How do you pay attention when you're bored?

I just got back from parent-teacher conferences, and two of my 8th grade son’s teachers said he’s doing great in class and three said he doesn’t pay attention in class. So I asked him how interesting his teachers are and sure enough, he said that the two who like him are interesting and the three who don’t like him are bores. So we have a pattern: interesting teacher leads to good behavior; boring teacher leads to bad behavior. Also, the subject doesn’t seem to matter. When he had a great math teacher fhe was great in class. This year the math teacher is one of the bores.

My question is: What tricks, techniques, etc., can you recommend for the classes he finds boring? I suggested that he try writing down as much as possible of what the boring teachers say, but I’ve never tried it myself and have no idea if it will help.

Any other ideas, please?

Also BTW, while I understand that issues like ADD, sleep deprivation, diet, family dysfunctions are all worth considering, for this thread could we stick to techniques that one might use in the classroom.


I don’t. It is one of the things most detrimental to my career at this time. Most of my days consist of meetings and boring ones at that. I have been known to actually fall asleep. It really isn’t good for me…

If your son were convinced that his next meal depended on understanding and retaining what the boring teacher was saying, he would probably do much better at understanding and retaining it. Of course his next meal doesn’t depend on that, but one day his livelihood might depend on boring stuff taught by boring instructors.

Is it possible that he thinks it is the teacher’s job to be entertaining and fun, in addition to imparting information? Some teachers can do that, but when he limits what he learns based on teacher behavior he is only hurting himself. Don’t ask me how to convince an 8th grader of that, though, I haven’t a clue. Life lessons usually don’t come easy at that age.

So, to answer the OP more directly, when I am in a boring meeting and the part that doesn’t apply to me is being discussed, I may have to remind myself that I’m being paid to be there and that there may be some useful nugget in the discussion that I would otherwise miss. Or else I do tend to zone out and think about other things.

This situation sounds remarkably similar to my experience - and let me tell you what worked for me: nothing. I still tune out or act up when someone is boring the hell out of me. All through school my grades suffered in classes where I couldn’t stand paying attention to the teachers.

Actually, it’s not really true that nothing helped. I found doodling to be somewhat helpful. As long as I wasn’t really trying to pay attention, I could catch a necessary factoid here or there. I think the real trick is to distract yourself from the mind-numbing boring lecture. My teachers who didn’t like this would get the head-down zombie treatment.

Now for the good part: I just finished a grad degree with stellar grades.

So there’s real hope.

I would suggest talking to your son. Asking him to bear with the teacher and never to forget that there’s a new teacher around the corner. Let him know that if he can keep the disruptive behavior to a minimum - i.e no spitballs, no popping girls’ bras :smiley: - and keep his grades decent - then it’s ok to be bored.

I hope you found that (a little bit? a tiny bit? just a smidge?) helpful.

  • Peter Wiggen

Thanks for tthe suggestions, but I have to say I’m a bit surprised that so few have ideas to contribute. Maybe there just aren’t a whole lot of powerful tricks out there.

I certainly don’t have any. Meetings are still the bane of my existence, and my job is precious to me because we rarely have any. I fall asleep, with absolutely no remedy that I can imagine. I try to force myself to stay awake and pay attention. I pinch myself. I bite the inside of my cheek. Nothing works. Within another five minutes I’m zoned out and halfway to lala land. It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t snore…

Heh, that sounds like me too. If I have an interesting teacher in a subject I suck at I will get good at it, and if I have a complete bore in a subject I’m good at my marks will slip. If you’re just one of those people who can’t concentrate around boring people (because I know several people who can and it’s kind of freaky) then I’m not sure there is anything that can be done. The one thing I can think of is that if the teachers are as boring as he says they’re probably not saying much that isn’t already in the textbook so maybe he can just tune them out and work through the book while they drone.

Well, if the instructor is boring, but the subject is important, I will try my damnest best to retain information. I don’t really understand my mathematics professor, but I find that I am more lost if I don’t listen to him and try to figure out the materials on my own. So, I try to pay attention by taking down notes - literally just writing down what the lecturer says or draw mind-maps and etc.

All this may not work in a grade-school classroom. Some teachers are a complete ass when they see students writing or doing any other things than just paying their complete, undivided 100% attention to the teacher. If the teachers are interesting and explains the concept well, then that’s fine. But if it’s not, well…

Sometimes boredom isn’t necessary the kid’s fault. There are people who just can’t present information in chewable chunks which people new to the concept can understand.

