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5 strategies for turning boredom into brilliance

Key points:

As someone who began teaching in middle school, I’ve had plenty of firsthand experience dealing with boredom in the classroom. Most educators will recognize the signs: students sleeping during class, students watching the clock, students daydreaming when they should be paying attention. If, like me, you work with younger students, you might have even seen one or two get up and start wandering the classroom. Needless to say, these things can be highly disruptive and undermine our ability to manage the class.

Despite these problems, I’ve learned over time that boredom itself is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when approached correctly, boredom can become a powerful force for good in the classroom.  

Typically, student boredom is triggered by a lack of choice, challenge, or engagement within a lesson. This means that educators can turn boredom to their advantage by tailoring their content to meet these student needs. These adaptations do not need to be complicated either. In fact, there are a number of simple methods teachers can use to spark student engagement while fostering curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking.

Below are five strategies that I have found incredibly useful for turning a blasé lesson plan into student brilliance:

  • The Bored Board: Extra time, free time, downtime, whatever name it goes by, can be a great time for students to pursue some of their own interests, However, not all students know what to do with this time! The “Bored Board” can help give students options and eliminate the question, “I’m done, now what?” This can be a physical handout, but it also works great as a digital tool that can link to text, videos, interactive simulations and more.
  • Learning Menus: Provide students with a learning menu filled with intellectually rich activities. Students can then choose which activities to complete in order to meet the assigned requirements. It’s best to include choices that differentiate for content (such as harder or easier texts), process (such as where to work), and product (such as presentation format). This can take the form of a tic-tac-toe board, or an appetizer-main course-dessert, or any other format you dream up.
  • Notes Scavenger Hunt: Turn your next lecture into something interactive and exciting! Create a handout with blanks that need to be filled in then paste QR codes, books, articles, or other materials around the room and allow students to move around freely and explore each resource in order to complete their notes. This strategy actively engages students in notetaking and gets them up, moving, and thinking.
  • Wrong Answers Only: Have students come up with the best wrong answers to a question. Wrong answers might be great because they show a common error, because they’re the exact opposite of the correct response, or just because they’re funny. Students will be challenged to understand the correct answer deeply in order to get it wrong just right.
  • Project-based Learning: Through PBL, students work on hands-on, real-world projects that are relevant and interesting to them, fostering a deeper connection to the subject matter. This approach encourages critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration, as students are often working in groups and learning from each other. The dynamic nature of PBL maintains student interest and motivation.

When we use boredom as a catalyst for creativity and self-discovery, we show students that learning is about more than just memorizing old facts. Learning is about engaging with questions, using knowledge to expand our horizons, and equipping ourselves with the tools needed to meet new challenges as we grow.

So, when you see boredom beginning to take hold in your classroom, take steps to channel it toward something positive. After all, a little boredom could be the starting point of a student’s ongoing learning journey.

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