Of course, no one wants to get an answer wrong. However, when a student comes up with a response that is incorrect, a golden opportunity presents itself. It’s an opportunity for growth, learning, and critical thinking.

Research shows that significant neural connections are created in brains when students actively participate in learning from their mistakes (Pilcher, 2012). As students recognize, understand, and correct errors in their work or thinking, this principle applies and students’ minds grow from high-quality academic experiences.

In the classroom, valuable skills can develop when students analyze wrong answers. The act of analyzing involves higher-order thinking that can only occur when knowledge and understanding are in place. As students analyze, they make evaluations on why a response is incorrect, raising the level of thinking yet again.

Teachers can take advantage of wrong answers by incorporating discussions, writing, and kinesthetic activities into the classroom.

Here are some ideas that turn mistakes into teachable moments.

Discuss the Mistake

Small group discussion provides the perfect opportunity to talk about wrong answers. Begin by asking a question, pausing, then providing a wrong answer. Start the conversation by asking why the answer cannot be the correct one. Have students share their thinking. Ask students to agree or respectfully disagree and explain their reasons. Allow students to collaborate and justify their analyses with definitions and evidence from previous lessons.

Bonus: For added fun, turn the discussion into a “newscast.” Allow students to take turns as the reporter and interview students on why the answer is incorrect.

Journal about the Mistake

Display a question and an incorrect response for students. Have students make a journal entry using a prompt such as:

“The answer is incorrect because… If the answer was … it would be correct because…”

This makes a great bell-ringer or exit ticket and challenges students to go beyond a simple yes or no answer.

Turn Multiple-Choice Qs into Writing Prompts

Use the answers to a multiple-choice question as writing prompts. Have students write why each response is correct or incorrect, explaining and justifying their responses with definitions and previous learning.

Turn Multiple-Choice Qs into a Kinesthetic Activity

Set up a Four Corners activity for multiple choice questions. Designate each corner of the classroom for one of the answer choices. Display and read the question. Have students move to the corner of the correct response. Have students explain why they chose a specific corner. Discuss why one or more corners have little or no students in them. Ask what clues they used to determine if an answer choice was incorrect. As a variation, allow students to move to any corner. Then have them explain if their corner contains an incorrect or correct response and explain why that is the case.

Create a Continuum to Discuss Answer Choices

Use a continuum to rank multiple choice answers from obviously wrong, wrong, nearly correct, and correct. Use sticky notes with answer choice letters and allow students to post the letters on the continuum. Discuss each placement and why it is in that location on the continuum.

Have more great ideas? We’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below, or tweet us @MentoringMinds!


Reference: Pilcher, J. (2012). Growing dendrites and brain-based learning. Neonatal Network, 31(3), 191-    194. http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/0730-0832.31.3.191