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“For engagement from a neurological perspective is first and foremost a child is to feel understood.

Now, if they feel understood, their self-esteem soars, their confidence grows and then they will engage back.

Now conversely if they don't feel understood, self-esteem plummets, confidence goes and we could lose them for the lesson, the term and their entire school career.

So, getting them engaged and keeping them engaged is vital to building those really interesting working relationships.

Understanding the Stories

So, how do we do that? Well, I've been working with young people for over 25 years and whenever I get a group, and they're normally a large group of kids, most of them don't even want to be there sometimes.

So, it's imperative that I spend time understanding the stories of the people in the room.

So, as fast as I can, I'll ask as many questions as I can to sort of glean how they think, how they're behaving, how they're responding to what I'm doing

That's going to help me feed into that that learning environment and help me create sessions that are going to keep them engaged as much as possible.

So I'm constantly feeling out for what's going on in the room.


I also never underestimate the knowledge in the room, so I always like to ask as many questions to find out what they want from the sessions.

You know, do they want to leave five minutes early? Do they want to have a chat with a mate? Do they just want to have a laugh? Do they want to learn something new?

All that stuff's going be really useful for me to keeping them engaged constantly throughout the learning session.

The Stuff They Want

Motivation is really key as well - what motivates these kids?

And normally I'll take them outside of school for that, thinking about where they want to be later on in life you know, stuff they want to do in their life, careers, do they want to travel, do they want to have some cash, a home or  families - whatever it is, anything at all, will help me understand the stories of the people in the room which then helps me be able to bring that back into that learning environment and help link it to the learning of the session that's going to keep them engaged.

Learning that RINGs

There are many techniques I use and one of the best techniques I’ve used over the last 25 years is something called RING.

RING is basically the four conditions for great memorable learning:




And a Giggle.

Four conditions that are going to help make the sessions as interesting for those kids as possible, to help connect that learning keep them engaged.

Keep it Real

R stands for relevant and real even more now than ever kids need to know why they're doing something. I always remember even back to my school days there was so many kids were always going ‘What's this for? Why are we doing this?’

So, the more we can make it relevant and real to them, by asking ourselves how can we bring that world around them back into the classroom? How can we connect it to them?

I was always told that you learn with your heart first and then your head. If your heart's not engaged your head doesn't work as well so, how can we get them emotionally engaged in what's going on around them?

The best way to do that is connect it to their lives in some way, shape or form - that's going to keep them interested because they can see the benefits of learning this and where it's going to take them later on in life.

The WOW Factor!

So, the more relevant and real it is, the more likely they are to engage.

It's got to be interesting you know, every day we all need to go “WOW” about something once.

For instance, I found out recently the 14 people a year in this country are killed by vending machines, who'd have thunked it?!

But interestingly that can be anything from just giving them a factoid they never thought about or bringing something tangible into the classroom they can look at, something that's going to pique their interest and keep them engaged constantly throughout the session.

Naughty But Nice

It’s got to be naughty and when I use the word ‘naughty’ obviously you need to understand the audience in front of you, but naughty means risk-taking, challenging and feeling like you're working outside the rules.

Kids really respond well to that and that could be anything again from just saying something different, showing them something they weren't expecting to see or having this classroom set up in a completely different way.

"We’re Going to Africa!"

I remember at junior school, I walked into my classroom once and there were two guys stood there in a short-sleeve shirts and basically saying “Welcome to so-and-so airlines, today we're going to Africa” and I believed them!

And I went through just a wooden door but they had completely stripped the classroom of desks. I had to go and have my bag checked and, then we had to sit in the chairs that were put in rows like they do on an airplane, pretending it was on a flight.

We got the safety demonstration which gave the other fella enough time to go around and put on his grass skirt so when we got off the plane at the end, he just went “welcome to Africa!”. I mean, it wasn't very pc but I went home that night and my mom said “What did you do today?” and I said “I went to Africa!”. I believed it.

Never Forgotten

Now, that was in the same classroom I was in every day but for some reason just changing that classroom around just made it completely new.

It was surprising, it was interesting, it was relevant and I've never forgotten it and I'm 47 and, this was about 30 years ago.

So, relevant, interesting, naughty and finally, giggle as much as we can to bring a human to the classroom and that that involves asking questions.

Actually, if you ask enough questions, normally the human takes care of itself by finding out new stuff and asking questions that people aren't expecting to hear - anything at all that's going to bring a little bit of humour.

Blended Learning

We can choose that using blended learning by bringing in the media, the videos and all that kind of stuff.

But, actually that desire to understand those stories and to bring that relevancy, that interestingness, that that naughtiness and those giggles into the classroom.

Relevant, Interesting, Naughty, Giggle - you learn using one of those you're going to remember it, learn using all four at once you'll never ever forget it.

And in terms of keeping kids engaged constantly throughout learning environments, if we can bring one of those or all four of those in it's going to make it a much more interesting place to be.

The kid's are going to bite it, the hearts are going to be engaged and the heads will open up and they will engage back.”

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About the author

Dave Keeling

Dave Keeling

Dave is a self-styled 'stand-up educationalist' combining comedy with inspiring and motivational presentations for young people as well as teachers and school leaders. He is the author of Rocket Up Your Class and Independent Thinking on Laughter.

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