Wonderful Ways To Help Wanderers And Work Avoiders}

Submitted by: Ruth Wells

Leticia, who is a middle school teacher, is the source of this issue’s topic. Here is her question:

How do you get kids to stay in their seats and complete their work? These are the ones that need to get paper, or sharpen their pencil, or get a book,or any other excuse to get out of their seat so they don’t have to do their work!

Here are some suggestions for Leticia and anyone else who has wandering, work avoidant, or unprepared students.

Leticia, as you well know, kids are not born “instant students.” Any behavior that you want a child to do, you have to first teach that behavior to the child. Just like you have to teach math skills before students can do math, you have to teach those basic school skills before you can reasonably expect the students to have those skills. Schools have elaborate curriculum guidelines for teaching math, but usually no guide at all for teaching the foundation school skills so that students can take advantage of math instruction, and other academic offerings. So, before you can teach math or any other topic, you will need to train your kids to be students. Ideally, in the early elementary school grades, students would learn to be prepared for class. That would eliminate all your problems with students getting up to sharpen pencils or locate paper. Since many elementary schools don’t thoroughly provide this preparation, here are some suggestions to provide this training to students of all ages.

Here are the areas that you need to cover: First, as we have been discussing, students will seldom perform skills that haven’t been taught. Second, students may need “wiggle time” if they get tired of sitting still at their desks. Third, students may want to do anything besides their work, so getting up to do something can look pretty attractive. Let’s tackle each of these areas. I will only be able to give you a peek into each area, but I will make suggestions to locate the additional interventions you will need.


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Teach students how to prepare for class– and motivate them to use these new skills. To teach students how critical preparation is, have them name all the jobs they may wish to do, then identify the consequences of being ill-prepared. For example, what happens if the surgeon forgets her scalpel or the trucker neglected to buy gas. Have students look for other humorous or compelling examples then discuss: “Where are job preparation skills offered to you for free besides school?” Answer: Nowhere.

Once more motivated to learn how to arrive prepared for class, have students identify exactly what they must do to be prepared for your class. Include responses like “sharpen my pencil” and “locate paper.” List the responses in a column on the board, then ask the students to identify the best and worst times to perform these tasks. So, “sharpening a pencil during class” might rate as a “worst time,” but “before the class starts” might rate as “best.” A fun follow-up is to have a poster contest with students competing to best illustrate the concept of “Arrive Prepared or Be Impaired.” Put the posters on the wall to serve as an on-going reminder.

This handful of interventions is just the start. Youngsters seldom change long term behavior based on just a few interventions, so be sure to plan to use more of the hundreds of additional strategies that we have. For example, our “Turn On the Turned-Off Student” book has a wonderful handout called “Rate How Well You Can Learn When You Miss Class.” This powerful device is part of an interactive experiment that vividly convinces students that they miss a lot very quickly, even if they only left to sharpen a pencil.


Look around at your next staff meeting. Few staff members sit as still as statues.Children make lousy statues. If you require students to “sit still,” some will do almost anything to be able to get up and move about, even if just for a minute. Remember how you felt crammed into that airline seat for hours? Students can feel the same way. Especially if you have 90 minute long periods, build in wiggle time. Plus, at the start of the year, have your students establish a “Wiggle Rule.” For example, the rule may be that it’s not okay to be out of your seat, but it is okay to quietly tap your foot or a pen. The guideline to offer students: If the wiggling behavior would be okay in the work world, then it is okay in the classroom. You are preparing students for the work world, where sitting still is seldom required. You can even use “Wiggle Time” as an incentive. For example, if class time is not wasted on pencil sharpening and locating paper, then we can enjoy some of the time saved by stopping instruction a few minutes early.


You know the feeling. It’s been 6 months since you balanced your checkbook, and your taxes are now months overdue. All of us have things we like to do, and things we just rather never do. Some of your students would rather get a root canal than do class work just like you might prefer a root canal to finishing your taxes. A powerful dose of motivation could help. For example, ask your students to review your local employment classified ads, searching for jobs that reference motivation and follow-through. They will find many ads seeking employees who are “highly motivated,” but no ads seeking the “poorly motivated.” Discuss that few jobs permit on-going work avoidance, then ask your class members if they will ever need to work.

Here are a couple of follow-up activities. Ask your students to name all the jobs that they can do and refuse or delay tasks whenever they want. (There are no jobs like that.) Here is an additional follow-up intervention for older students only. Discuss the following tongue-in-cheek classified ad, and relate it back to work acceptance and completion. This ad is quite edgy so tone it down as needed, however, this edgy version does tend to get noticed by students. Even so, you need to be very thoughtful about which groups of students you use this with. Be sure to restrict the use of this device to older youth who would do well with this hard-edged approach, and who also need exposure to a powerful intervention to understand that work avoidance and poor preparation won’t be tolerated in the world of adult employment.

Work Avoiders Needed for High Paying Jobs. Must be highly unmotivated and able to avoid completing assignments. Should be able to arrive late and unprepared. Candidates who can leave in the middle of a task are especially encouraged to apply. Late and incomplete applications only please.

Do You Like These Solutions for Wanderers and Work Avoiders?

Our web site is packed with hundreds of additional free strategies, plus we can send you our free Problem Student Solution magazine. Find more methods like these above in our “Turn On the Turned-Off Student” book See the poster illustration of the classified ad idea described above at

About the Author: Get much more information on this topic

. Author Ruth Herman Wells MS is the director of Youth Change, (

.) Sign up for her freeProblem-Kid Problem-Solver magazine at the site andsee hundreds more of her innovative methods.


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