Needs Focused Teaching

The secret to making your lessons more appealing and engaging


I like to use an analogy that simplifies the task of engaging students considerably – I call it the ‘emotion rucksack’. If you’re faced with students dragging their heels and groaning as they walk up the corridor towards your classroom, it’s obvious they have already made up their minds that the lesson is going to be something they have to endure rather than something they will actually enjoy.

In this situation, I imagine these students each carrying a huge rucksack on their back filled with undesirable emotions. They are weighed down with negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions about a particular lesson (and probably about school and life in general). These thoughts, feelings, and emotions are often based on their personal past experiences – previous lessons they have attended or perhaps just comments from peers (‘I hate that lesson and you should too’).

Let’s say, for example, that in one or more previous lessons they have struggled to grasp the skills required to complete the assigned work tasks. If that’s the case, they will almost certainly be bringing a degree of frustration, anxiety and perhaps fear and inadequacy in their rucksack to the next lesson. If they feel they have been picked on by the teacher in previous lessons, they will be carrying feelings of distrust and perhaps even anger or revenge. If they found the subject too simple, completely boring or totally irrelevant, they will likely be carrying annoyance, irritation or apathy.

I’m sure you get the idea. Most, if not all, challenging students are arriving at the classroom door having already decided that the lesson is something they are not going to enjoy or benefit from. And it is very difficult to teach them and manage their behaviour when they are in this state.

The way around this problem is actually very simple. All you have to do is change what they are carrying in their rucksack. If we can have our students walking into class carrying a little bit of intrigue because of an interesting demonstration or story we shared last lesson, or optimism based on the (appropriate) fun and laughter they experienced last lesson, they are likely to be more enthusiastic about returning to class.

If they are carrying recollections of a brief taste of success and achievement they felt having understood a difficult concept for the first time, or feelings of confidence based on the praise they received for their efforts, or a sense of camaraderie or acceptance as the result of a successful group work session, we can expect them to be happy to return to class and to be in a state more conducive to learning when they do so.

What you want is students coming to your lessons looking forward to learning and being with you because they enjoyed your lesson. If they succeeded, achieved, discovered, learned something interesting, had fun, shared a laugh, improved and felt better about themselves; if they were motivated, cared for and moved emotionally, it stands to reason that they will feel more optimistic about the next lesson because they can expect more of the same.

These are things that any teacher can put in place in any lesson. It comes down to helping the students to feel wanted, valued and appreciated and making sure that they gain something positive from the short period of time you spend together.

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Take Control of the Noisy Class

Motivate the Unmotivated

Attention-Grabbing Starters & Plenaries

Classroom Management Success in 7 Days or Less

The Active Learning Tool Kit

The Fun Teacher’s Tool Kit

Connect With Your Students

The Behaviour Tool Kit