I know from my personal experiences that a lot of the classes I was bored in in school were due to either not being challenged, or not understanding the subject matter and being embarrassed about it. There are also several different ways in which people learn, and not everyone does as well with certain techniques (lecture vs. visual, for instance).

Perhaps you could try to engage him in games that center around the subjects. Make it fun for him. Give him an opportunity to learn the way he needs to learn, and maybe in the process teach him a greater appreciation for the subject.

In a more strict manner, you could do what my father did the first time I brought home a C on my report card: assign homework out of the textbook from ahead of where the class is that he has to spend all non-school time working on until he gets it right.

Some kids don’t learn the value of an education until much later in life, or are so used to coasting because it’s easy for them that they get bored easily. Maybe another option would be to talk to him about his feelings on it. Try to impress upon him the value of a good education and how it can help him achieve his goals later in life. I know for me at least it was difficult at 12 to imagine that the crud I had to sit through every day was going to mean anything in 10 years, and I wish I’d had someone back then to impress that upon me.

Hmm, I’m pretty much immune to boredom so maybe this wont work but sometimes I’d have fun making my notes. I’d try to use as much of those outline thingys as I could.

First I’d grab an
And then get some
and if any of those had any smaller points the teacher brought up I’d throw in a

Might be too nerdy but that’s what I like to do, find some way to amuse myself. Of course it wasn’t always so productive.

I would just not pay attention then read the book on my own. It’s a lot easier for me to retain things I read than have to retain information learned at a boring lecture. I got mostly As, so it can be done. If the teachers are tricky bores who like to lecture about things that are not in the book, this might not work.

I deeply sympathize. In highschool, I would get A’s or E’s depending on which teacher I had. For the very same subject, too. Math one year would be a breeze, with nothing but straight A’s for me; and the next year, learning would be like wading through treacle, with a teacher who considered me as dullwitted as I found him.
For my personal learning style, it wouldn’t have helped much if had been forced to do homework. The same problem with teachers, I also had with books that went with a certain teaching method. Some I read for pleasure and had finished two weeks into the year; others I tried to avoid reading as much as I could, spending all my energy on ways to escape the teachers atention in class.

IMHO it’s a crying shame nobody matches teachers and pupils yet based on learning style. Learning style can be easily established by, for instance, Mayers-Briggs test. There are D-I-Y-verstions floating around the Internet, that are quite usable and will determine your sons’ learning style in 10 minutes.

Can’t you talk to the school and ask them if you son can only take classes with teachers who’s teaching style he likes? I’m sure there are other pupils who’s learning style is more suited to the teachers your son finds boring, and they would be happy to trade.

If a bit of talking is permitted during (parts of) class, your son could focus on teaching a classmate, or else be taught by one.
Some pupils learn, paradoxically, best by teaching somebody else, because that forces them to organize the information, and adds a new interest. Maybe your son could even sign up to tutor other kids.

I think the problem isn’t that there aren’t ways to do it, just that those ways aren’t little nifty tricks. If you want to not be bored when something is boring, really all there is to do about it is just will yourself to care.

But unfortunately 99.99% of eighth graders aren’t zen masters. You can also ignore headaches, stay awake for three days, ignore pain and cold, etc.; quite fun in a demented sort of way. I would note that being a zen master in the eighth grade is a good way to put the fear of god in your fellow students–if you want to use that as a selling point to him.

I figured this one out at some point into my first year of university. I probably could have learnt more if I had paid better attention–but it’s a rare teacher who can hold my full attention without me getting bored and starting to daydream. I don’t think I’ve even met one yet. So instead I doodle, like I did all through high school. It’s like the drawings keep my eyes and hands busy while my ears listen to what’s going on. I just have to try and not get too absorbed into what I’m drawing that I completely tune out the teacher.

Huh? What?

Through experience, I have found 3 things that kinda worked for me:

The Sarcastic Approach: If the boring teacher has some mannerism or accent that is ripe to pick on - then he and his friends should make a habit of making a list of all the things things said in class and then he & his friends can make fun of them at lunch. (Example: “Mr. Brown said the transitive property is like jerking a variable back and forth.”, “Yeah, he also said that semi-circles were titilating”). Usually enough is picked up to get through the class.

The doodle approach: Only make it a rule that you must incorporate something the teacher says into the picture. In biology class talking about plant behavior? Draw a Venus fly trap attacking a praying mantis.

The rapping approach: Turn the lecture into a rap. Any material is more interesting in rap. Bonus points for using the words booty, Hennesy or 5-0.

Does it work? I graduated Cum Laude with a computer engineering degree.