Teaching boys and girls together can be tricky. It has been thoroughly researched and proven many times that boys and girls do, in general, have some distinct learning differences. As all students have their own distinct learning styles, the needs of boys and girls can be quite different. When I wanted to know how to be a more effective teacher, I asked my students to tell me what they needed from me. Here are some tips for teaching boys come that from years of student surveys and from my own boy expert, my third grade son.
My son loves to learn, he’s a great student, and his teachers tell me how respectful and kind he is. As a teacher-mom, I’ve tried hard to instill in him the values that I think he needs to be successful in school. He does a great job, but despite my support and his good grades, he still doesn’t feel proud of his schoolwork.
When he complains about school, it is never the teacher. He has loved most of his teachers. What he tells me about school is very similar to what my boy students have also said in this free secondary teacher evaluation form I like to use to get student feedback.
Many surveys (I suspect mostly from boys) came back saying the same things my son says today. I used those surveys to change how I taught, and it made such a difference in behavior, achievement, and overall class vibe.
Here’s what I hear at home. Now, many of these are from the mouth of an 8 year-old, but they sound very similar to the comments I’ve heard from 6-7th graders and also from 11-12th graders. If you’re teaching boys, check these out!
1. “School is way too much sitting down.”
I looked at my lesson plans and counted the activities that required movement. Then I looked at those quiet sit-down activities (even partnered activities). I found that I had a LOT of sitting activities. One way to have more engaging lessons when teaching boys is to make an effort to have one movement-based activity per class as many times a week as I could. Now, this won’t work everyday, but it’s actually easier than you think.
Activities like speaking cards, find someone who, Scoot!, and vocabulary slap are a great way to get kids moving, and they are fun! All students will benefit from the movement, but foreign language students could benefit the most, since they’ll be using the language in a variety of ways.
Give them something to do with their hands!
Even when the activity requires students to sit quietly at a desk, a lot of them will be able to stay on task if they just keep their hands busy. Even with middle school and high school students, I have always kept a box of things they can play with during lessons, filled with things like stress balls, pipe cleaners, and velcro strips. The box is in the back of the room and they know they can grab something from it anytime by simply raising their hand (at the right moment) and gesturing towards the box. Girls actually LOVE this box, too, so it’s not just helpful for teaching boys!
Alternative seating areas, carpets, and floor pillows are also great way to still do quiet written work without having to sit at a desk.
Find more ideas for movement in this blog post.
2. “The girls just behave better than the boys.”
Little boys (and bigger ones) are often ready to move, so sitting still just makes everything harder. Boys aren’t always quite as mature as girls, and it just makes some of the social expectations that much more difficult. I’m not saying not to have rules, but to ask if what we are asking is developmentally appropriate for a child of that age. I’ve been in classrooms where children of 6-7 years old are expected to sit silently and eat their lunch. It was awkward and weird for me, so I’m sure it was REALLY weird for a first grader.
By bringing more structured games into the classroom, learning will feel easier and the behavioral problems go way down. Just try to get students to sit silently and conjugate verbs on a worksheet for 30 minutes. Then give them a game to play doing the same thing. Which one are they going to respond better to?
3. “I wish I could write as fast as the girls.”
I don’t know if girls are really faster, but it has seemed to me many times that the first ones done are often the girls. Yes, there are boys who are fast, but my son likes to take his time, and he sure notices when others are finishing. A lot of boys may get frustrated with sit-down activities or quiet reading and writing. Girls often enjoy and do well in language-based classes, and this isn’t always the case for boys.
For a foreign language teacher, this is alarming, because we teach language! It’s important to find meaningful ways to practice the language besides worksheets where students are writing the words all day. Yes, this is important, but balance is so important. Language proficiency comes with speaking, reading, and writing, so try to balance out the activities so that all learning styles are benefitting. The changes we make for teaching boys is also going to benefit the girls, so it’s a win-win!
At home, we have a lot of spelling words to practice, but we don’t write them out. We bounce balls and do them out loud or we use cut out letters to build the words. I’ve done these same things with middle schoolers (and even 9th and 10th graders) and they still love it. An easy way to do this? Pass out a few tennis balls to groups of 4-5 students and have them toss the ball while conjugating. It’s effective, fun, and gets students engaged.
4. “Why can’t we use more technology?”
Doing a math worksheet is just torturous for my son. He does them, because he’ll do what he needs to for school, but he HATES them. Doing the same math activity on the computer is just as effective and feels less torturous to him. There are easy ways to integrate technology into a lesson or allow a student to do homework online with sites like Quizlet or Boom Learning℠, and offering that variety is sure to make your students happy.
Grab a free deck of French Boom Cards here to see how they work!
*Boom Learning and Boom Cards are the trademarks of Boom Learning Inc. Used with permission.
5. “Why can’t we do more touch-based things?”
Manipulatives are a great way to reach kids who need to move more. They aren’t just for little ones, either. I have used this -er verbs activity with every French 1 class I’ve taught, because ALL of the kids really benefit from it. The act of cutting off that -er ending before conjugating just makes it stick. Grab this free French ER verbs activity here!
Things like puzzles are also a really fun way to help those students who learn by touching and doing. I’ve set up centers in middle school and high school classes with activities for fast finishers that were full of different activities for all types of learners. A few times a month, everyone worked at the centers doing the activities of their choice. Even if you think your kids are too big to do certain activities, it might surprise you to see how much they still like the variety of doing a learning center from time to time.
Have any other great tips for teaching boys? Comment below!