A humorous look at what to say and do when kids make it
clear your classroom is the last place they want to
Glassy-eyed, restless, squirming kids who’d really rather not
listen to your pearls of wisdom can cause endless anxiety. How do
you handle them? What can you do to rein in their interest? You
could give up, get angry — or get creative. Try one of these
tactics to engage even your most challenging child.
1. Break in with a funny
personal story. I have a trove of bizarre and revealing
“My-brother-Daniel-and-I” stories that includes (but is not limited
to) an attack by a skunk, sliding my 3-year-old sister down the
stairs in a plastic tub, and chopping off a snake’s head that we
found on the floor of our room. I’m not making this up. Believe me,
kids’ attention becomes laser-beam sharp when they recognize you’re
about to spin a yarn.
2. Start whispering. Kids
will think you’re hiding something from them and they’ll strain to
hear what you’re saying.
3. Give candy randomly.
Tossing out a few treats every now and then will keep kids alert
and interested. (Don’t use these as rewards for good behavior or
correct answers; kids are not dogs, after all! Just occasionally
surprise kids with a sweet treat.)
4. Fake a coughing, gagging
fit. My mother did this when she was being mugged, and her
assailant actually became so concerned that he tried to help her.
5. Show the emergency room
photo of your son’s gaping leg wound. I did this last week in
Lubbock, Texas, with a group of fifth-graders. Gross as it is, kids
can’t get enough of seeing my son’s boating injury. Maybe you
didn’t remember to bring a camera to your last emergency room
visit, but a photo of an odd-looking animal or other freak of
nature will do the trick, too.
6. Say the magic words, “I
have a movie clip.” You’ll see kids’ eyes instantaneously
light up at the change of pace.
7. Scream at the top of your
lungs for no apparent reason. You’ll definitely get kids’
attention (just ignore the unintended consequence of other adults
and security running into the room). Then return to your normal
speaking tone. Kids may decide you’re a bit unbalanced, but they’ll
8. Pull out a crazy toy from
your Mystery Box. This can’t be any old toy or gimmick they’ve
seen dozens of times before. It’s got to be something that truly
9. Quickly leave the room for
a potty break and return in a Bible-times costume. And stay in
character the rest of the class.
10. Take out a digital camera
and feign ignorance about how to work it. The kids will
stumble over themselves to help you — instant engagement. Once
they’ve educated you, they’ll be happy to dive back into the
11. Bring in a junior higher
or high schooler to help with a game, music, or art project related
to the lesson. Your kids adore older kids; it’s the natural
order. This brings together two things they love — older kids and
12. Take kids into a different
room or outside for a change of scenery. I can’t tell you how
many teachers I know who love to transition with a location change.
The walk alone works out boredom and wakes up kids, and the new
surroundings offer a fresh start for your lesson.
13. Sob and dab your eyes with
a hanky. A crying adult always made me freak out as a child —
and you’ll be rewarded with kids’ total attention (if not an
14. Start a stampede. Say
in an excited tone, “On the count of three, everybody run to the
wall on your left…one, two, three!” Kids will drop everything and
run without understanding why; this can be entertaining to watch as
an adult. When everyone’s at the wall, continue with your lesson or
move on to something new.
15. Form groups. Change
the pace by asking kids to get into groups for the next activity.
This social change is a reliable way to get kids excited and
checked back in.
16. Chase rabbits. Or let
kids go off on tangents. Kids’ topics of interest keep them engaged
and interested in your lesson…and a creative teacher can find
some strand of insight that relates to the lesson aim.
17. Fall prostrate on the floor
and begin praying in Hebrew. No doubt about it, this is a
18. Give a “For
instance…” A “For instance” is something that relates to
kids’ real world. Ask them about specific things going on in their
culture and how they’d apply the Bible Point to that situation, on
the playground, or at home with siblings.
19. Turn the problem into the
solution. If they’d rather be anywhere than in your classroom,
take them where they are in their imagination. Pull out your Improv
Supply Box, and let kids create scenes as the lesson takes on
international, mysterious, or creative dimensions.
20. Ask the rowdies to do —
not help. Hand over one segment of the lesson, and then sit
back and enjoy yourself as kids try their hand at teaching. (And
don’t forget to give yourself a small pat on the back as you
realize that you truly are the key ingredient to kids learning
about Jesus in your classroom.)
Keith Johnson is author of Teacher Training on the Go
(Group) and the national field training manager for Group.