As teachers, we’ve all seen it. The glazed over, “I-couldn’t-care-less,” checked-out, bored look in the eyes of your middle schoolers. It would seem they are a pretty tough crowd to please sometimes. But how do we prevent boredom in the classroom?
What if pleasing our middle school students and helping them to actually enjoy those middle school years was easier than it appears?
And what if we could cure their boredom and actually hear them tell you that they are happy to be right there in that classroom and excited to see what is in store for them for that day?
What if we could PREVENT that boredom from even creeping into the classroom? WE CAN! What it really comes down to is making sure they know you actually care–about them and about how their day is going.
I will be sharing 11 proven ways to prevent boredom in the classroom. With these, you won’t be left with the feeling that you have to ditch the school program and just play all of their favorite games all the time instead. For the sake of time, I will only be covering the first 5 in this first article.
Just so you can see the whole list, here are the 11 proven ways to prevent boredom:
- Keep things moving.
- Ask your students questions regarding things outside of class.
- Be careful to be aware of when students are attempting to engage you.
- Reward their good behavior frequently.
- Give the students paper to take notes or draw for the times that they have to sit and listen.
- Make sure your directions are specific and engaging.
- Watch their body language for cues as to how they are feeling.
- Keep things new.
- Make sure the conversation goes two ways.
- Keep things simple so they don’t get bogged down in the details, especially for new concepts.
- Change up the routine. (especially when least expecting it!!!)
Table of Contents
1. Keep Things Moving
Middle school isn’t much different than preschool and elementary school in this regard. Sure, they can sit for longer in class. But you still need to be engaging them the whole time. The minute you stop, you have lost them, at least for a bit. And at that point, the quicker you rein things in the better. You can recover very quickly if not much time has lapsed.
The one thing that is different that losing the attention of a preschool or elementary school class is that the middle schoolers can give you a harder time once you no longer have their attention.
So, how do you get their attention back? You quickly think of something that you know will get their attention. Have a hidden list handy for when this happens so that you don’t have to try to think off the top of your head, especially if you’re tired and it’s been a long week.
One suggestion for this would be a one-round game of charades with you acting it out. Then act out something like “listening,” or “hearing,” or another concept that drives your point home and gets them back to work.
There are tons of other things you can do along this line. Just keep in mind, you want it to be a super quick thing that gets you all back to work quickly. And realize that you can only get away with these tricks once or twice before they’re on to you and you need to move on to the next one!
2. Ask Your Students Questions Beyond the Classroom
You need to be careful not to ask overly personal questions. But to ask them how their night was or if they got enough rest is fine. Or if they shared an activity that they were going to, such as a game or movie, ask them how that went. If you have had one of their older siblings in your class previously, ask about them.
Any of these types of questions shows your students that you actually care about them and you aren’t there just to collect a paycheck. And with that realization, they are going to realize that the day you have planned for them has to do with them, and not some random book that is telling what to teach random kids.
Instead of being bored with whatever is being thrown at them, they start to think of their day with you in a more relational way. And relating to other people in this way feels more like life and less like transaction.
3. Be Aware of When Students are Attempting to Engage You.
Many children, especially middle school age, are not very forthright in engaging adults, whether teachers, parents, or other older people in their life. Some students are far more likely to fly under the radar than advertise their thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, other students have no problem putting themselves out in the open to get your attention, but still in indirect ways.
For the students that choose for whatever reason to not directly engage you, it does not mean that they don’t want to be noticed. Or that they don’t care what you are thinking. They do, in fact, want to be noticed, just like any other human. They just prefer not to be in the spotlight. So the way they are going to show that they are seeking your attention is not always going to be by engaging you verbally.
What it Looks Like
Many times it looks like working their heart out on a project so that it will be so amazing that you have to notice and appreciate their effort. Or it could look like speaking softly because they have something to say but don’t want to make waves. And often if you don’t hear it and respond, they will not repeat it. They feel like if they couldn’t be heard the first time, it won’t be worth it the second time either.
Another sign that they are attempting to engage you is just the fact that you can see them intently paying attention in class, both to what you are saying and doing as well as what is going on around them. They may not have something they want you to hear. But they do want you to know that they are engaged and actively listening in their own way.
