Your students are bored. You’re a good instructor. You’ve taken breaks. Nevertheless, this group is stone cold. They seem to be paying attention, but they are BORED! What do you do to grab their attention?
First, I’d throw up. Balls. Don’t use anything too hard, though. Use them to engage students. A correct response invites a toss—a game of hot potato, techie style. Physical activity is an excellent way to crush boredom. Students begin to wake up, and you start seeing smiles.
Believe it or not, the type of balls you use for this exercise can make or break its effectiveness, so let’s talk equipment. Ping-pong balls are harder to catch, but they have the advantage of not knocking over coffee cups (although they may end up inside). Nerf balls can be an easier catch. You might want one about the diameter of a baseball. Rubber-string balls (the leading brand is Koosh) work well with dexterity-impaired students. Beach balls can work, but keep an eye on the desktops for sodas and coffee.
A slight variation on the ball theme is to place a small basketball hoop near the front of the room and allow students to take occasional shots. This keeps the ball heading in one direction, minimizing soda and coffee spillage while allowing all students a fair shot at the hoop. Ball activities are effective with groups of five to 20 students. Larger groups may throw the ball too much, possibly getting out of hand.
Keep in mind that not all students will feel comfortable tossing a ball around. Your instincts will help you identify these students early on and avoid embarrassment all around. Of course, you still need to keep everyone engaged in the class activity. Here’s a few other techniques you and your training staff can employ to get bored students excited about learning.
- Let them go it alone. Even the most inexperienced Windows users know where to find Solitaire. Allow students to play solitaire, hearts, or one of the other basic games during the breaks. Remind them that this is not acceptable during class, so they may wish to minimize the game on their taskbar while class is in session. Add a reward, such as a lunch certificate to a local restaurant.
- Ask trivia questions. Who won the Academy Award in 1977 for best picture? What is the capital of Turkey? How many people fit into a Volkswagen Beetle? These questions and/or answers can be incorporated into the class examples: An Excel spreadsheet of answers tallied from rows of students can illustrate some mathematical functions.
- Gaming is BIG business. In the war against boredom you have Centipede, Donkey Kong, Tron, PacMan, Space Invaders, Berserk, Asteroids, and more weapons in your arsenal. These games are free and can be found at mame.retrogames.com for PCs and www.macmame.org for Macs. They turn any classroom break into a 1980s-style video arcade. Most students go crazy for these. I have found this to be a powerful tool in arresting boredom.
Schoun Regan is the director of training at the Mac Group, a research and development, consulting and training firm. You can write to Schoun here.