Refuse to Be a Boring Teacher: 15 Ways to Have More Fun

October 10th, 2015 30 Comments Features


We’ve all had that teacher–the one who speaks in a monotone voice and reads aloud from the textbook. And we’ve all had the opportunity to not be that teacher. We’ve even had our moments, recognising that flash of interest in our students’ eyes, smiling as the bell rings because the energy is so high and no one wants the period to end. How do we extend these moments? How do we create an environment that keeps students stimulated and craving more? How do we have more fun?

One study of student boredom suggested that almost 60% of students find at least half their lectures boring, with about 30% claiming to find most or all of their lectures boring.

“Although a range of factors may contribute to these findings, they do prompt the question of what it is about the learning experience that might be deemed ‘boring,'” says Dr Sandi Mann, a senior lecturer in occupational psychology at the University of Central Lancashire.

Mann and her colleagues found that students adopt a variety of strategies to cope with boring lectures. The most popular are daydreaming (75%), doodling (66%), chatting to friends (50%), sending texts (45%), and passing notes to friends (38%). Over a quarter of students leave the lecture at the mid-session break.

“This ‘class cutting’ is potentially the most serious consequence, since previous research has shown a link between attendance and grades.”

One of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent boredom is to have fun yourself. If you are having a good time, chances are your students are too.

In a 2002 paper called The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion and its Influence on Group Behavior, Yale University researcher Sigal G. Barsade separated 94 business students into small groups, each with the same hypothetical task of allocating employee bonuses. Barsade secretly planted one student in each group to act out a different emotion: enthusiasm, hostility, serenity, or depression. When the infiltrator was enthusiastic, he smiled often, looked intently into people’s eyes, and spoke rapidly. When he feigned depression, he spoke slowly, avoided eye contact, and slouched in his seat.

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Barsade measured participants’ moods before and after the exercise and found that students who caught the actor’s positive emotions were perceived by others and by themselves as more competent and cooperative. The positive groups also believed they were more collegial than those in the bad-mood groups. But when Barsade asked the students what influenced their performance, they attributed it to their skills. “People don’t realise they are being influenced by others’ emotions,” she says.

Mimicry is a basic biological mechanism that may confer an evolutionary advantage, says Peter Totterdell, PhD, senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield in England. “It helps you understand what another person is feeling and thinking–even when she’s trying to hide it.”

And research shows that if you can put your students in a good mood, they will learn more too.

“Brain research suggests that fun is not just beneficial to learning but, by many reports, required for authentic learning and long-term memory,” writes Sean Slade for The Answer Sheet. Neurologist and educator Judy Willis’s book “Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist and Classroom Teacher” (ASCD, 2006) is one of many that have highlighted the learning benefits of fun:

“The truth is that when the joy and comfort are scrubbed from the classroom and replaced with homogeneity, and when spontaneity is replaced with conformity, students’ brains are distanced from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.”

“The highest-level executive thinking, making of connections, and “aha” moments are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of “exuberant discovery,” where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.”

So fun actually seems to promote learning by increasing dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen in the brain. The question is, how can we make teaching more enjoyable for ourselves in order to make learning fun for students?

How to Have More Fun Teaching

1. Discover new things together.

It’s much more fun for both parties when students and teachers learn new things together. Your job is, of course, to educate, but why can’t that process include the joy of shared discovery? Make a point each day of letting down your authoritative guard, humbling yourself, and enjoying the lifelong journey together–even if it’s just for a few mintues.

2. Incorporate mystery into your lessons.

Learning is the most fun when it’s surprising. Don’t just disseminate information; cloak it in mystery. Highlight the weird, the unusual, the unique. Ask questions. Start with a curious detail that can only be addressed by diving into the background of the subject and thoroughly exploring it. Pose a mystery at the beginning of the course and let your students work towards solving it throughout the term.

3. Be goofy; show you care.

Let loose; laugh; make fun of yourself. Don’t worry about sacrificing your authority. In fact, the latest research says authority stems from showing you care about your students, and making them laugh and feel good is one way to do that.

4. Participate in projects.

I had a creative writing professor at uni who would bring his own material to class for the students to workshop. It was great fun for all of us, and enjoyable for him as well. Stepping down to our level and actually participating in an activity he assigned himself made us all more engaged in the task because he was willing to be a part of it.

5. Avoid “going through the motions.”

If you feel yourself slipping into a rut, spending the same hours exactly the same way each day, stop and reassess your teaching process. It’s so easy to let it all become automatic, especially after twenty-plus years in the field, and to use the same lessons and techniques year after year with different students. But if it’s not fun for you, it won’t be fun for your students either. Make an effort to be fresh, try new things, take risks, make mistakes, enjoy the moment.

6. Flip your lessons.

Flipping your lessons will help you avoid boring in-class activities. If students watch lectures or correct their own homework the night before, you can spend the course period focusing on deeper learning. Everyone will appreciate the chance to reflect on, instead of repeat, the material.

