Some Ideas about Teaching



Strategies which Work with Year 11


(I wrote this years ago for my own staff, but it is here for you if you want to.
Feel free to criticise - or reject it altogether.)


Year 11s are children standing on the threshold of adulthood. They want the best of both worlds and the duties of neither. Most of their reactions and attitudes are different to ours, and some of them we find incomprehensible. They are emotionally brittle and volatile. They over-react, go hyper, get hostile, become over-confident and lose confidence – all at the drop of a hat. Their values are different to ours. They are able purposely to close their minds to the pressures they don’t want to face; often, the more important the duty, the more they shirk addressing it.

Harry Enfield makes humour out of this – they are 'teenagers'.

All the research shows that identifying and ‘pushing’ disaffected and underachieving pupils is actually counter-productive. It is so because teachers try to do so without taking into account the teenage psyche.

Below are a series of strategies which can be successful, when applied at the right time in the right way. To a degree, many of them involve acting and dissembling.

Ways to fool teenagers into passing their exams

1.   Teenagers hate you ‘going on and on’. Realise this, and use it as a weapon – sparingly and to maximum effect.

2.   Teenagers hate you ‘moaning’ at them, especially when there is nothing they can do about it at this moment. Teenagers DO NOT mind being told off – they see it as part of the territory. But make it short, appropriately fierce, to the point . . . and then let the matter drop.

3.   Tomorrow must always be another day. Teenagers HATE you ‘dragging up the past’.

4.   When telling off a teenager, never postulate or argue in the conditional. Never tell them what they are feeling or what will happen if . . ., etc. They will reject you on the grounds that ‘how do you know?’, and they will therefore be able to reject the message of the reprimand (we all know how pupils ‘glaze over’ as we are talking). Realise that even those who dare not backchat you to your face are backchatting you in their head. Restrict yourself to the unarguable FACTS, which gives them no grounds to let themselves off the hook.

5.   Be longsuffering. The most powerful reprimands occur when you can pull out a long list of their failures where you did nothing or even acted positively while they did this, and this, and this . . . but now the time has come for it all to stop.

6.   Lighten up. Share a joke. Smile. Be good fun. Hail fellow well met is a good strategy.

7.   Butter them up. Loads of (false if necessary) flattery. Seize on the good amidst the dross in their work and comment on that – that is what you want more of. Build up their self-esteem – if necessary by strategic lies and acting. Give them the confidence to pass.

8.   Encourage them, much as you would a runner in a running race.

9.   Constantly reassure them that you like them.

10. Do little favours and give little presents – both to the group and to individuals. Bring in a newspaper cutting that you saw and thought that it might help X / do a revision crib and give it to the group ‘because I thought it would help you’, etc.

11. Don’t go on and on constantly about how the exams are coming, and they’re not ready.... etc. They will just ‘turn off’. Instead, frequently break off from the narrative of your teaching to give them ‘asides’ and ‘tips’ for the exams – ‘By the way, one question which often comes up in the exam is . . .’/ ‘One good trick when you do the exam is . . .’ Firstly, it will make them feel that you are doing them a favour. Secondly, every time you mention ‘the exam’, it creates a flutter of panic in the pits of their stomachs. Who can resist this!!

12. Be positive much more than (and even to the exclusion of) negative. Tell them what they are capable of if they do, not how they will fail if they don’t.

13. Make them feel that they CAN do it.

14. Did you want to add the words ‘if they try’ to point 13? Resist doing so.

15. Do not go on about how much hard work it will take to come up to standard. Remember that Year 11s are outgrowing their strength and their sense of duty and that they find work much more difficult than us. They will usually do anything to avoid it, and become stomach-twistingly bored as they go on. If you go on too much about how much work is needed, they will think ‘I could never make myself/ I don’t want to work that much’ and give up.

16. Teenagers can quite enjoy feeling guilty. Don’t be afraid to lay it on how much they have distressed you or how much they have let you down. But don’t over-egg the pudding, and don’t expect them to show or admit you’re right.

17. Remember they are young adults Treat them as adults/partners in the learning process in situations where they gain. Too often we expect them to react like adults in situations where they do not want the burden.

18. Remember they are still children. Treat them as children in situations where they gain. Too often we treat them like children in situations where they object.

19. Explain thoroughly. Many children are culturally deprived, and often they do not have general knowledge of even the most basic things. Many lack the ability to remember work they did in previous years, or even last lesson. Many cannot appropriate meaning easily from written text. So, assume nothing, and explain orally from the thread to the needle. Ask if they have understood before you ask them to start work on anything.

20. Give an outline overview of the whole topic before beginning to work through the parts.

21. Give them a programme of what they will be doing for the next half-term. Start each lesson by reminding/ telling them where today’s lesson comes in the overall scheme of things.

