How do I keep students interested in content they might find “boring”?

Posted on: 09.26.2016

The worst thing ever is to have a boring trainer!  Monotone, dull, unemotional, and not engaging…yuck! No one will learn this way. I can remember in college having a genetics professor just like this. I loved genetics, but he made me hate it…. simply because he was boring to watch and listen to. Who knows maybe I would have been a Geneticist had he been more dynamic. 

When you stand in front of a group of people to teach them, you become an actor. You need to be engaging, funny, memorable, and effective. Quite honestly, not everyone is cut out to be a trainer/teacher.  You can have all the knowledge in the world and be an awful educator.

Here are my tips to keep your students engaged:

  1. Use stories. People remember stories, real life stories that they can relate to. Think of things that have happened to you over the years that relate to the topic you are discussing. If you cannot think of any, ask your students if they have any example themselves. “Have you ever had this happen to you?” Even real life stories about foodborne illness sickness and deaths, as tragic as they are, really hit home with people.
  2. Use visual aids. Many people in the food service industry are visual learners. They want to see practical examples, they want a picture or graph to go along with the words you are saying.  
  3. Be energetic. Use your body language to show you have energy and excitement about food safety. People remember energetic speakers, they remember what they say…they learn.
  4. Use inflection in your voice. For goodness sake, change the tone in your voice! A monotone teacher is…boring! Students will check out…now no one is listening or learning.
  5. Show and tell. Demonstrate. This is a great tool for people whose first language is not English. Show how to calibrate a thermometer. Show what an ice paddle looks like. Have a box of food safety tools at your disposal and use them when you get those blank stares that your students have no clue what you are talking about.
  6. Be funny. Don’t be afraid to use humor, as long as it doesn’t offend anyone. Humor not only lightens up the pressure of learning, but it connects you to your students.

I was teaching a food safety class to a group of school cafeteria workers. Prior to the class, their Food Service Director told me she had been having a hard time getting her staff to wear hair restraints. When I asked why, she said, some of them say it is uncomfortable, messes up their hair, and students make fun of them. So, this is what I did. When I started class, as I was introducing myself, I put on a hair net. Not the pretty kind that you cannot see, but an industrial one that was white and heavy. I had long blonde hair at the time, so I looked a lot different with my hair net on than I did when I first walked into the room. I did not tell the students why I was putting on the hair net and continued to teach my two-hour class. At the end of the class, I asked if there were any further questions. No one had any questions. I said “Really, no questions at all?  Isn’t anyone wondering why I am wearing this beautiful hair net?”  The students retorted, “Oh yeah, why?” I responded, “Because after a while you forgot it was even there. Wear your hair restraint, after a while it will just be part of your food safety culture.”

A story I hope you learn from.