In my class, what often happens is that some smart students do problems faster than other students. And they are actually going well ahead of my course plan. While I am teaching to other students a certain chapter, they are doing the next chapter to it. And in the meantime, while I am guiding the weak students, they ask me the question which they find difficult to do from the next section.

I kind of find that thing disturbing. They are calling me all the time and I am unable to give my time to other students. What should I do in this situation? Should I tell them to stop going ahead of me? If I tell them so, what other things can I tell them to do while I am teaching the weak students?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How is your class structured? Do you lecture, or do you have students work on problems individually/together, a mixture of both? This context should be added to your question. $\endgroup$ – Santiago Canez May 21 '14 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I lecture at first and then ask the students to do the problems individually. $\endgroup$ – Ufomammut May 21 '14 at 17:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What is the level of your course? Depending on students maturity different strategies might apply. $\endgroup$ – dtldarek May 21 '14 at 22:23
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Just an observation that "fast" and "weak" are not antonyms. The fact that so many of us characterize them as such (rather than use "fast"/"slow" or "strong"/"weak") reveals a false presumption that many of us hold: namely, that the essence of mathematical strength is the ability to solve problems quickly. Of course I don't claim these two qualities are entirely independent--surely there is a very strong correlation between mathematical power and mathematical speed--but I think we do students (and ourselves!) a disservice if we reinforce the misconception that they are one and the same. $\endgroup$ – mweiss May 23 '14 at 21:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The age of the students is extremely relevant here. Are we talking about 8-year-olds or adults? $\endgroup$ – NiloCK Sep 12 '14 at 11:08

I don't think it's fair to tell the students to not read ahead. In fact, I'd encourage it. What you should make clear is that the material in the current section takes precedence, and if somebody else has a question on the current material you'll sadly have to help those people before the questions on the next section.

If a weaker student is raising their hand, even if you're in the middle of explaining the more advanced topic, simply ask the weaker student if it's about the current material. If it is, just say "sorry, I have to get this question first, hold on to your thought."

If they're really taking a lot of time and they really do want questions answered, that is a good use of office hours and emails. Of course, you still have to put limits and make it clear that you won't answer 2000 emails a week, and that at office hours students on the current material still take precedence, but that's no big deal. In my experience, students react to this rather gracefully and office hours frequently will have a cadre of "regulars" asking advanced questions who stay quiet or even help out when a student with a basic or relevant question comes in.

  • 11
    $\begingroup$ Adding to the answer, recruit them to tutor the weaker students. That helps both the weak one (more time and attention dedicated to them; but keep an eye on the tutors, they might want to slip ahead) and the stronger one (they review the material, and fill in any missing pieces they skipped before) $\endgroup$ – vonbrand May 21 '14 at 16:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "sadly" I don't think is the right word to use. It sounds as if the OP's not-so-advanced students are on the syllabus schedule, not behind it. $\endgroup$ – David Wilkins May 21 '14 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidWilkins well "sadly" in the sense of "I'm sorry he can't answer your question right now, but answering questions on current material is more important". Not "sadly" in the more abstract sense of "it's unfortunate you have to put these brilliant students on hold for the idiots." $\endgroup$ – LinearZoetrope May 21 '14 at 19:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @vonbrand it is only occasionally acceptable to ask stronger students to tutor weaker ones. This can be vastly inappropriate when you're asking the strongest students to tutor students who are several grade levels behind; it is much more appropriate to have the strongest students help the mid-level students with on-grade questions. Most strong students get exasperated with the weakest students when they don't understand, and it's of little benefit to them to review material from several years earlier. Sources and opinions in next comment. $\endgroup$ – Opal E Apr 11 '18 at 5:21
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ soaringwithsnyder.com/2017/02/… journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0016986207306324 nagc.org/blog/serving-gifted-students-general-ed-classrooms Note that the #1 "don't" with gifted students in your classroom is using them as teachers' aides and peer tutors. Occasionally is fine, but if it is a consistent practice, it is NOT differentiation and it is NOT helping that student's education. $\endgroup$ – Opal E Apr 11 '18 at 5:24

I use a technique I learned from my pilates teacher: in class activities, have different options for different ability levels.

I have worksheets in almost all of my lessons. I almost never cover all the problems in class (solutions are published later). Some of the problems are there to challenge those who breeze through the easy problems, while I can spend time working with those still struggling with the easy problems.

  • $\begingroup$ Basically, the extra-credit/for-fun question approach. $\endgroup$ – keshlam May 22 '14 at 0:10
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @keshlam - I think that the description "extra-credit/for-fun" is underselling the significance of the idea being presented. It's more like, "give everybody in the room a challenge that respects their developmental level in relation to the material." $\endgroup$ – benblumsmith May 22 '14 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ I certainly don't label those problems as extra credit or for fun. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Leingang May 22 '14 at 14:36

My experience is that students that are ahead, and most importantly, asking questions too - are more likely to be in the position to be both independent learners, and able to take on peer-to-peer tasks related to teaching and learning.

