Okay, the title is a ruse. Children say, “I don’t know.” You can’t stop them. It’s a go-to response, it’s natural, and it’s fine. But what we want is for students to not stop there. “So you don’t know (or you don’t think that you do). Now what?” Let’s follow up that automatic response with some action. When a student doesn’t know, encourage that student to continue to one of these:

Could I have more time to think about it?
May I ask a friend for help?
Can you ask that in a different way?
Where could I look for that information?
I am not sure, but what I DO know about it is…
I am not sure, but my best guess is…


I know that some teachers want to replace “I don’t know,” but I think it’s a good thing to acknowledge that you don’t know, and it’s a good thing if a child is comfortable admitting if he or she really doesn’t know. From my perspective, “I don’t know” as the first step to learning!

Want the prompts hanging on your walls? Download a poster with all the questions, or click here for a complete set of individual posters here.

What do you do with “I don’t know” in your classroom?

Instead of “I don’t know”
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2 thoughts on “Instead of “I don’t know”

  • 24. March 2016 at 12:07

    Hi Janine – You may be interested in knowing that Navy tradition has it that there are only five correct responses to a senior officer:
    – In response to an order: “Aye-aye, sir/m’am”,
    – When something goes wrong: “No excuse, sir/m’am”,
    – When asked for factual information: “Yes, sir/m’am”, “No, sir/m’am” or, if you don’t
    know the answer: “I’ll find out, sir/m’am”.

    Thanks for your blog!

    • profile pic
      28. March 2016 at 12:47

      Hi Tom,
      That’s great! My dad was a Navy man, so I’ll admit I grew up familiar with some of those, ha ha. Thanks for reading and commenting!


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