26th November, 2019

Top Tips to Re-engage Reluctant Learners

By Michael H

Author and Journalist, Charles Silberman, shocked the world of education when he shared his view that schools were ‘sterile, dry places of learning’. His book ‘Crisis in the Classroom’ gave a controversial opinion that the way classroom teaching was designed, was not the best fit for many students. 

Nearly 40 years on, many schools and classrooms are still using the approach that Silberman found to be so dry. Is this why so many children can be unenthusiastic about learning?

As a tutor or teacher, you are bound to come across children that are reluctant to learn. Some children are genuinely not interested in the topic you’re talking about, some are showing a lack of interest as a defence mechanism, and some are just not stimulated by particular ways of learning. The key is to identify why they are unwilling to learn and find a way to engage them again.

With more than 1,000,000 successful lessons taught through Tutorful, we like to think we know a thing or two about effective education.

Here are Tutorful’s top four tips to re-engage reluctant learners.

Ask the right questions.

When you have a student who is disruptive, distracted, or disinterested, it’s easy to jump to a mindset of negative questions.

  • Why won’t they sit down and learn?
  • Why don’t they want to learn?
  • What’s wrong with these students?

But we encourage you to frame these questions in a different way. Change your perspective by using more positive language and you will see that instead of looking for problems, you’re actually looking for information and solutions.

  • What interests my students?
  • What can I do to encourage learning?
  • What can I do to meet my students' needs?

When tutors focus on what is in their control, the sky's the limit.

ginger man boy pink tshirt pillow beige laying down


Engage your student’s interests

Every subject can be tailored into a topic that each student enjoys. Discover a quick and easy method of boosting their interest levels by relating the subject to something you know they enjoy.

Explain a maths problem by relating it to their passion for space, use characters from their favourite TV show in the science questions, or include words to do with cars when teaching about spelling, grammar and sentences.

Focusing on a theme you know they will pay attention to is a superb way of letting the student know you care about their interests, but also gets them to take in the information in a memorable way. If a student feels like they are an expert in the background topic, they may bring this confidence into the lesson with them too.

Give rewards and praise

Rewards and praise can be an important part of motivating a student. Many pupils will react well to regular praise, even for small wins, and use these compliments to encourage them for the rest of the session.

Offering a reward for good behaviour can also be a great way of engaging a student, but only if it remains a true reward. If offered in haste as a way to stop negative behaviour, a reward can quickly turn into a bribe. Promising rewards based on the completion of work, hitting a target, or other positive learning behaviour is most effective when set out beforehand.

For younger students think about a rewards chart, showing them the progress to be made and the prize they’ll get at the end. Older children are more likely to benefit from verbal praise leading to a bigger long term reward.

Build a rapport

1-to-1 tuition is not like being at school. You have the chance to really get to know your student and create your session completely around them and their needs. Your lessons are a great opportunity to build a good rapport between yourself and the student. 

By getting to know the student, you will build a relationship where they feel comfortable speaking with you and more importantly, comfortable telling you how they feel throughout the session.

By getting them to open up about what they are finding difficult, you can assess where they are struggling most and make sure you target those areas more sensitively. Having a better understanding between yourself and your students is an excellent way to get honest answers when asking questions, leading to you discovering better ways to teach them, engage them, and help them achieve their learning goals.

What are your top tips for engaging reluctant learners? Share them with Tutorful by emailing hello@tutorful.co.uk or using #TutorfulTips on social media. 

Log In