How to Get Your Students to Work Hard Without Telling Them to Work Hard

Dear Kid Whisperer,

If a child is off task, how do you handle it? Instead of giving them a warning, what is a better and more effective way to correct the behavior? –Christina, Lebanon, Ohio

Dear Christina,

It is not your job to make your students learn. It is your job to teach and to give your students the opportunity to learn in a healthy learning environment.

Trying to control something that you cannot control is a bad idea, causes unnecessary stress, and ends up making kids less likely to work hard.

I know this because I have used the Calm/Assertive Procedure of Real World Workshop for the last decade and I have not had a single student who wasn’t a really hard worker by November. This includes plenty of students who had never worked hard for a moment of their lives before being in my class.

Now I’m going to give you a CRAZY directive that will not only help you to get your students to work harder, but may add years to your life:

Never tell a kid to work.

Instead, you are just going to arrange your students’ workday in such a way that your students will suffer the same real world consequences that you and I suffer for not working hard.

This is how I would announce the switch to Real World Workshop.

Kid Whisperer: Good morning. I need to apologize to some of you. I feel like I have been lecturing you guys about working hard and doing work. That must have been really annoying, so I am sorry and I won’t do that anymore. From now on, we are going to have workshop when I’m not teaching you something new. I will show you how to do what is called a “Now” activity. Once you are done with it, and you have finished all of you other “Now” activities, if you have any, you can do your “Later” activities! Let’s look at the board.



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Notice that there is only one Now activity and lots of Laters. Once you are done with your Nows You can do any of the Laters in whatever order you wish. If you have time you can do all of them or just do your favorite, whatever you feel like! I will keep adding Nows so you can practice doing the things I teach you. Since I’m about to do a math lesson, you will only have one “Now” activity, until I get to my next lesson. Finally, I am going to put up a “Mystery Later”, which is this question mark. You will have to wait to see what the Mystery Later is.


As you add Nows after direct instruction, students will see how work piles up for those who don’t work hard. For those who do work hard, they are able to get to the things they would rather do, just like in real life. Nows also accumulate from day to day. If you are so inclined, you can add very late Nows to a third column: students with “Recess Work” must stay in for recess until this work is done.

Hopefully some of your less-than-hardworking students will decide not to work. When you see that everyone else is done with their Nows, erase the question mark and write the following word:


At this point, you can take everyone out to the recess area. Those still on their Nows can sit and do their work while everyone else plays. If you have another aide or teacher in your room, one of you can take those on their Laters out to recess while the other kids will either get to work or continue to waste their valuable time, without wasting yours.