Boring TEFL Lessons & Bored EFL Students

Famously there is an old adage, there is no such thing as a boring lesson, just a boring teacher.

It may be a little harsh, but all teachers will sooner or later come across a bored class. However, you have it within your power to change that.

There are many ways in which you can make the lesson interesting and get the students engaged and enthusiastic.

Why are they Bored?

This is the first question to ask. Boredom comes from not being engaged in the class; instead of working enthusiastically on a lesson which engages their interest, the students instead stare out of the window or yawn or talk to their neighbors.

Here are the 3 main reasons why students get bored in class.

1. The Wrong Material

If you are a 15 year old boy you are probably not very interested in reading an article on the migratory patterns of birds in Winter. Or learning how a pencil is made. Or learning a list of irregular verbs.

As a teacher you might think that the music of Oasis or U2 or Nirvana or Garth Brooks is happening and cool but most of your teenage class were still in nappies when they were popular and think this lot are old fashioned and need to be pensioned off.

This means that what you might find interesting is irrelevant; it’s the class which needs to be stimulated, not you.

2. The Wrong Level

If you are studying something which you know very well and which is very easy for you, you are not engaged and get bored. It’s as simple as that. You will feel there is no reason to read the list or watch the video for a second time – you know it already and so you’ll talk to your friend or look out the window.

Likewise, if you are studying material which is too difficult you will soon be distracted because you can’t understand it. Material which is too advanced can also lead you to feel that you are inadequate and not clever – this is especially so if you realize that others in the class do understand!

3. No Student Participation

If all you do is sit at your desk and listen to the teacher drone on and on and on and on and on and on… you’ll get uncomfortable and restless and bored. If the teacher calls up each member of the class in turn to do the same board (bored) exercise you will sit at the back getting bored.

An Experiment

Try this simple experiment. The video on the right is of the Greek parliament in action. (And if you speak Greek‏‎ well then try this experiment with a video of a parliament in action in a language you don’t speak to see how it feels for you.)

See how long you can watch it without “tuning out”!






This demonstrates the three main problems above, namely content and level and participation. If you are a teenager then in all likelihood:

  • the content (even if you can understand it) is not really of interest to most people
  • the language level is too high (unless you are highly proficient in Greek)
  • there is no participation here; you are sitting passively watching a video and not actively taking part in anything

How to Make Your Lessons Interesting

Quite simply, it’s a matter of removing the 3 problems above!

1. Make Material Relevant

You should always do a needs analysis‏‎ with your class to determine not only why they are in the classroom and studying English, but also to get a good idea of their general interests.

This way you can tailor material to them. Often it does not take much to do this. Suppose the course book you are using looks at a biography of a film star from the 40s that you or your class have never heard of, you simply adapt it and present the biography of a modern day film star whom your class will recognize and appreciate more.

Above we mentioned how a class of teenagers might well yawn at the prospect of U2 and Oasis. Simply ask them what kind of music they are into and then use their favorites in the lesson instead.

2. Get the Level Right

This is very important. The level of material you present to your class should be pitched just very slightly above their current learner level‏‎. Thus they will know enough to be able to understand what they are reading‏‎ or listening‏‎ to, but there will also be a few unknown items in there to make them have to think and work at the language to understand it fully.

3. Get the Whole Class Participating

This is all about the classroom focus‏‎. Instead of having the class teacher centered (i.e. based around what you the teacher are doing and saying) it should be student centered (i.e. focusing on what the students want and need).

For example, instead of having the class sit passively as you, the teacher, lecture them, get them working together in small groups‏‎ or doing things for themselves.

In other words, don’t teach them but lead them instead.

Useful Links

Old Fashioned Teachers & Music – a blog on using old music in your class; if you recognize yourself here then it’s time to update!

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Posted in How To Teach English.

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