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Using the ‘no hands up’ technique

The ‘no hands up’ technique is used by teachers to ensure all students engage in all discussions and dialogue. Without careful planning, there is the risk that only a few students participate in PSHE lesson discussions whilst the rest remain silent.

So, how do we encourage maximum student participation in sensitive discussions using the ‘no hands up’ technique? School Liaison Manager Naomi French shares her thoughts…


From drawing names out of a cup or directed questioning, to students selecting the next speaker, there are a number of ways in which the ‘no hands up’ technique can be facilitated. However, best practice should involve an ‘opt out’ for those who feel uncomfortable, such as writing their response down or asking a friend for help. This strategy is all the more important – and challenging – in a PSHE setting where sensitive issues, such as mental health and wellbeing in the BrainWaves lessons, may be discussed.

Create a safe environment first

Before we discuss strategies, creating a ‘safe’ environment for PSHE lessons, where taking risks and making mistakes are not only allowed but encouraged, must be a priority. Without this, the potential for all students to engage in discussion and dialogue is lost. Students need to understand that mistakes are learning! A clear set of co-authored ground rules that are revisited every lesson are key to creating a safe environment where pupils are comfortable to respond (in any manner, not just verbally) to one another, the teacher and the lesson content. You can find the BrainWaves Safe Teaching and Learning Guidance here.

Teachers should never tolerate other students making fun of a mistake (an integral part of the ground rules mentioned previously) and should also make sure not to correct students in a way that makes them feel ashamed. Using positive reinforcement when students speak will also help students feel comfortable taking risks. Using a variety of corrective feedback strategies can help teachers encourage students to improve while ensuring they feel respected. For example, a teacher can ‘recast’ which means to simply reformulate what the students have said and provide the correction without actually pointing out the mistake. 

Providing ‘response stems’, which are the beginnings of sentences that students can use to formulate a response, can also help structure appropriate, positive discussion, and thus create a safe environment. They can be included as a bingo game in the lesson – whoever uses them all first in an appropriate way can win a prize linked to the school reward system. These can include phrases such as: ‘While I agree with X, I also believe that…’ or ‘Although Y makes a really good point, I think…’

‘No hands up’ strategies within a PSHE environment

When you feel a safe environment has been established and the students have had opportunities to practise their empathetic, reflective response skills, and that a culture of encouragement and mistake making has been established in your classroom, your next step might be to take the ‘no hands up’ approach.  This encourages all students to participate in all discussions in a supportive manner. Here are five techniques that can be used:

Think, pair, share

This technique can be used in a variety of ways. A question can be posed to a pair of students, time can be given to discuss with their partners, then students can give feedback to the class. Another option is to have students give feedback on their partner’s response – with their permission – which encourages active listening as well as active learning. With this method, all students will engage with the question without answering in front of the whole class.

Number draw

Assign each student a number at the beginning of a lesson. Pose a question and allow time for partner discussion. Bring the class back together and draw a number – whoever’s number is drawn answers the question. Students can nominate someone to speak on their behalf if they do not feel comfortable doing so.

Phone a friend

Pose a question to a student. The student ‘phones a friend’, they discuss, then the student repeats what their friend has said.


When pupils are discussing a question, the teacher circulates and collects ‘gems’ that they hear. These can then be fed back to the class or displayed on the board to reflect on while the students remain anonymous.

Ummmm cards

Pupils have access to ‘Ummmm cards’, which they can use when they are called upon to talk but are struggling to input. The cards can include questions such as: ‘Can you repeat the question?’, ‘Can I have more information?’ and ‘I’m not sure but my best guess is…’

Engaging students who don’t want to talk

There are many reasons why students may choose not to engage in lessons. In PSHE this can be because they find the subject matter challenging or too personal. A safe, risk-taking, mistake-making classroom environment must be first established where they feel valued and their voices are heard, then the ‘No Hands Up’ techniques can be introduced. Pupils should understand that questions do not require a perfectly formulated answer, but their thoughts in whatever language they feel comfortable with. 

In time, students should become increasingly active in their learning and can become each other’s greatest supporters. Not only could the ‘no hands up’ technique benefit student engagement, but it has the potential to foster a more positive learning environment, particularly in PSHE lessons such as those developed by BrainWaves.

About the author

Naomi French is a School Research Liaison Manager at BrainWaves, responsible for supporting schools on the BrainWaves Research Programme.  She was previously a year 6 class teacher and subject leader for PSHE.