7. Review–but don’t repeat–material.

It’s important for learning and memory to review new material regularly and to integrate it into the bigger picture shaped by old material. Spend an hour or two each week reviewing material from the past few weeks, but always position it within old material so that students see how it all fits together. Simply repeating new information represents a missed learning opportunity.

8. Share your passions.

Show students how you have fun. Passion is contagious. If you’re having a good time, chances are your students will too.

9. Laugh at your students’ jokes.

The best teachers I’ve ever had got a genuine kick out of their students. It’s one of the best ways to ensure teachers and students have fun: enjoy one another.

10. Replace lectures with conversations.

Why should teaching be so passive? Forget the sage on the stage and engage your students in a casual conversation like you would a good friend. This doesn’t necessarily mean asking more questions, but it does require a stylistic shift whereby you and your students are actively exchanging ideas–not just responding to them.

11. Put on a performance.

In his books and workshops, Doug Lemov talks about what pace to move around the room, what language to use when praising a student, how to adjust the angle of your head to let students know you’re looking at them. Teaching, he says, is “a performance profession.” You don’t have to be theatrical (though that might help), but you do have to be self-aware.

12. Enjoy yourself.

People with high confidence–people we respect and listen to–tend to have one important trait in common: they enjoy themselves. Quite literally. You’ll have a significantly better time teaching if you work on nurturing your personal relationship with yourself. Your students will have a better time, too.

13. Make yourself available.

Don’t go to the teacher’s lounge during lunch; stay in your room and invite students to eat lunch with you. Keep your doors open after the bell rings at the end of the day. Make yourself available online for part of the evening. Hold one-on-one and group office hours. Invite students to your home for workshops or end-of-course celebrations.

14. Try being a student again.

Take a seat in the audience and let your students teach you for the day. Spend a week doing your own assignments. Let students grade you on projects or presentations.

15. Don’t take yourself–or your subject–too seriously.

One complaint I hear from students is that teachers don’t sympathise with the fact that their course isn’t the only course students are taking. Students have to balance assignments and material from several courses at once (you had to do the same thing not so long ago). This doesn’t mean loosening your rules or being lenient on late work; it means acknowledging that students have interests and priorities that might not line up with yours. Try to be understanding, and even express interest in other courses students are taking. Think of it as an opportunity to strengthen students’ grasp of your subject by relating it to other disciplines.


Saga Briggs is Managing Editor of InformED. You can follow her on Google+ or @sagamilena

30 Responses

  1. Jose Luis De Paz says:

    Dear Saga,

    This morning I woke up with one thought in mind ‘I need to find inspiring ideas’. Your article has been precisely this. I work with teachers in Mexico and deliver training sessions to sales reps as part of my responsiblities in Educational Services.
    Appreciate your positive and straightforward suggestions.
    Best from Mexico City,

    • Edmund Harold says:

      Dear sir , I am a former high school principal. But presently working among teachers to enhance classroom efficiency. I will love to exchange experiences with you.

      Next week I will be in North East Nigerian to discuss tips to help weak students

  2. In my book, authenticity comes before presentation – though of course that’s crucial.

    As a youngster, I attended an evening class in electronics. The tutor was full of enthusiasm: “We could make a television together”. He began by blackboarding the schematic for a crystal radio. These contain four components, if you include the headphones and ignore the antenna.
    He found it necessary to pull a notebook from his pocket. D’oh!

  3. Eugene M says:

    Somethings I find helpful in teaching university students is to always allow enough flexibility in your schedule to allow for ‘interrupted teaching.’

    First, I forewarn my students that if we don’t get to cover every part of the text, that it will be okay, because we will have covered what’s important. The ‘interrupted teaching’ might start from a students comment about a news report, or event they witnessed the day prior. The flexibility starts when we unpack the event to see how it might relate to the course of study, and more often than not, it does!

    Some might view it as a distraction or rabbit trail, while I see it as an opportunity to take something that impressed the student enough to speak up in class, and connect it to the course.

    Just my $0.02


    • Lorraine says:

      Hi like your thought on making the class interesting by doing different stuff to keep the students engaged. What do you think about when a professor have a class that she has to lecture on Tuesday and s Thursday but she do not come to class at all. The students have to look at a boring computer and read all the chapters and figured everything out themselves. If they have question with homework they just come to her office and ask questions. That is boring and none of the students do not like the computer lecture at all, they actually want to hear the professor in the classroom. What do you think?

  4. Leo says:

    Wow, looks like I’ve been doing right after all all these years! Makes me even more enthusiastic about my teaching. Thanks for your suggestion about being a student and lto let my students grade me! I’m definitely going to try and find out.

