By Lauran Hampshire-Dell
Picture the scene: It’s Friday Period 5. You have your Year 10 class who is known throughout the school as having some ‘characters’. They’re the group who, despite your numerous warnings of ‘your GCSE is less than a year away!’, still roll in late, tired, whining that they need water and the last hour of your week is spent less as a teacher and more of a reverse bouncer, just trying to keep your little darlings in.
So then, how are you supposed to enthuse, inspire, motivate and engage? I’ve found these approaches and activities help alleviate the Friday Fear and keep your classes going all year round.
The Four Ps
Now I’m not sure if it’s ingrained from years of retail, but I consistently maintain a happy exterior at work. I tend to treat my students as customers: greeting them at the door, welcoming them in (once their ties are done up and skirts pulled to an appropriate level) and luring them into the lesson with something to do straight away. Make thanking your focus when they come in and when they leave. It’s all too easy, especially at secondary, for them to rush out, but take the time to say thank you. Doing this consistently will make your class arrive happy to learn.
This is tough. For your low ability classes, it can be hard to justify to them why they need to remember 15 poems. So at first, don’t make them. Try something different: Can they read a Government document and summarise what their taxes pay for? Can they, on Eva Smith’s budget, afford a flat, food and pay their bills? By introducing some ‘real world’ elements, it can give purpose and therefore engagement and motivation to your students who aren’t necessarily going to study your subject at HE.
Whatever I’m teaching, it’s my FAVOURITE thing. Animal Farm? I love it. Language Paper 2 Question 4? Couldn’t live without it. Simple sentences for the 17th time with the same group this year? I love to talk about verb placement. Having that enthusiasm, even for the mundane, will naturally transfer your students. Further to this, be a little open about what you’re currently studying. Leave your current book out and you’ll find your most unengaged students asking about your new Shakespeare biography ‘Miss do you actually read this stuff?’. Showing that you love what you do tell them you care and that you’re still committed to learning. In turn, this makes them more motivated to learn from you.
Forgive the cliché, but I firmly believe praise is more powerful than punishment. ‘Thank you for writing the title and date’ to a student who never normally does this is more powerful than ‘Why haven’t you started the task yet?’. Praise the little things. Drip feeding little compliments will have a huge positive payoff, long-term. Praise their progress too: going from 4 marks to 5 on a question deserves as much recognition as going from 4 to 8. Show them that you’ve noticed and they’ll want to show you they can do even more.
The Three Rs
Give students jobs in the class. They will take them seriously and do them (even the eye-rolling student will want to hand out books properly if they think it’s ‘their job’).
Give task options. You can slyly build in some differentiation here but think: does it matter if all the class write you a PEE (Point Evidence Explanation) paragraph? No? Then give them a choice of three tasks and let them do their own thing. This suggests you’re not controlling their entire lesson and boosts motivation.
Nope, not sweets! Allow students who worked hard to leave first, choose an activity for the next lesson, sit with their friend for one lesson (good for a Friday treat), build in their favourite YouTube for good work (my Year 7’s will do anything to watch Michael Rosen’s ‘Chocolate Cake’). There are all kinds of ways to build in free rewards that create a motivated, positive atmosphere.
Range of Activities
I teach a mixture of ability-set groups and have tried many different motivators. Here are some of my favourite crowd pleasers:
Speed Dating: 3 questions about the topic on a post-it, 2 lines of students, 1 line moves on after 1 minute. Brilliant fun and way more questioning than you could ever do from the front.
Countdown: Either numbers for the year of something topic related, or letters to make a related word. You can do groups of three at the front 8 out of 10 Cats style too.
Giant scrabble: Make a laminated set and let your class lay them out on the floor, competing to make keywords.
Relevant topics: I taught Animal Farm at the same time as the General Election so naturally, we held a class election. The winners got to decide the starter for the next 3 lessons.
Thesaurus/Dictionary races: Whichever side of the room can find, explain and use the word appropriately first, gets to go first to break.
Lessons where you don’t talk: a scary one but give them an options worksheet and let them go.
Question the teacher: a real subject knowledge checker! Let each student ask you 1 question about the topic. If you win, you get a song of your choice on (perfect way to make them remind you of how old you are!). If they win, they can sit where they like next lesson.
Learners leading: Let students do the whiteboard annotation/deliver your starter/plenary/explain Macbeth’s context. It’s more exciting to watch your mate than your teacher!
Ultimately, I think engagement and motivation starts with you. See each lesson as a clean slate and go above and beyond to build confidence, positivity and responsibility. None of this is groundbreaking but it is difficult to apply at the end of term when you’re tired. Build in consistently positive approaches, fun new tasks and watch their love for your subject grow!
Lauran @llcoolteaches is a soon to be NQT working at a Surrey state boarding school who is passionate about making kids love English. She loves to read endlessly about Shakespeare and Fitzgerald and buys too much vinyl.