by Raelene Plozza

Let them laugh and they’ll learn. 5 top tips for you.

Group Of Male Elementary School Children In Computer Class

I love teaching boys, which is lucky considering where I work. When they’re engaged in their learning, boys are a delight to teach. However, it’s taken me a fair few years of trial and error to understand what works best for boys.

Here are my top 5 ‘secret weapons’ that help me win over boys in the classroom.

1. Humour

Boys learn by doing and they learn best when they enjoy what they are doing.

My Year 6 class were in hysterics after learning about the history of shoes in our reading comprehension text. Now ‘history of shoes’ and ‘reading comprehension’ aren’t two phrases you’d usually associate with boys’ interest, let alone humour. However, finding out that early European kings and queens had a fetish for 40cm heels and 75cm pointy toes lead us to Google images, metre rulers and a fair amount of prancing around the room.

It was fun, it was funny and interactive, and I have no doubt that the boys will remember what they learned in that class.

2. Visual aids

Boys learn visually. In the classroom they need:

  • to see what’s coming next. I use tools such as a wall timetable, calendar, graphic organisers, rubrics, models and lists.
  • to have a clear picture of what expectations are so they can measure their own learning success. I always write a clear, brief learning objective on the white board at the start of class, which helps the boys gauge whether they are on the right track. It also serves as a constant visual reminder in case the boys get distracted.
  • examples of great work to aspire to. I often use examples from other classes to motivate the boys toward excellence.
  • evidence of their teacher (and parents) actively learning. I try to model expectations by working alongside my class wherever possible. For example, I recently planned my own immigration narrative while the boys planned theirs and challenged the boys to write a more interesting sentence than I could. This also tapped into their competitive natures, and the boys more than rose to the challenge.

3. Challenge and competition

Boys need to be challenged or they will not try. In many cases, competition can be used effectively to provide a sense of purpose. If your son is unmotivated and uninterested in school, it may be that he does not feel challenged or he does not see the value in completing the work he is assigned.

4. Clarity, brevity and a sense of purpose

In general, teachers tend to talk a lot, which does not necessarily lead to better learning outcomes for the boys. However, I do believe in teachers taking the time to explain why we are doing something, and how it will benefit the boy, as this provides a sense of purpose. 

5. An open student/teacher/parent relationship

For teachers, establishing a relationship with every boy is paramount to a positive working relationship. If a boy likes and respects his teacher, and knows that the feeling is mutual, he will be open to any task that’s set.

Open communication between parents and teachers will reinforce this even further. As a teacher, I love to talk to parents about their son’s strengths, challenges, likes and dislikes. This helps me ensure he is getting the most out of what he’s learning in the classroom and helps him feel ‘seen’ as an individual amongst his classmates.

How parents can help at home:

  • Model behaviours you want your boys to develop e.g. reading, researching, being organised.
  • Provide visual cues where possible to assist their learning, such as visual planners and a prominent list of goals for the year that you can refer back to and adapt as necessary.
  • Use genuine praise, humour and competition to engage your son in learning.
  • Explain the purpose of an activity to provide relevance.
  • Recognise that boys learn by doing. Taking them to visit exhibitions, museums, landmarks is a fun way to have a learning experience together outside the classroom.

Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Raelene Plozza is a teacher and literacy coach at Brighton Grammar, an all-boys school in Melbourne. This article is about