The ASD Nest Egg

strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Tag: class discussion

Preserve Student Dignity: Give ‘em an out

Preserve Student Dignity: Give ‘em an out

Aaron Lanou


How often has it happened that you called on a student and she didn’t know the answer? There’s that awkward few seconds when you and all the other students are waiting for a response, and she just can’t find the words.

When a student doesn’t know the answer, the last thing you want is for her to feel embarrassed or humiliated. Though teachers sometimes fall into the trap of thinking “catching” an unprepared student will teach them to be prepared, the reality is they’re made to feel uncomfortable and angry. And this can be even harder for students with ASD who have challenges with flexibility and perfectionism. Even if the student “should know” the answer, you’ve got to give ’em an out.

The next time a student is struggling to answer, try one of these responses:

  • “Do you want to call on someone else for help?” Let them choose a peer to help them answer the question.
  • “I’ll give you another couple minutes and come back to you.” Then really give them some time, and circle back later to ensure they understand.
  • “It’s OK to say ‘I’m not sure.’” Allow them to say they don’t know. Reinforce that this is ok and part of the process of learning. This is often hard for autistic students, but an important idea to encourage and support.

Even better, make a proactive plan to avoid these stuck moments in the first place. A couple of ideas:

  • Provide wait time: Pose a question, and then wait for at least ten seconds before calling on anyone for a response. Tell students to take the time to form an answer, so everyone can feel more prepared. This is an important approach for students with ASD, many of whom have slower language processing. Read more on our Wait Time post.
  • Prime students for when you will call on them: Avoid cold-calling to catch students. Instead say, “Keisha, I’ll be coming to you for a response next.” This will give her time to be prepared.
  • Teach students a get-unstuck strategy: Early in the school year, teach students explicit strategies for moments like these. For example, encourage them by saying, “It’s ok if you don’t know an answer to a question I ask. When you’re stuck, you can either ask for another minute, ask to look at your notes, or ask me to rephrase the question.”

All of these approaches can help preserve students’ dignity in the classroom, and help students save face. This reduces the likelihood that students feel embarrassed—and embarrassed students do not volunteer to participate. Send the message to the whole class that it’s safe to try, and you’re likely to get much more participation.

For more helpful insight into the dangers of embarrassing students, see Cult of Pedagogy’s post, Is humiliation part of your teaching toolbox?


Word Sneak for class discussions

Struggle with getting full student participation during whole-class discussions?

colored note cards index cardsWord Sneak is an activity that helps scaffold small-group or whole-class discussions for all students. It’s particularly helpful to encourage 100% participation, with support for students who are reluctant to participate.


  1. Brainstorm a list of words that will contribute to a whole group or small group discussion about your workshop topic. These words can be directly relevant to the topic and/or words be connected and can help advance the discussion.
  2. Write one word on each index card, enough for each student to have one card.
  3. Give the whole group or small group a discussion topic or question.
  4. Provide one card to each student.
  5. Instruct students to discuss as they normally would, but to be sure to use their word in the conversation at least once—when they use the word, place the card in the middle of the table.
  • Note that students are not limited to one conversational turn; everyone should be given an opportunity to participate using their word.


You can watch Jimmy Fallon play Word Sneak with Bryan Cranston, or read more about classroom use at Larry Ferlazzo’s blog.

Priming students to ensure success

Students do better when they feel successful and confident. Catching them off guard or unprepared can make them feel quite the opposite. So when posing questions to the class, allow students time to think about their answers without having to answer immediately. One way to do this is through priming.

Priming is simply alerting students ahead of time 

A nice example of priming is the “pose-pause-pounce-bounce” protocol, from Teacher Toolkit. It looks like this:



Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce in cartoon, by @TeacherToolkit

For students with ASD, it would be helpful to add an extra priming step to the process. So the complete protocol would be:

  • Pose the question to the class
  • Pause to give them thinking time
  • Prime the students who you will call on so they can prepare their answer
  • Pounce – call on a student to respond
  • Prime the next students for follow-up to others’ responses
  • Bounce to next students

…and you can even add another “P” at the end: PRAISE.

Try it!

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