activity in the classroom or one-on-one with a trusted teacher, social worker, parent, etc.
Students can approach teachers with conversation starters like:
I’m struggling with _____. Can we talk about it later?
I’m working hard, but I’m still not understanding _____. Can you help me?
I’m not sure what I need. Can you please talk with me?
Can you give me advice about _____?
2. Try problem-solving first. When possible, try to figure out the solution to your problem on your own before you resort to other options. Teachers like it when students try to problem solve before asking for help. It shows independence.
Try to use your resources. For example, see if the answer to your question is in your textbook or notes. Some teachers tell students to “phone a friend” or ask another student for help before asking the teacher.
3. Be brave. A lot of times people won’t ask for help because they are afraid they will look stupid or embarrass themselves. The truth is, not asking for help is usually worse because you don’t get the help you need. If you’ve tried to problem solve, but still need help, then be brave and ask your teacher. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that asking your teacher for help is a mature thing to do.
Say to yourself, “Asking for help means I’m mature. It’s what I should do when I don’t understand.”
You can also remind yourself, “There’s probably someone else that has the same question, but is afraid to ask. So I’ll be brave and ask.”
4. Get your teacher’s attention the right way. Yelling “I need help” or just blurting out your question while your teacher is talking is not the best way to get their attention. To respect your teacher, raise your hand or use the signal they taught you when asking for help.
For example, your teacher might have taught you to hold up an American Sign Language ‘a’ to silently signal that you want to ask a question.
Sometimes you may need to approach your teacher to get their attention. If you do, politely say “Excuse me.”
For example, your Math teacher is at his desk looking over papers and doesn’t see your raised hand. You could walk up and say, “Excuse me, Mr. Jenkins.”
5. Tell your teacher what you need help with. Teachers know a lot of things, and sometimes seem like they can read your mind. It will be a lot easier for you to ask for help, however, and get the help you need from your teacher. You just need to let them know exactly what you need help with.
You can start by saying something like, “Ma'am, could you help me with the fourth discussion question?”
Then you can be more specific. For example, “I don’t understand what the second part of the question is asking.”
6. Don’t ask your teacher for the answers. That doesn’t help you learn and most teachers won’t just give you the answer anyway. Instead, ask your teacher for help finding the answer or remembering the steps to find the answer.
This will help you figure out similar questions and show your teacher that you want to be a good problem-solver.
For example, instead of asking, “What’s the main topic of this passage?” You could ask, “How do I find the main topic of a passage?”
Alternatively, you might say, "How do I multiple two-digit numbers?" instead of, "What is 30 times 15?"
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