5 Proven Strategies to Help Students Learn

I don’t get it…

..a youth worker complained to me. “As soon as I start speaking, I see the students tune out. It’s like they’re so used to screen time and fast forwarding through the speaking parts on Netflix, that they can’t track with me for 2 minutes!”

Have you ever felt this? What do you do to get teens’ attention? Here are a few proven ways to get and hold a student’s attention long enough so they can actually learn something.

1. Get ‘em Laughing

This may seem shallow but there is nothing that grabs a student’s attention like laughter. Show funny video clips. There are thousands of really short funny clips that relate to your topic.

Tell funny stories. Stories with an unexpected ending can be funny. Embarrassing things that have happened to you can be funny. You don’t have to be great at telling jokes. You just have to be able to know what kinds of things make students laugh.

  • Always make sure that it is clean and no one is being bullied in the clips or stories.
  • Don’t put people down to get a laugh.
  • Never get involved in mocking people with your stories or clips.

That may leave a lot of things out but seeing cats and dogs do silly things is always fair game.

You can use this in your intro but you can also inject this at different places during your talk or lesson.

2. Listen to them.

I have this axiom that I live by. If I listen to them they will listen to me. During the week talk to teens and show great interest in the things they love. If you have a group of 16 you can text every one of them in a week! If they are up for a chat get an actual phone call going. Get them talking about what interests them.

Interactive activities are a great way to hook student into a talk or a lesson as well. I will often have students turn to the person beside them and get them talking about something that they would enjoy talking about. For example, “Turn to the person beside you and tell them about an injury you have had?” Get feed back from the group then move into your topic.

You can try a little quiz like “10 Myths Teens Have about Love” this can be the outline for your talk on love and sex and then you give the correct answers in your talk.

3. Use Compelling Stories

The rescuer ran into the burning building toward the sound of the screaming baby. He choked on the deadly fumes but pushed past the fallen beams any way….

Just like this little excerpt above, a great story engages the mind. We want to know what happened next!

Keep stories short and on point. Be sure that they connect to your main idea and draw the students into the subject. I sometimes like to stop a story mid-way and then tell the end of the story at the end of my talk. The closer the stories are to the lives of the students the more compelling they will be. Try to find stories that are real and that every student can relate to.

4. Have One Point and Drive it Home

If you cannot say the point of your message in one sentence you need to start over. For example

“Every teen can be free from guilt by following these three simple steps.” Do you see? This is easy to follow. And when you share it, make sure that each idea you share is really a “step.” Keep it simple and on track. If you suddenly get a interesting idea that kind of relates to the points, bite your tongue hard. Don’t meander. You might want to look quirky and cute but this isn’t the place. Stay on track. Save your tangent story for another time.

5. Repeat a Memorable Phrase

One good way to get your point across is to have a memorable phrase that students can take home with them like.

  • “Live by faith not by feelings”
  • “Choose Life not Death”
  • “Be Free!”
  • “The Holy Spirit is your comforter, counselor and friend!”
  • “Joy is your Choice.”
  • “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus!”
  • “Play by the Rules and Win.”
  • “You Were Designed for Destiny”
  • “Live in the Light”

All that matters is that the tag line perfectly fits your talk and it is memorable.

Repeat this phrase 4 or 5 times during your talk or lesson. You can even have the students say it with you.

Master the Craft

Leonardo DiCaprio gave a short speech as he received his latest award. He said that when he had his first acting part at 13, he watched dozens of old movies to learn the art of acting. He devoted the rest of his life to perfecting this craft. You may speak as a volunteer or it may be your life calling. Devoting yourself to mastering the art of speaking will bless you and the people you are talking to.

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com


  1. Cherisays:

    Hi Ron. I really like the article and think there are some great ideas here. However, I wonder if the youth pastor or leader should be texting his/her students. In teaching and childcare fields, that would be a big taboo. Things can get too informal, too quickly. Kids can feel left out if they are the only one without a smartphone, or feel they’re not popular enough if they don’t get the same number of texts from the pastor. It creates a very casual relationship, which, given the power and age difference, could be hazardous. I think email is much safer. Just my opinion.
    Cheri Patrick

    • Great Advice Cheri,
      You are so right that lines can get blurred and many agencies have pretty clear guidelines in these areas. So much of youth work relies on being considered a friend in the student’s life but we have to be wise with the same and opposite genders when we interact. Campus workers are often in close contact with students all week and use this proximity to make a big difference. I agree with you that email can be very good.

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