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How to engage restless learners

Obviously not every student is switched on and ready to learn from the minute they sit down, but here are a few ways you can try to get them involved, says Oliver Mcintyre...

  • How to engage restless learners

Keep it interactive

Jumping straight in with rigid teaching might not be the best way to get reluctant learners on side!

Ask the students what they think about the topic, ignite class discussion and use humour to engage them. Students who shout out or crack jokes are often showing that they want to be involved and have an idea to express.

Where appropriate, try linking their comments to the topic and re-present them as a positive contribution.

Pique their curiosity

When starting a lesson, use an activity that stimulates their curiosity and hooks them into the topic.

My favourite is the ‘slow reveal’ starter – students are shown a source (usually an image) that’s mostly covered up with no explanation or context, and tasked with describing what they can see and trying to guess the rest of the picture.

As the image re-assess their initial interpretations until eventually the entire image is displayed.

Encouraging students to focus on details in this structured way helps to develop deeper analysis skills, stimulate lively class discussion and adds an element of fun to proceedings.

Show that you’re human too

Students are often full of questions, but won’t necessarily stay on topic. Instead of dismissing or evading these queries, embrace them as a chance to build a positive rapport.

Allowing time for such interaction at the start of the lesson is a great way to encourage engagement.

For me, my height is often a talking point (I’m 6ft 10), as is my ADHD. I’ve found that students respond well when you’re open with them. Acting as yourself and letting them know that you’re human too can be a great leveller!


Oliver McIntyre teaches history and geography at Hillcrest Shifnal School, Shropshire and was recently shortlisted in the 2020 Pearson National Teaching Awards.

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