The more “in your face” students may be engaging you verbally. But they are not necessarily doing that with exactly what they want to say. Or some may be engaging you with exactly what they want to say but still need to learn a little bit about delivery.
Assessing the Real Story
Middle schoolers can generally be full of uncertainty and anxiety. It is a tough age because they are starting to discover that there is a large world around them. And they don’t yet know all the rules of engagement. (Do we ever?) They want to navigate the new world they find themselves in. And they want to do well. But it is never that simple and they start to realize that at this age.
The big point here is to be aware of your students and where they live in their communication/relationship skills. And to respond to them in a way that helps them to build confidence as they learn to navigate their world. You have the ability to inspire all of them to learn and grow in this really difficult time.
That is a huge challenge for a teacher to always be on her toes in for in case that student speaks and she needs to respond. But the reward in seeing emotional and social growth is so incredibly satisfying. And they will eventually be incredibly grateful that you took the time to teach them a skill that can’t always be found in books and academia.
Getting to the Point
So to summarize this very long point, I would just say that if you are engaging your students in a way that they each feel acknowledged and cared about, it is one of the best ways to prevent boredom in the classroom. A happy student is generally not a bored student.
Phillip C. Schlechty has written an amazing book on engaging students. It is a followup to his bestselling book, Working on the Work. I feel that it drives home the classroom issues even more than the first book. Here is the Amazon link to his book along with some excellent descriptive reviews.
4. Reward their Good Behavior Frequently
One of the best ways you can prevent boredom in the classroom is with surprises throughout the day that reward their good behavior. And the more you reward that behavior, the more eager they will be to repeat it.
I am not talking about bribery here. Or about buying good behavior. I am talking about showing them that there are rewards for doing the right thing.
There are lots of great ways to do this. Here are a few suggestions:
- Small prizes, such as bookmarks, pens, pencils, other school supplies
- A basket to choose a prize from. This could just be dollar store items. Or better yet, dollar store items that come several to a package!
- Free time in the school day.
- Exemption from a homework assignment.
- For a bigger prize, or one that rewards the whole class collectively, you can throw a mini-party.
There are tons of other suggestions, but this list can get you started. (But if you have some other ideas that work great for you, feel free to share them in the comments below!)
5. Have the Students Draw or Take Notes for When They Need to Sit and Listen.
You can prevent boredom in the classroom by giving the kids a more active role in their learning.
I know that as a student, although I got mostly A’s, I still had the hardest time sitting there and taking in what the teacher was saying. I would zone out and then realize 5 minutes later that I hadn’t heard a thing he/she had said. Then I would fear that I had missed critical information for the upcoming test.
Eventually I learned that if I was actively taking notes and listening so I could transfer what the teacher was saying, I could retain it much better. Not only was I writing down everything and then able to go over it later. I was also consciously making sure that I caught everything the teacher was saying.
I know that note-taking is not a new thing in the older grades. But it is rarely taught and implemented in the younger grades. I think there are several reasons for this. First, it takes time to teach the kids good note-taking skills. And they still write pretty slow at this age. Also, there is a wide range in students that write fast and those that don’t. That makes it difficult to teach one lesson to so many kids on so many levels.
Great Ways to Make This Work
There are work-arounds for all of those issues. First, you write everything on the board that you want them to learn. Now that it is on the board, the slower students will be able to get back to it if they couldn’t finish, whether in study hall or another opportune time.
Some of the students that are slower at writing or more artistic. And for those students you could allow them to draw pictures of what you are teaching. Either way, they are engaged with what you are saying.
Because you have added this activity to their classes, you are preventing them from zoning out and missing a good chunk of what you are teaching. And you are preventing boredom in the classroom because they are actively engaged in multiple activities on the same project.
So this is the first half of ways that we can prevent boredom in the classroom. There are actually way more than eleven, so feel free to chime in on ways that you have been successful at fighting boredom in your own classroom!
To read on to part 2 of this article, click here.
Also, check out my other blog posts here for more information on life and lesson planning in the middle school classroom.
For more ways to encourage your students in the classroom, check out my article here.