22. Expect and require certain things, and don’t others – for instance, I require ALL pupils to give 100% attention, application, co-operation and behaviour in lessons. I require notes to be complete and in the right order by the end of the topic. But I can’t be bothered to get uptight about irrelevancies such as trainers not shoes, unobtrusive jewellery, eating sweets unnoticeably in class. Adopt a set of standards that the teenagers can give mental assent to – if necessary, discuss with them what you might acceptably get uptight about, and what not.

23. If your SoW relies on pupils doing every homework on time, you are going to become very stressed. When giving homework, check their homework burden for that date, and negotiate accordingly.

24. Some pupils can’t organise themselves, lose their work and turn up without any materials. Don’t let those pupils take anything home. Keep their work in your classroom.

25. For work/ notes the pupils do, have a typed copy, to give to pupils who have been absent or haven’t done it and can’t or won’t catch up. Other pupils can’t easily read their own writing, and it makes sense to give these pupils also a typed fair copy set of notes to revise from.

26. Personal revision at home is the key period for exam success. Pupils go up or down two grades with ease. So make fully sure that, when they cease to attend your classes, they are suitably equipped, not only practically (with good revision schedules, materials etc), but also psychologically, to make the most of that time.

27. Liaise with parents. Write home when the pupils begin the assignment, asking the parents to monitor and encourage their children. Write home if the work isn’t finished on time, and ask the parents to make sure the pupil finishes it. But realise that the resolve and power of parents, also, is limited.

28. At the end of every topic, the History department sends home an (easy-to-write, mainly ticky-box) interim report, to tell the parents how the pupil has done.

29. Remember that the pupils want to do well too.

30. Do not ever become sulky, or visibly sorry for yourself, or ‘take your bat home’ with the pupils. They despise this, although (because???) they do so all the time!!

31. Be reasonable with them and be overtly understanding of the limitations of their character and the problems of their situation. Do not expect them to be at all reasonable about you or your situation!

32. Don’t treat as a group. They are not all the same. Don’t let a few wasters your view of the whole class. Most of the class will be genuinely pleasant and diligent pupils.

33. Teenagers tend to be immune to ‘atmospheres’ or a teacher ‘in a bad mood’. Sometimes they even enjoy it. It is a tactic they use at home to get their own way. They are going to do fairly much the same amount of work whether or not there is a pleasant or unpleasant atmosphere. You, on the other hand, will enjoy the lesson much more if there is a happy atmosphere. So let go of the fact that lots of them haven’t done the homework (etc.), and create a happy classroom – except perhaps every now and again, just to show them what it could be like.

34. Pupils are like bacteria – eventually they become immune to certain strategies, especially those which are used too often. You need to keep finding new ways round them. ‘One step ahead’ is the key to happiness; ‘one step behind’ will lead to stress.

Posted on: Nov 24 2004, 10:38 PM




Energizing More Able Year 10s and 11s

I have found that the following principles help to enthuse older pupils:


If, for instance, you want them to discuss and come up with (eg) 'five causes of...', 'an explanation of...', instead of just telling them to work with a partner, put them into rival groups and tell them that they have to devise the longest/best [whatever]. Then let them feedback in turn and mark appropriately.


Instead of giving them all the same piece of work, give them a range of alternatives, and let them choose their favourite. As part of this:


A good way with more able pupils is to present them with a problem and them let them try to find a solution themselves. The easiest thing is to ask them to design the presentation [of whatever] is the way that THEY think will be the most attractive/effective/clear/exciting etc. Thus, if you are studying the six steps to WWII, invite the students to present their notes in the way (eg) which makes it easiest to learn the 6 steps. Suggest that they might wish to try (eg) ppt. webpages, posters, diagrams, mnemonics etc.
Give them a homework to finish their design, then take presentations of how they did it at the start of next lesson and declare the best.
(This has the additional effect of ensuring that they do their homework.)


With very able pupils, I like to set 'the obvious' essay, but to offer - for those who want the challenge - a harder alternative for which I offer little or no help. So - for instance - we have just been studying the reasons why the League failed. The pupils have been given an essay for hwk. The main title was 'Why did the League fail?', and I modelled and PEELed extensively at the front of the class. But then, just before I set them to work, I offered the more ambitious the alternative title 'Was the League's failure inevitable?' A couple are doing this, and a number more are starting off heading towards the basic essay, but will see if they feel confident enough to try the harder title.

All very straightforward, but it works.

Posted on: Nov 18 2003, 08:25 PM





To cite this page, use:   CLARE, JOHN D. (2003/2006), 'Strategies which work with Year 11',  at Greenfield History Site (