Six completely useless things students often do very well

Twirling a pen between your thumb and fingers is a skill acquired sitting through hours of boring lessons...

As many readers know, I’ve been out of the classroom for a few months now. But there are some things you never forget, and among those are some of the useless things students do in class. Each of the following six things are skills, I’m convinced, that are honed over several years of sitting in boring classes (not mine, of course not my classes). Not necessarily the skills we want them to develop in English class but skills nevertheless. Here they are.

1 Twirling a pen between two forefingers and a thumb.

2 Leaning back on a chair just far enough to avoid falling over.

3 Drawing moustaches, devil’s horns and penises on photos in a book.

4 Opening the book to the wrong page every class.

5 Balancing a pen between the upper lip and nose.

6 Clicking pens quickly and noisily..

I seem to remember coming across a similar list in a book I used to have called Essential Lists for Teachers by Duncan Grey. I wish I could find it again. In the meantime, are there any other utterly useless things that your students are very good at doing? Useless mind, not just naughty. Sending text messages or passing notes secretly is a skill, but you could argue it’s more useful than the ones I posted above. Anyway, if you want to add then please post a comment.

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 7:29 am  Comments (31)  
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31 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Reading instructions to activities that I’ve just explained. Strangely, they only understand written instructions if they ask them to do something different from what I’ve just said

  2. Oh, and in many schools I worked in they had to develop the skill of balancing books, pens etc on flaps while not allowing their classmates to see up their skirts. Thank god tables came back into fashion!

  3. – glancing down at a mobile phone under the desk while maintaining eye-contact with the teacher.
    – go from catatonic to Olympic sprinter when the bell rings for the end of the lesson

  4. How about those students that are good at being asleep while somehow looking as if they’re still working!

  5. How about those who just sleep!

  6. forever making that annoying noise with wrappers, long after they’d finished their candy

  7. Oh, and spinning their pens!

  8. Nice list, but it’s not the twirling pens that I find annoying, it’s when they drop the damned things!

    Knowing exactly when the most annoying time to go to the toilet is.

    Dropping pencil cases on the floor at strategically important moments, losing the class to laughter – again – for minutes.

    • OOooh, you’re right. Dropping things to make the most noise is a skill I have noticed before too!

      • particularly open pencil cases, so that all the stationery spills out on the floor!

  9. How about ‘ripping up a plastic glass into stripes and then using it as a rattle’, huh???

  10. Reading emails, scrolling through the BlackBerry…

    • Hey there, but aren’t those useful skills? Unless it was just aimless scrolling I guess, you know, like fiddling…

  11. My students never turn to the wrong page. They always go to the right page – but in the wrong book.

  12. Love your site, Lindsay. *So* funny! Came here via Karenne’s site, by the way. Look forward to your next posts. I really can’t think of anything useful to add to your useless list. And I *love* lists!

    • Hi there Colin
      Thanks for dropping by, and glad you share my enthusiasm for lists!

  13. What about reciting the irregular verb tables? My students can reel off “swim, swam, swum” in a blink of an eye, whereas I, a native speaker, always have to pause and think about it. Completely useless skill, of course, because, if they venture beyond present simple, they forget the verb is irregular anyway.

  14. Spending the whole writing activity time refilling their mechanical pencil.

  15. This post reminds me of when the pen tapping craze was ridiculously popular with students in S.Korea. As you can imagine it drove the teachers crazy and it was banned from all schools.
    I even had one student last year who decided to do an English presentation on his pen beat skills.
    If only the students were this skilled at English
    Check out this link

    • OMG this is hilarious! Thanks for sharing!! (you have to go the link itself to see btw, it cannot embed… this to other readers!)

  16. Forgetting to bring anything to class that you tell them they MUST bring the next day so you can continue to work on it.

  17. In terms of completely useless, maybe even self-defeating, I’ve had a couple if cases recently where students have made a very good show of looking like they’re asleep when in fact they were writing or reading quite dutifully with heads down over their book. Put me in an awkward situation when I tried to revive them only to find that they were right where they should have been in the book!

  18. These apply to Brazilian students:
    – avoiding the eye contact with a teacher not to be asked questions
    – (the braver ones) observing and commenting what their teacher is wearing
    – pulling a single hair from the top of their own heads (that’s a really weird one…)
    – asking to leave the classroom in order to drink water
    – holding their neighbour’s hand, or putting head on their neighbour’s shoulder
    – on the test: writing with pencil and then covering what they wrote with pen, erasing pencil later on
    Ah! I managed to come up with my own “6 things…” 🙂

  19. How about leaving the classroom at the end of the day without picking up the rubbish on their desks?

  20. Great site, great post, great comments…

    I will add another one: writing and drawing on the desks instead of notebooks. They are great at doing it!

  21. The last comment was sent in error through bendi benri. Please moderate the next message.

  22. Who would have thought that the useless activity of pen spinning while sitting bored in a classroom would become a world cup event.
    Check this out:

    • Interesting that there was not one left-hander!

  23. hate them wearing sunglasses and caps in classroom

  24. I teach girls. Their all-time favourite is spinning their hair round their finger. In addition, the rather “coquettish” like to have a peep in the miirror hidden in their pencil cases.

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