This leads to a few options which might include:

  1. Use the advanced students to help the slower students too, thus increasing the overall speed that the class is mastering new concepts.
  2. Require the more advanced students to ask a peer for help and then have them confirm the the answer reached was correct with you; if they're unable to reach an answer, clearly you'd help too.
  • $\begingroup$ That isn't fair to the advanced students. $\endgroup$ – user5402 May 7 '19 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ @BPP Why is that unfair? The experience of explaining something to someone else, or having to help them understand something, is very different from being able to solve a problem, and is a very useful skill to practice. $\endgroup$ – David Steinberg May 7 '19 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidSteinberg I'm not arguing if it's useful, they can do it if they want to do it. A teacher shouldnt tell them to help others. They are your best students, the elites, they are the ones that will specialize in math, physics, engineering, etc. Instead you try other approches like this, this or this. $\endgroup$ – user5402 May 7 '19 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ @BPP You haven't explained why it is unfair. And you seem to agree that it is useful? Do you just not like the idea of people being asked to help others? $\endgroup$ – David Steinberg May 8 '19 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidSteinberg You totally missed my point. If an adv student wants to help his friend he can do it in class or after class, but he shouldn't be asked to do it by the teacher. Being in class with a weak student isn't his fault. The teacher should have a set of more adv exercises for him. That's what I always did with my students and what my teachers did with me. I got really bored when the teacher had to repeat and re-explain something for other students that I start doing something else, sometimes I even missed some sections. Even worse when I try to help a friend while teacher is explaining $\endgroup$ – user5402 May 8 '19 at 17:52

When I taught high school, I offered each students a choice between doing two different worksheets, making it clear that one worksheet had many problems at a low level for lots of practice and only a few challenge problems, and that the other worksheet had fewer repetitive problems and many challenge problems. My students generally self-selected the worksheet that was appropriate for their level. This had the added benefit of having my gifted students delve "deeper" in to the material we were currently learning, instead of zooming ahead with strong intuition but possibly weaker procedural skills.

To avoid having them call on you constantly during this time, ask those students who are doing the challenging worksheet to work together, and only call on you when everyone in their group of 3-4 students is stuck. This promotes collaboration and ensures that you spend the majority of your time on helping the students who need more directed guidance.


I agree with Mathew's opinion above about including challenging problems in worksheets for those who usually manage to breeze through the normal curriculum. Like the posts above, I don't encourage asking students not to read ahead because as a student myself, I may sometimes feel interested to learn in advance because of the nature of the topics (some might interest me) or perhaps I just want to learn more (in order to read deeper in some articles that I may have encountered elsewhere requiring the knowledge of the next topic for example).

As a student, I like having challenging problems (perhaps labelled as Optional Questions) in addition to the normal worksheet. I would recommend non-routine kind of problems that gives students the space to thinking beyond what they are usually exposed to in classroom. Perhaps one good site to search for such question will be Brilliant.org.

Another idea I have would be to give out articles of applications/fun facts/games/research/history (whatever's of a suitable level) of the topic at hand to students who finish their individual component/work faster. This might engage them in the remaining time of the lesson without disrupting the other students who might still be doing their work, and might also ignite new interests for the topic! :)


I would never advise you to tell your students not to read ahead, they are amazing for having the motivation to do that!

Depending on the number of students I think there are a number of possible solutions:

1-5) if the "ahead" students are relatively balanced in their abilities it might be valuable to form them into a group. Encourage them to work with each other to solve through problems. This leaves more time for you, ensures that you don't have to re-explain concepts, and offers them work companions that are more frequently available.

6-10) I would probably try to form groups of 3-5 where skills are similarly matched (or if students have a desire to work with each other that should be fine, they are ahead of the course content after all)

10) I would suggest splitting your class or seriously considering how the material is being covered. With a large fraction of students significantly ahead of the course content they should probably be placed in a higher level course (or the other students should be placed in a lower level).

  • $\begingroup$ For 10+ good students: splitting may not be possible and the current course might tackle some things you are sure they have not gone through yet. $\endgroup$ – dtldarek May 22 '14 at 5:45

I agree to those who would motivate their "fast" learners to become peer tutor to their classmates because at a certain point they could use their means of letting their classmates understand the topic accordingly.

  • $\begingroup$ That isn't fair to the advanced students. $\endgroup$ – user5402 May 7 '19 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to matheducators.SE! Could you expand your answer by saying how this has worked for you, as an educator, or by linking to studies or other reliable sources on the matter? $\endgroup$ – Tommi May 10 '19 at 13:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.