What are some ways to help students communicate their needs to teachers?

What are some ways to help students communicate their needs to teachers?

Self-advocacy is a necessary skill for learners as they get older and progress on their educational path. However, speaking up and voicing one’s needs is not always easy, especially for younger or more timid students. Furthermore, teachers being an authority figure in the classroom makes it even more difficult for some students to speak up. We’ve compiled several strategies and suggestions to help foster self-advocacy skills so that students of all ages can advocate for themselves and communicate their needs in the classroom.


  • Use prompting or questioning techniques
  • Take inventory of students’ learning styles and preferences to get an immediate understanding of a child’s learning style. By asking students directly how they prefer to learn and which strategies seem to work best for each of them, students begin to develop not only a sense of self as a learner, but a level of confidence and comfort to be able to articulate their needs.
  • Model self-advocacy methods using scenarios, sentence frames, and conversation starters. A fishbowl activity or inside/outside circle, in which teachers facilitate a mock-conversation with student participants, while the outside circle observes and debriefs with comments afterwards, can be a beneficial way to show students how they might approach a conversation with their teacher, ask clarifying questions, get feedback, etc.
  • Teachers should consider using self-advocacy sentence starters as classroom posters or laminated resources to tape to small group tables or place in pocket folders. Resource sheets might include frame or sentence starters such as:
    • “Can you explain another way to _________?”
    • “I don’t understand the directions entirely…”
    • “I’m confused about _________.”
    • “I’m stuck when I get to section _________.”
    • “What is another word for _________?”
  • Put students at ease about asking for help or admitting that they are confused by explaining how challenges are the best opportunities to learn. Often times, children feel discouraged or insecure about asking for help, as if needing help is a flaw or weakness. Assure them that asking questions, especially when something doesn’t make sense, is the best way to actively engage in one’s learning. Remind them that nobody knows everything; even the most successful and intelligent people ask questions and seek help with challenges.
  • Use nonverbal methods to encourage shy or quiet students
  • When speaking up or speaking out in class is intimidating, help students speak up about their needs in subtle, nonverbal ways. Use a color-coded post-it system when students are working independently. Explain how students will indicate that they need help by placing a yellow post-it on their desk; a green to indicate that they have finished the task; a blue to ask for a break; etc. When utilizing the color-coded post-its, teachers should be sure to provide post-its at each station or desk and put up a reference poster to remind students of what each color means.
  • When doing whole group instruction or practice, ask students to rate their level of confidence with 5 meaning that they definitely understand and 1 meaning that they are pretty lost. Students can either hold up their hands or write the number on the corner of their paper. A quick sweep through the room will tell the teacher which students are struggling.
  • Utilize technology to allow students to ask questions and/or seek help digitally, anonymously, or without stopping the whole class. If working on a computer or Chromebook, students may find it helpful to post a comment or question to the Google Classroom assignment. They can also create a Google document and “share” it with the teacher to silently ask questions while working. Students can also use highlighting or underlining functions in Google docs to let teachers know which section is confusing or specifically challenging.
  • Padlet is a great resource for students to post questions, comments, and ideas as a collaborative communication tool. The posts show up on the Promethean or Smart board in real time, and teachers can control the level of anonymity when students post.
  • Teachers can help students recognize areas of strength/weakness by asking students to rate an assignment after completion. Google forms allow students to respond independently and honestly about what they did or did not like about the task or project. Teachers can add any question to the form to prompt students to communicate their needs and struggles, such as:
    • “Which aspect of the project was the most difficult and why?”
    • “What question(s) do you have now after completing the task?”
    • “If given the opportunity to redo this assignment, what would you want help with, specifically?”
    • “How might you go about a similar task differently next time?”

“Is there any information, resource, example, or detail that could have helped you better complete this assignment?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GET STARTED Sign up below to receive a guide and resources to support your child.