“Teacher, this class is boring!” – Strategies for Re-Engaging Disengaged Students

I finally get some time to write a proper post! It’s been so busy here lately and I hate not having time to write.  Having to make phone calls to students twice a week for two hours, and lesson planning eats up a lot of the time I use for blogging. It’s hard for me to blog during the morning as I like to run errands or do other stuff before going into work (I work an after-school ESL academy from 2-9 pm).

How do you deal with students who don’t participate in class?

Teaching any subject is stressful at times, and there are days where the students just don’t care to participate. It’s frustrating as a teacher to deal with disengaged students. There are those students who never seem to care about what’s happening in class, and don’t participate no matter what the teacher tries to do. These students don’t do or turn-in homework assignments, and may be frequently be late or absent from class.

What can you do?

One website gives several good strategies to use when dealing with these types of students.

(1) Make it Personal – take time to visit with students and learn about their personal interests.  Better yet, give them opportunities to tell you about their passions (see Identity Day by George Couros).  If they don’t think they have a passion, help them find one.  Most importantly, allow students to apply what they are learning to their personal interests.  Allow school to be about them!

This is a great way to try to understand what methods and activities work for the student. As you get to know your students, you can tailor the lessons to best suit their needs. It’s not easy and nearly impossible to accommodate each learning style, but should be able to help the majority of the class and give individual time to better help students who need it.

(2) Search for Celebrations – be constantly vigilant for celebration moments.  Trust me when I say that this isn’t always a personal strength and that I realize the school day isn’t all daffodils and candy hearts.  If we are looking for reasons to be frustrated or discouraged, we will undoubtedly find them.  Instead, search for the moments that making this profession rewarding.  Catch students making good decisions, using sound judgement, meeting expectations, working diligently, enjoying school…and take time to recognize these behaviors.  Make “celebration moments” the focal points of daily instruction

Students need lots of encouragement, especially if they are learning a second language. When they learn something new and begin to master it, develop new skills and are able to show a slight grasp on the material, celebrate! Tell them they can do it and empower them to continue learning.

(3) Give Every Student the Opportunity to Succeed – it is unfortunate, but some of our students have not tasted success for so long that they have lost hope–no longer possessing the self-confidence, or will, to invest in what they see as a wasted effort.  One way to overcome this sense of helplessness is to plan opportunities for every student to experience success.  This will mean different things for different students, but by designing lessons, activities, assignments and questions that will set students up for success we can begin to repair student self-esteem and open doors for greater challenges.

This is a good piece of advice, but sadly not every student will succeed like we hope. Even so, we need to give all students the chance to succeed, or at least try to succeed.

(4) Reflect on class assignments and homework – in spite of our best intentions, we frequently set our students up for failure by burying them in assignments that do not serve a clear purpose, or that students have little chance of completing.  The issue of homework has been widely debated in education circles (check out the post entitled Homework, by David Truss).  Regardless of your position on making homework assignments, I would hope that all educators recognize the importance of making ALL assignments purposeful and relevant.  If you are making assignments, be sure to ask yourself (1) what is the purpose, (2) is it a good use of time and resources, and (3) is it in the best interest of students?  (see 5 Hallmarks of Good Homework, from ASCD)

Homework and other class assignments are important to the educational process, but are they necessary all the time? Students need to learn how to put what they’ve learned in class into real-world practice; having students complete some worksheet about some grammatical rule or a questionnaire about the lesson’s topic may be good to reinforce the information but may not help them learn to use it in life.

(5) Try something different – if things don’t seem to be working, do something different.  There are rarely easy answers when it comes to motivating struggling students and keeping them engaged, but doing the same thing over and over without results makes no sense.  As problem solvers, we have to shake things up, employ new strategies, and be on the lookout for opportunities to challenge students to be active participants in their own education.

When techniques don’t seem to work and students don’t understand what you’ve taught or they lose interest, change it up! It’s been said a few times before, but using different methods and activities to keep the students’ interest up is important. No matter what subject you teach, we all have the same or very similar problems; trying these methods or others that you know of may work and help those students who have lost confidence in their learning abilities or don’t care, to begin seeing learning in a new light.


Filed under Adolescents, Andong, Blogging, Boys and Girls, ESL, Kids, Lesson Planning, Second Language, South Korea, Teaching, Teaching Methodology, The United States, Writing, Young Learners

7 responses to ““Teacher, this class is boring!” – Strategies for Re-Engaging Disengaged Students

  1. I think that part of the reason that kids are “bored” in school is the electronic toys that give instant gratification. School learning requires the students to engage with information that may not be instantly gratifying. It’s difficult for them to see the importance of pushing through to the prize.


  2. Resentful students must be a prime cause of teacher burnout! And a permanent feature of compulsory education as well.

    However, if not all of us are musical or athletic, not all of us are students, either. And only a student can change his destructive attitude.

    I have suspected that to remain in a teaching career, it must be necessary to teach whom one is able and in essence, to write off the rest rather than agonize over them. Spending too much on the disengaged, deprives the engaged, seems to me.

    None of us has power to change the world, or to change anyone else. That must come hard to a teacher’s sensibilities …


  3. It’s not easy to find the time, but reflective teaching – actually taking time to think about what you have done, and how well or badly you think it went, and why – is a great way for us to improve our craft.
    All these tips are great. I especially like the advice to try something different.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: They’re Not Paying Attention! What Can We Do? | Instructional Technology at Albany Law School

  5. Pingback: Tips for Re-Engaging Students (part 2) | So, You Think You Can Teach ESL?

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