Are your students bored in class?
It is a common problem and as the students get older, they tend to be more and more bored.
A 2015 Gallup poll of high school students showed that 40 percent of teenagers were “engaged” in school. “Bored” was the most commonly cited adjective to describe how they felt about school in an earlier poll in 2004.
Yet, the same was not true of younger grades. In 2013 Gallup’s poll showed that 80 percent of students were “engaged.” So, most students weren’t bored . . . yet. (Source: Harvard)
So what changed?
Why, all of the sudden did students start getting bored in school as they got older?
I’ve taught students of all ages. I began teaching middles school students then moved to high school. I’ve been teaching elementary school as a catechist for a number of years now.
I have to admit something that I think shows why the students I taught at higher levels were more bored than the younger students I teach today:
. . . because I taught older students in a boring way.
Walk into your average classroom in elementary school and the teacher is next to the students and not in front of them. The students are working diligently on assignments to improve skills and learn new ideas.
Walk into a high school or a middle school classroom and what do you see? Teachers standing in the front of the room lecturing while students sit staring into space at their desks.
Teenagers aren’t engaged because we stop asking them to learn in engaging ways. We force them to LISTEN rather than to DO. We force them to answer questions by writing rather than be creative with whichever form of learning suits them the best.
So, what can we do instead?
How can we keep kids of all ages from getting bored in class?
Keep the kids active–active and engaged!
How to Get Students Engaged in Class
Before we look at a few tactical ways to keep kids from getting bored in class, I want to introduce a mindset switch that we all need to make as educators.
We get a textbook and we’re told to teach it. The textbook has lots of information and our teacher’s manual has answers to questions in the book. It would seem as though our purpose is to teach students the answers to important questions.
But, no, that is not our goal.
Our goal is to get students to ask more questions.
Why? Because a student that is asking questions is curious. They want to learn more.
A student that has all the answers is bored. Nothing you are teaching is interesting or new.
Therefore, our goal is curiosity.
Questions are better than answers.
Here’s a quick video I did with some ways you can encourage questions more than answers in class:
Lesson Planning for Engagement
(Psst . . . all of these ideas are introduced in great detail in the Classroom Engagement course available to premium members.)
Now let’s look at some more tactical ways in which you can structure your lessons and your classes to keep students from getting bored.
First, the way we structure our lessons can be very telling. Here are the three parts to every lesson plan:
- Present: Present new ideas. Students learn by listening or reading and filling out a graphic organizer.
- Practice: Practice what they learned. Students practice the skills and apply what they have learned with creative activities you have planned ahead of time.
- Check: Assess how much students have learned and decide if you need to re-present the key concepts and skills.
The classes with bored students look like this:
80%: Present: Teachers lecture in front of the room or students read in class.
15%: Practice: Students work on assignments alone or in groups.
5%: Check: Teachers check to see how much students have learned.
Classes with engaged students look like this:
The more active your students are in class, the more active they will be in their faith at home and as adults. Let them learn.
Here’s a more thorough explanation of the three parts of every lesson:
Also, read this article with “Three Ways to Keep Students Actively Engaged.”
Do This and Students Won’t Be Bored
Start Your Class Off Right
Here’s what to do in the first five minutes of class:
How do you keep kids interested in learning?
Make what they are learning relevant to their lives.
First, give them Bell Work (also called Morning Work or Whiteboard Assignments) to work on immediately as they walk into the room.
Read this article at The Religion Teacher for Bell Work Ideas.
Then, open up your lesson with a Lesson Hook.
Give students a simple way of thinking about the importance of what they are about to learn.
Here are six hook ideas inspired by Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A Champion:
Teach with Testimony
Finally, before you present new ideas to the students, get personal.
What we do as religious educators is so different from what other teachers do.
We teach more than ideas and concepts, we invite people into a relationship.
The only way to make it clear that they can have a personal relationship God is to hear stories of people who also have a personal relationship with him.
That’s why it is so important to teach with testimony. Share the ways in which you have witnesses God’s presence in whatever it is you are teaching about that day. Share why what they will learn is so important to you and your faith journey. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but this is the way we learn to be a Christian. We learn by listening to an observing the way other Christians live and love the Lord.
Read this article about teaching with testimony for more ways to do this.
How Students Can Actually Learn with Lectures
OK, so you’re not ready to throw out the lecture completely. I get it and I agree. We need to be able to explain new ideas in creative ways to the entire class at the same time.
But, here is a word of wisdom. Don’t teach too much because they can’t remember everything. No human could. And whatever they do learn, will need to be recalled repeatedly to remember for the long term.
The Rule of Three
So the first thing to keep in mind is The Rule of Three.
Focus on just three new ideas when you teach and show how they are related to one another as you teach them.
Here’s a video to explain this idea more or read this article:
Use Graphic Organizers
But just as important as what you teach is what your students are doing while they are listening.
Make sure you are using graphic organizers to guide students to make connections between ideas.
Here are some graphic organizers you can use in class.
And, if you want to learn more about what Graphic Organizers are, watch this:
Keep Kids Active with Activities
Here are three ways to keep your students actively learning in class.
(Read the full article for this video here.)
Whether you use centers as the video suggests or not, the key is to keep the kids actively practicing towards reaching their learning objective.
One of the things I’ve tried to do at The Religion Teacher is collect some of the best learning activities for various topics. Here are a few places to get started:
Start Here: The Religion Teacher Activities
Catholic Social Teaching Activities
How do you make sure you students reached their learning objective? How do you know if they mastered what you taught them.
Most teachers just use quizzes and tests. This is easy but it is also boring. You can do more than that. Try one of these formative assessment ideas:
Need More Help?
If you want more ideas for keeping your students actively engaged, consider enrolling in the Classroom Engagement Course and access the hundreds of worksheets, graphic organizers, and videos available to members of The Religion Teacher. Learn more about becoming a members here.