  5. Claire Greenhow says:

    I love some of the ideas in this post, it’s so important to keep students engaged and keen to learn. Some of my best teachers were the ones who were a bit quirky and fun, whilst still conveying key facts. They were well respected and the class also behaved because they enjoyed the lesson.

  6. AniBhatt says:

    I recently heard that the students find my classes boring while I thought all this while that I was able to make them interested. Teaching for the first time makes things difficult at times, your article is an inspiration to pick up the pieces and work on making the classes interesting instead of feeling bad about myself. Thank you!

  7. Victoria says:

    Great article! I agree with everything. I’ve been a teachers assistant in Madrid for 2 years and the best teachers are self aware and interested in their students. They bring up relevent recent news which makes for beneficial conversation and understanding. When this kind of teacher enters the room you can feel the students energy liven up as they tune in attentively.

  8. Adam says:

    THIS is insightful, human, good advice. Thanks for taking the time to isolate and give examples for each angle. This makes me feel like I’m on the right track. I wish that professional development courses went these routes. How to do a “performance,” how to emotionally connect, how to build mystery, how to review (not re-state), etc. These are the true teaching techniques that keep their heads up, hearts open, and minds buzzing.

  9. Zubi says:

    I think that point 8 and 9 (Share your Passions and Laugh at Student’s jokes) will make students more free and over confident. So, It will become difficult to handle a class and Students would become careless in studies.
    What do you think?

    • Paula says:

      Two things:
      1. It really depends upon who your students are. Two different groups at the same school can be completely different, especially in how they will behave given the same stimuli.
      2. If you have excellent classroom procedures and are consistent at implementing them, it can make all the difference.

  10. Paula says:

    I have read your article but I don’t know how to make the learners who are not interested in learning to listen to you. I am a student teacher but I am struggling with classroom management right now. Please help.

  11. robin says:

    Write a song it helps

  12. Christopher Fortri says:

    Quite inspiring. Sometimes students tend to receive your person before they want to receive your lesson. Thanks for taking the time.

  13. Young dynamics says:

    Thank you so much for all the bright lovely ideas you have shared i think its very handy to me….

  14. Robin says:

    Great article! I agree with everything. Makes me feel that I am a really good teacher. I feel I understand the psychology of my students. But it also depends upon the institution you are working with. If you are praised by your head, you feel more motivated and happy. But no matter what I do, our head won’t recognize my efforts though she understands and tells a few close to her that I am the best teacher but never on the face. But thanks for the wonderful words. Its inspiring and helping in recognizing our efforts. Thanks!

  15. First, I forewarn my students that if we don’t get to cover every part of the text, that it will be okay, because we will have covered what’s important. The ‘interrupted teaching’ might start from a students comment about a news report, or event they witnessed the day prior.

  16. Sue says:

    I found this article useful and I agree with you that if we are enthusiastic, it will make the students more interested. However, I tried letting a student teach a small section of the course and in the evaluations, a student had written that I need to learn more about the material, especially about…. ( the same topic I had let the student teach). I mean we should be careful about letting the students get too involved, if they have this impression that you don’t know the subject, they lose interest. I agree with being available, felixibke and not taking yourself seriously as well, as long as you know the students do not take advantage of it. Thank you again, what I took from this was to make sure I have fun myself and start with a question and make them listen to find the answer.

    • Saga Briggs says:

      Hi Sue, thanks for your comment. I wouldn’t let one less-than-optimal experience stop you from involving students. In my experience, most students appreciate being given more responsibility and autonomy and respond with enthusiasm and respect. The point of flipping things and “playing student” is to help you be more objective about your own teaching, which certainly means considering things from a student’s POV, but not every student’s POV. Take what you find to be useful and leave the rest.

  17. Peta says:

    I was loving the read until it came to number 13, and sorry you lost me there, I couldn’t finish. With all of the child safety concerns you need to completely revisit it. I have never under any circumstances seen there to be any reason for you to open up your home to students.

    • Saga Briggs says:

      Hi Peta, thanks for your comment. The suggestion is best suited for post-secondary scenarios, e.g. university professors teaching small classes or advisors and grad students. Agreed it’s a different story for K-12.

  18. Really very helpful information. This article had some very useful information. Definitely picked up on some strategies. Thank you for your sharing.

  19. First, I forewarn my students that if we don’t get to cover every part of the text, that it will be okay, because we will have covered what’s important. The ‘interrupted teaching’ might start from a students comment about a news report, or event they witnessed the day prior…..

  20. Yasser RJO Ampatuan Tabara (nickname: Ache) says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s very helpful to me since this is my first year in teaching and I have lot of things to know about.

  21. First, I forewarn my students that if we don’t get to cover every part of the text, that it will be okay, because we will have covered what’s important. The ‘interrupted teaching’ might start from a students comment about a news report, or event they witnessed the day prior

  22. Arthur Margraf says:

    I highly and sincerely recommend this site to any teacher

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