Over-contributors: Learners who want to answer every question

Related Quality Standard Gold Standards

1.2 Verbal communication: Learners speak to each other respectfully in both formal and informal situations and live by these attitudes in everyday life.

2.9 Personal reflection: Learners’ continual reflection on their own performance keeps them on track, continually achieving the highest grades in their work.

Teaching strategies that may cause or exacerbate the issue?

  • Overuse of undirect questioning.
  • Body language of the teacher.
  • A misunderstanding about the role of Q&A.
  • Insufficient clarity for potential over-contributors leads to interrupting and cutting learners off publicly.

Good practice/research ideas

Questioning: over-contributors 
In one lesson, the teacher asked a known over-contributor to begin feeding back on behalf of a group. The teacher had in mind the level of contribution required of this learner and the rest of the individuals in the group. However, the learner had a different perception, and began to give all of the feedback on behalf of the group. As a result, the teacher had to interrupt the learner mid-sentence, asking them to ‘stop and give others a chance’.

  • Impact:
    this can dampen the enthusiasm of both the over-contributor and other less confident learners

By establishing precisely what contribution is required from the learner (e.g. ‘Just give me one of the learning points from your group discussion, so that everyone has the opportunity to contribute’) the enthusiasm of all learners can be maintained.

Critical success factor: clarity of expectations when working with over-contributors.

Questioning: thinking time 
Teachers should consider the balance they strike between public and private questioning and the degree to which these are low- or high-stakes. Almost all of the questions asked in the observed lessons were public, so learners had to answer every question in front of their peers. This can lead to learners refusing to answer, as illustrated by the following example comment, which may be said to the teacher or thought privately by a learner: “I didn’t want to answer as I thought I’d be laughed at if I got it wrong”.

The alternative to public questions, or rather public answers, is for the learner to be given time to write the answer down, and/or discuss it with a colleague, and even contribute to a group collaborative wiki. Skilful teachers use this strategy to great effect with shy learners by eavesdropping on discussions. When they hear that a shy learner has an answer that would make a rich contribution, they give them the space to go public, which helps to build confidence. This strategy is called: Think, pair, share.


  • builds confidence of shy learners, and/or learners who need more processing time
  • reduces the opportunity for over-contributors to dominate plenary sessions.

Critical success factor: teachers should proactively plan their plenary sessions, not simply rely on Q&A, and constantly be aware of the impact they want to have on all learners.