Week 36 – Engaging young people in education

I’m not sure if I am allowed to count this one as this is something I needed to do as preparation for some work I was doing with school children… but I definitely learned a lot so here it is!

But first a disclaimer: I am not a qualified teacher. I have very limited formal teacher and education training. But I do love talking about things I am passionate about, and through my work I run a lot of workshops (for children and adults). So if you are a teacher (or even if you aren’t) and look at this and think ‘No! No! No!’ please feel free to send constructive feedback ūüôā

What I discovered

Through watching teachers and guest teachers I have learned children generally a) love competitions and b) love-love-love incentives and prizes.

Also¬†‘active learning’ seems to be¬†more engaging than just listening to the teacher talk (‘passive learning’), and I discovered plentiful tips, tricks and ideas for active learning on the internet and research articles (e.g.¬†displaynote.com/39-ways-to-keep-students-engaged or¬†www.edutopia.org/classroom-student-participation-tips).

Perhaps one of the most effective and simultaneously hardest to do is to engage them on an emotional level. Often easy for animal welfare. Not so easy for mathematics, I would imagine.


For the group of children I was preparing the workshops for, and for pretty much all the work I have been doing since (with both kids and adults) I have adopted the following ideas:

  • They do the research and then teach the class. Usually at the beginning of the workshop I give an introduction to the subject we are exploring. I write bullet points for the participants to think about then get them to do research the subject or particular components of it (often in groups). I go round the groups and help them with their research and getting their ideas together (of course making sure they cover all the points I want to make) and then let them present to the rest of the groups. That way they are learning, and instead of having me talk at them for ages, they get to mix it up. Plus large rounds of applause at the end of each presentation are great confidence boosters, I think!
  • Not getting everything too competitive.¬†While I want to engage the children I work with, I did not wish to particularly encourage competitiveness (my thought being surely there is enough of that in our lives and perhaps something encouraging just simply working alongside each other could be constructive, too). So, I try to think of¬†activities that encourage participants to help each other and work together, rather than try to ‘beat’ the others.
  • Encouraging participation through incentives. I did discover the incentivising (also possibly known as bribing) was really very successful in ensuring participation and engagement. I saw¬†the main incentives offered were sweets and chocolates (in plentiful amounts). I wasn’t too sure about this because,¬†ya know, they aren’t really that healthy and they are usually wrapped in plastic¬†(which isn’t great if the workshop is about sustainability, as my workshops mostly are). So after some thinking, I found some ‘incentives’ that fitted more with what I believe and were also rather creative… funny shaped carrots deemed as unsaleable by a local grower,¬†mandarins from my neighbour’s tree, broad beans from my own garden, chocolate coins wrapped in foil (yes it’s chocolate, but then you can tell them how loose aluminium isn’t accepted at curbside recycling, but that if you pop it in a can they’ll take it!), single organic fruit tea bags. Each item is small but¬†has a story behind it, plus the look on faces when they are expecting a sweet and get a single asparagus stick or something is priceless… so much laughter! ūüėÄ



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