Question: What do you call an individual who understands how children develop, is flexible and creative, works as a part of a team, rarely has a lunch break and always knows where the secret glue guns are hidden?

Answer: A Teaching Assistant!

Welcome back to our regular feature written especially for primary school Teaching Assistants. This month’s ‘Tip for the Classroom’ is – Asking for Help!

Putting your hand up to answer a question is a big deal. In a meeting or in training sessions, I will avoid putting up my hand in the hope that someone else will ask the question. It is easier to sit and nod with the rest of the group, who appear to be having no difficulty understanding what is being said, than risk looking foolish.

In a class of 30, with the same children putting their hands up, and who are nearly always right, (and don’t seem to mind when they’re not) and who always ‘get it’, is it any wonder that some children don’t let us know when they’re struggling? Is it any wonder that they lose focus and some of them start misbehaving?

Have we ever considered that not only do they not want to put their hand up, but they don’t know how to say what it is they don’t understand?

Teachers are excellent at meeting the needs of all the children in the class, but there are still times when an explanation will go ‘over the heads’ of some of the children.

You can have great fun with your children helping them to work out what it is in a sentence that they are having difficulty understanding.

Ask lots of ‘staged’ questions to help them identify what bit of the question or instruction they have not understood. Then help them with the question they need to ask to make the meaning clear.

TA: (with hand over mouth mumbling) What is your favourite colour?

Child: Can you make it clearer please?

TA: Point to your humerus.

Child: What does that word mean?

TA: (whispering) Close the door.

Child: Can you say it louder please?

TA: Go to the office, get 3 pens 2 blue 1 red and take them to Mrs Jones and on the way drop a message into Mr Thomas before asking Miss Smith to lend our class her camera.

Child: Can you break it down please?

You can write each question on a card – see above as a prompt and to remind the teacher that they are trying to use strategies to help them. (NB: Encourage the child to say please.)

Use Junior Language Link’s Help Me Cards in the Concepts and Instructions Group (year 4) to teach these essential strategies.

Next Month: Listening Skills

Let us know what you have been doing this month at school. Do you have any tips that you think others would be able to use? Please contact Claire at

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