5 Open Dialogue Tips for Virtual Teachers


Kelli Hicks
Friday, March 24, 2017 - 11:00am

When we teach students new concepts and they fail to grasp them, we tend to assume we know the reasons why they are not understanding. We often base our tutoring, new explanations, study guides, etc., on these assumptions. As a result, teachers can get frustrated if students still don't understand. After all, how much clearer can we be? It becomes convenient to blame the student and give up: "I am doing my best but the student won't try;" "This student must not be reading the lessons before coming to me for help;" or, "This student must be trying to get me to give the answers!"

Instead of getting frustrated and giving up, let's make sure we understand how the student is thinking. Here are some dialogues you can have with your students to better understand where they are coming from. With these tips you can avoid not being on the same page when concepts aren't clicking.


1) "Teach me how you got that answer." Sometimes having a student show you every single step taken to get to a conclusion from start to finish will show you where they are getting confused. Students can do this in a one-to-one session in your virtual classroom, a recording of themselves doing the work, or a step-by-step diagram of their process.

2) "What else do you know about this topic?" Getting background information is often helpful. If a student is relating your current discussion to some incorrect background information, nothing you say about the current topic is going to completely clear up the misunderstanding. However, if you can pinpoint the past misinformation, you can help get the student on the correct page.

3) Define the words you are using." As an English teacher, I have found that often a student understands the assignment correctly but is using an incorrect word. For example, if the assignment is to list onomatopoeias, and the student is listing personification, having the student define each word he is using could help you clear up the misunderstanding, allowing the student to do the work correctly the next time around.

4) "Show me another way to do this." Sometimes we can get students to think logically through a process by asking them to do it another way. This is often best done in a voice-to-voice conversation over the phone or in a virtual classroom. As the student brainstorms other ways to do the work, the discussion can often lead to a revelation of what the student was doing incorrectly the first time around.

5) "Tell me why you put this answer." Often, students are not wrong in their thinking, even if they have chosen an incorrect answer. I have found many times that learning why students chose certain answers helps me understand how they think so I can better grade other assignments and allows me to explain why their thinking was good, but why another answer choice would be better for this question.


In the end, opening up a dialogue will always help. If students know you trying to understand where they are coming from, they are more likely to keep working to understand the concepts you are trying to teach them.


Kelli Hicks is a teacher with more than twelve years of experience, including four years teaching online English, sociology, and ESL courses for Fuel Education. Additionally, Kelli serves as the State Lead Teacher for Utah and is a shift lead for the FuelEd Academic Support Team (TAMS). Kelli has taught both online and within traditional brick-and-mortar schools focusing on at-risk and ESL students. She graduated from Utah State University with a bachelor's degree in English education, minoring in sociology education with an ESL endorsement.

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