What Do You Do When 1 Person Answers All the Questions?


I went to Sunday school for the 1st time in a long time today. No I’ve not been inactive, I’ve been in primary. This one brother kept answering every single time the teacher would ask a question. He obviously knew his stuff, but hardly allowed anyone else to take part, unless they were willing to wait for the end of his long answer, then try an interject theirs (if he hadn’t already covered it). He didn’t even raise his hand, he’d just start talking as soon as the question was asked, and sometimes simply when the teacher paused to long. I’m sure this brother thought he was helping out, but it was really quite stifling of both class discussion and sharing of the broader wisdom of the entire class.

It was frustrating for me, not because I wanted to comment—I was pretty busy with my 16 month-old boy—but because I wanted to learn from other people in the class, and as someone who’s been a teacher, I knew how hard it is to be the teacher and hate to ask questions, because the same person is going to answer.

For a while now we’ve simply written articles about the life hacks that we’ve discovered, with a few contributed by our readers. Now, I’d like to start more posts that are about you telling us how to “hack” various situations or aspects of Mormon life.

So I want to hear what your ideas are for remedying the situation of brother (or sister) “me, me, me! I will answer all your questions”? Whether advice for the teacher, someone sitting by this person, or whatever, how can we help improve class without completely offending the offender?

[Photo Credit: sean dreilinger]
  1. I think we have all experienced this at one time or another. When teaching I have found it helpful after one person always answers questions to automatically pull someone else into the conversation. By this I mean, when you ask a question, end the question by calling on a specific person before the person who dominates the conversation has a chance to answer.

    1. That’s pretty much what I do, call on someone by name and ask him/her the question. From a student in the room perspective, I guess you just have to be willing to raise your hand after the long-talker is finished and then get whoever’s sitting next to you to do the same.

  2. I actually have a rule when I teach (which I mention every time), that one person is only allowed to comment/read etc., 3 times per class period! Call me weird, but it works!

  3. The teacher can pass out questions before class on slips of paper, asking the person to be willing to read the question and give an answer, or read a scripture passage and then specifically ask that person to summarize what was read. That might be a way to change the dynamic.
    It isn't normal to dominate a class like that. I remember when there was a mentally ill person who would talk and talk and the teacher just had to ignore the woman and keep teaching. It felt awkward because you feel like you should listen to her comments, but she obviously couldn't stop herself or pick up on the social cues that it was not her turn to speak, so we had to just ignore her lack of mainstream social skills and continue on the best we could.

    1. I’ve had that happen with a visiting brother. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to feel some spiritual guidance on how to deal with it. I felt prompted to tell him something along the lines of, “Brother, I really appreciate your willingness to comment. I’m glad you’re so eager to share. I think we need to give some others that opportunity, but thanks!”

  4. Body language helps — when this happens, I put the talker "on hold" with one hand (palm facing him almost like a traffic cop signalling "stop," but leaving your arm up as though you're going to get back to the talker in a moment), while with the other hand I invite someone on the other side of the room to speak (arm outstretched, palm up), often calling on the one I want to speak by name.

    In the rare cases where a talker doesn't pick up on the body language, I don't hesitate to say, "Whoa! Let's hear what others have to say," and even "Robert, please hold your comments while we let others take a turn." You can say that courteously but firmly; it isn't rude to take your class back from someone who unfairly dominates it.

    Have to admit that doing this did offend one "Robert" badly enough that he stopped coming to class and hung out with the rest of the Parking Lot Quorum for months. I regretted that, but not enough to wish I hadn't asked him to allow others to participate. That's the only negative consequence I've seen, though.

    1. Ardis, that tip on body language is very very useful. I’ve used similar concepts in *obtaining* answers, but never in *stopping them*, so thanks!

  5. As a teacher, when I found that one person was dominating the discussions, I tried to gauge the class as a whole and would direct subsequent questions towards specific individuals. A teacher can often spot those who seem to be eager or ready to answer a question or make a comment. It helps to know the members of the class by name, but it is just as easy to point to a person and ask them a question, and ask their name at the same time to help you get acquainted.
    Another tactic that can be applied is to ask the class as a whole to keep their answers or statements short and to the point in the interests of time and to allow others to participate. That usually, but not always works.


  6. Ask other people to respond to the talkers comments. This way others' participation is elicited. The others will either be more willing to answer future questions. The talker will see that others are participating and not feel a need to chime in on every one of the teacher's pauses.

  7. What I usually do is just say bluntly but smiling at the same time: “Let’s hear someone else’s ideas/thoughts. Let’s see what we can learn from their insights”. People don’t get offended if we put it the right way.

  8. I had that kind of experience also. What i ussually do is i say “you mean brother that,,,,,,, well that’s very good!. Thank you!” before he finished talking…. i let him know that i understand what he mean and give appreciation….

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