How to Kick your Student's Morning Blues
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
There are many reasons why your students might not be focused on your lesson in the morning, and the answer isn’t always you. From stress, personal troubles, late nights, early mornings, and unsustainable lifestyles, there are a myriad of different factors at play in your students’ welfare. What I’m going to recommend to you is how to identify the source of your students’ inattentiveness and how to jolt them awake and into learning.
In order to identify the root problem you must lead by example. For some students, especially with those from a strict household, their lack of attention might be associated with feelings of shame or secrecy. In my own home as a kid, I wasn’t allowed to stay up past 10pm or to play games or watch TV for more than an hour. Naturally, I would break those rules and that caused my consequential tiredness to come with a condition: “I can’t tell them I'm tired because I broke the rules”.
Essentially, admitting that I was tired would be associated with admitting that I had done something wrong. Not all students grow up in households like this, but it is still important to understand that there are underlying conditions to every student’s home life.
Leading by example then, means to first show your students that it is okay to be open with their feelings. If you see that your students are tired, assert that you are tired too and explain how you just couldn’t stop watching that one cool new TV show, or playing that one fun video game, or maybe you slept in and missed breakfast. Being open and relatable helps foster an open dialogue where the students can feel safer in sharing their feelings without retribution. With time and a continual use of this method, students will gradually become more outspoken with their needs in the classroom.
After becoming a confidant, you must also become a reliable source to solving your student's problem. When your students just can't focus, there are an infinite number of solutions that could present themselves, and the answer to finding them is to truly listen to what your student says and to be flexible in providing what’s best for them. Remember, as exhausting as it is for you to work 8 hours a day and to always be tethered to work and responsibilities via the internet and your phone, it is just as exhausting for your students to do the same. Now use your discretion with these suggestions because every school has different rules, and it’s best to avoid breaking them.
First and foremost, I am a firm believer that food plays a key part in a student’s morning behaviour. If your school allows it, I suggest you keep a selection of foods and beverages on hand for when your students need it. Personally, my desk will always have croissants, granola bars, trail mix, sweets, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate, but I know that many other schools may not allow this. A preferable alternative is to propose a breakfast club at your school where (thanks to parent donations) students can come and grab a small nutritious snack before class. It might take a few months to implement, but the positive outcomes are worth it.
Other solutions include playing with the allotment of class time. I am going to preface this with saying that you should never re-allocate more than 5 -10 minutes of class time to accommodate a student’s mood. We’re trying to be flexible, not award bad behaviour, so always use your best judgement to decide if you think a student should have extra time or not.
In some instances, playing with time can mean telling your students you forgot to photocopy something (wink wink, nudge nudge) and that you’ll be back to start class in 5 minutes; in others, it will mean saying that if they finish all of their work early (make sure it’s never more than 10 minutes) they can have some kind of reward (ex. playing a game or taking an early break); and in some cases, it will even mean watching a video together as a class. I highly recommend the latter because watching an interesting video together can lead to an engaging discussion, and in the world of ESL there is nothing more desirable than starting the day with a lively discussion.
Using the context of the video you can ask them questions about their own cultures and home towns and create a back and forth. For example, if you watched a music video, you can ask if that style is also popular in their countries and ask them to share a music video that’s really popular for them. The sharing of pop culture personalizes education and also instills the desire to communicate and to expand vocabulary to speak on more subjects. Do not let more than 10 minutes pass before you get them back to work though. Remember, your primary goal is waking them up in order to learn- not instead of learning.
In the event that no solution works, do not stress. Some students are serial sloths, and the principal or their parents can be easily reached. This doesn't necessarily mean that they should be disciplined though. Punishment, especially for something that the student may not be able to control, will rarely provide a positive outcome. Instead, tell your student that you will set them up to meet with the principal or their parents so they can work together to create a learning action plan that will help further identify their specific needs and provide a solution that starts at home.
With all this in consideration, the 3 keys to curing the morning blues are openness, and mindfulness within the classroom, and as an absolute last resort, discipline. As long as you do your best to understand and be mindful of each student’s needs, they will pay you the attention you deserve.