20 Ways to Wake Up the Kids in Your Class
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. True story!
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 be listening.
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 captivates.
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 lesson.
11 Bring in a junior high schooler 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 fun.
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 Oscar).
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 showstopper.
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.)