Many years ago I took a steak cooking class where the instructor told us, “If you’re not sure if the steak is done, it’s better to undercook it than overcook it. The reason why is because you can always throw the steak back on the grill if it’s undercooked, but you can never undo overcooking.” Strangely, I have learned that this same philosophy applies to education.

When you’re teaching students, you should always aim to be less helpful. If you are too helpful (such as giving students strategies they can use before they’ve had a chance to discover their own), there isn’t anything you can do to remedy the situation. Like an overcooked steak, it just stays that way.

Instead, consider undercooking your students. Begin with questions like, “What have you already tried?” or “What strategies were you considering?” They may not be particularly helpful, but just like with a steak, you can always throw it back on the grill and provide additional assistance.


  1. Love this analogy. Thank you for sharing. I have been thinking alot about this lately also. (see my recent blog posts at

    Currently mulling a different analogy. . . Ever teach someone to drive? (or remember when you learned to drive?) There are places you have driven them 1000 times that they realize they have no idea how to get to once they are behind the wheel. Sometimes by doing too much we can get them where we want them to go, but later when they try to go themselves, they do not know the way. To engage the brain enough to make the path memorable, you have to leave some thinking for them.

  2. This is a great analogy Robert. Its funny I do it all the time at home when I add salt to my food. Its better to start with less salt because you can always add more later.

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