Building ‘Botheredness’ making reluctant learners care about History

Thanks so much to Carmel Bones for writing this blogpost. Carmel shares with us loads of great strategies for motivating our students. Why not have a go at some of these and also share some of your favourites? #OBHD 

It might be surprising to discover that History is not everybody’s favourite subject?! And even if it is ‘building botheredness’ is still important to ensure learner ‘buy in’ and commitment to studies.

How to do this? As with most things it depends on the desired outcome and the starting points of your students. If it’s the need to arouse curiosity then meeting and greeting with chopped up cards to find matches, pictures, heads and tails type activities can often get groups talking and engaging with the subject matter immediately. These can be words and definitions, dates and events, the name of a person in the past and why they were significant, a cartoon or picture source and an attribution.

Secret spies can help build vital class camaraderie too. All students are issued with a ticket, token, slip of paper and random students (roughly 1/10th) have the message that they are a secret spy. It is their job then to catch their classmates being ‘good’. At the end of the session, week or specified run of lessons the secret spies reveal themselves and outline who impressed them and why. A more directed variation is when returning work to discretely stick a ‘spy’ post it note onto a selected few.

Pre-assessing what learners already know means they know you care and you intend to match their needs to a bespoke experience. This inclusion in the learning process helps build self-efficacy. By ‘daring to devolve’ learners take responsibility for their lessons and their contributions are more constant. Issuing the job of creating opening tasks for instance can mean learners are more invested in their studies. Allocating ‘study buddies’ whereby students are paired up and have to support, guide and critique each other’s work is another good routine to establish. Resource monitors,experts’ in the room or ‘learning detectives’ are roles and responsibilities learners seem to embrace. Use stickers, lanyards, tabards, wristbands or clipboards to add a sense of gravitas!


The same is true of the lesson content, use learners’ names in examples or analogies, issue parts for them to play. The late and wonderful Kate Brennan was passionate about scripted drama and used names and parts to great effect. (See this article in TH148).  Jen Thornton (@jen_a_thornton) has also done some great work with this – featured on here and here.  Richard Kennett has also done a script posted here. These approaches ensure an ensemble approach and judicious issuing of parts can make the most reluctant of learners realise that they have a vital role. (Talking of ensembles, a really good article for tying the use of engaging strategies to curriculum thinking is this one by Ford and Kennett in TH 171.)

Where was I…? Oh yes…!

The same is true of artefact and/or archive handling sessions. This tangible experience can really unlock botheredness in many learners acting as initial stimulus material for them to talk, explore and question before writing. Local archive offices and museums like CMOML or Tullie House have loan boxes and impressive curators and collections.

Competency is motivational. Showcasing and celebrating success is important to establish and maintain high expectations. Use a visualiser to highlight outcomes or a WAGOLL (what a good one looks like) on arrival and challenge the class to pick out 5 good points for instance.

Make it so that learners have to ‘publish’ their work rather than hand it in. By this I mean establish the norm that someone else might read it or look at it. Use colleagues in this way to be the audience, reader, judges and encourage feedback to close gaps.

Competition; how much, how many in what time? Might be a useful mantra to motivate some learners. A MEOW a minimum expected outcome is something I have found to work over the years and quantifiable ‘box it off’ activities are finite and manageable.

Classrooms are complicated places some of the above might help develop high expectations for the new timetable (if your school switches timetable about now) and /or for the new academic year! Good luck ‘building botheredness’ with these new habits and routines. Please do let me know how you get on resolutions are easier to stick to if you share them!

Happy “new” year! Carmel (@bones_carmel)

(Credits go to:  Dallam School, Milnthorpe, Cumbria, Jericho School, Whitehaven, Cumbria and Isabella Wallace @WallaceIsabella)

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