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What would you get if you asked a group of teenage boys how they like to learn? It’s not a trick question – and the answers might surprise you. We asked a group of Year 9 boys this question and learnt a lot about how to motivate boys to learn.

The answers revealed some deep insights into the way boys learn – motivation, relevance, experiential learning, and choice mattered most. 

Sarah Roxburgh, (Personal Development, Health and Physical Education Teacher at The Scots College), asked a group of Year 9 boys what kind of teaching helped them to understand their class work better. Although this experiment was conducted some time ago, the answers are especially relevant and accurate in today’s classroom.

Use hands-on activities

Practical activities appealed to most boys. Boys learn when they get to ‘do’ things, be active and experiment. They express themselves through physical contact and learn through tasks that are action based. This presents an opportunity to allow boys to work in groups or teams.

Cater to different learning styles

It is important for teachers to vary their teaching styles in order to cater for the different learning styles of all boys. This will help to increase the motivation of individual student. Success will be achieved in the classroom when different strategies are used and activities are varied.

Make sure the content is relevant

“Boys learn when they are interested in the lesson. If a teacher can create a lesson that captures their attention and is relevant to their interests then they will be more engaged,” said Ms Roxburgh. Teachers should know their students and what they are interested in, and make these types of connections whenever possible.

Make real world connections

Making real world connections relates to the previous paragraph. Relevance and assurance that the information being taught will benefit them in the future matters to boys. Boys learn when they see the relevance of what they are being taught and can make a connection to the information. Creating links between the curriculum and the real world will help to boost boys’ interests. 

“If they can’t make a connection between the information being taught and a future relevance then they will be reluctant to engage in the lesson. They don’t see the point! If these connections can be made at the start of a unit of work or task then they will be more likely to engage in class.”

Plan group activities to motivate

Boys respond positively to working in teams as they enjoy interactions with their peers. Practical group activities will increase enjoyment for many boys, which in turn increases motivation and a desire for involvement in the lesson. Some boys become more competitive in groups which can also increase motivation. However, it’s important to closely monitor the dynamics of the group to make sure the competition is healthy.

Give them choice

Having a degree of choice in what they learn is important. Boys want to feel like they are being heard and can have some input into what they will be taught. Negotiation with the boys (where possible) over content will increase their motivation to be involved in the lessons. It also allows each boy to have some input and increase active participation from all class members.

Emphasise the end goal

Boys need to see the bigger picture. They need to know what the objectives and outcomes are. They like to know what to expect then have tasks broken down into smaller parts, have single concepts and a very clear structure. Instructions should be simple, short and contain a single concept at one time. Many boys will respond to the setting of short-term goals to achieve a bigger goal one step at a time. Their goals should be personal and should provide them with realistic opportunities to achieve success.

First build trust

A connection with their teacher sounds obvious, but boys respond best to teachers they respect and trust. Teachers should know their content, be enthusiastic about their subject, listen to their students and give them constructive feedback and encouragement. Boys generally act in a positive way toward a teacher that has good relationship with them. They also appreciate a good sense of humour and a teacher who cares about them.

Recognise their achievements

Boys are driven by success and don’t like to fail. Positive reinforcement is important but it’s better to praise effort rather than ability to encourage a growth mindset. This is vital to recognise boys’ gradual progress ad encourage to keep learning.

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