5 alternatives to ‘hands up’ in the classroom.

‘Hands up’ means that all the keen, able, confident kids in the room put their hands up and their names go up on the smiley side of the board and accumulate lots of ticks against them. They get loads of praise, and their sense of self-worth is reinforced. Then the others, who realise that they will probably not be called upon to answer a question in the lesson,  start entertaining themselves by balancing pencils on various parts of their faces, throwing paper darts, disassembling pens, or distracting others on other tables, or if they are quiet, they disappear into their own internal world. They think of themselves as less able than those who are straining out of their seat with their hands up.

In other words, you only know who knows they know the answer.

So ‘no hands up’ means that students expect to be called upon at any time, and know that they will need to pay attention to what is going on or they will be shown up. They can ALL get that sense that they are doing well and achieving; they ALL have an equal chance of getting their names on the positive praise side, and they ALL feel good about themselves.

If you are going to use ‘no hands up’ strategies in the classroom, all students need to be called upon regularly, otherwise their attention will quickly wane.

If you are going to use ‘no hands up’ in your class it is ESSENTIAL that you factor in thinking time to allow students to gather their thoughts before being called upon to answer. Model the question a few times, model answers, or just set your timer and give specific thinking time.

So. What alternatives are there to ‘hands up’?

1) A good memory! Go around the class and pick students to ask, one by one, ensuring that everyone is asked a question, every lesson.


  • Very adaptable. You can start by asking more able kids to model answers and then work through so the less able can pick up information as they go and are able to answer at the end. Or you can ask simple questions first, and build up top more difficult ones at the end.
  • Zero preparation and very quick.


  • you have to have a good memory – if you miss anyone out, and particularly if you miss anyone out more than once, students will feel slighted.

2) “Playing with the ball” – I throw the ball to a student as I ask a question; they throw it back as they answer it.


  • As for a good memory
  • Kids like it. “playing” is what they call it in my classroom.
  • They have to pay attention, or the ball will land on them or near them and all the others will find it very funny.
  • Zero preparation and it’s quick.
  • It’s great if you don’t know their names.


  • It has to be the right ball, one which will not bounce away off the table so that you have kids diving all over the classroom. A koosh ball is ideal, but it is expensive. The ball must also not be capable of hurting a student if it hits them in the face! koosh-ball
  • Don’t do this if you have rubbish hand-eye coordination, or it will cause more problems than it solves, as students will be crawling all over the place.

3) Lolly sticks with names on: you create class sets of lolly sticks with names on them, then pick a name out and ask that student a question.



  • It’s properly random. You have no control of what name comes out. I tend to show the name to the class to show that I am actually saying the person on the stick. (I do cheat sometimes, if a name comes out and I know that that person will struggle and be shown up, I just say another name. I don’t show the class. They’ve seen that I am being honest with them before.)
  • You can either take names out as you go along, or leave them in. I leave them in, or those who’ve already answered stop paying attention. I may ask those whose names come out a second time to nominate someone else.
  • Drama! I pick the cup up and shake it to groans from the kids. It needs no introduction.


  • Able kids, those who volunteer a lot, don’t like it, because they are not able to use questioning to show off what they’ve learned, and may be called upon to answer a question to which they don’t know the answer. (Just like the others, then…) In the past able kids have taken their names out of the cup!
  • Takes quite a bit of time to set up, and you have to buy the lolly sticks. I buy the multi-coloured packs from ebay, and have each class in a different colour so that if kids amuse themselves mixing up the classes it’s easily corrected.

4) screen based random name generators. I like the one from classtools.net https://www.classtools.net/random-name-picker/ but if you search for ‘random name generators for teachers, there are a range.



  • Kids LOVE it. The one I use has noises attached, so that they really enjoy the process.
  • It’s properly random. You CANNOT cheat with this one as it’s so public. This is also, I would suggest, a con.


  • You cannot have it on your interactive whiteboard at the same time as anything else, so the students can’t use any visible information.

5) Behaviour Management tool such as Class Dojo – http://www.classdojo.com – Students are represented on the board and it is easy to track visually who you have called upon.



  • Kids love it – it is visually entertaining and interactive, and they can see their progress.
  • You can pick whom you ask questions.
  • It has lots of other functions, and you can set up parental links and all sorts of other information.


  • Quite time-consuming to set up and maintain.
  • If it’s on the screen, it’s difficult to display anything else.








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