What’s Stopping You from Working?

A simple question + an action plan = a positive outcome.


Do you have student’s who are not working, not concentrating on the set task or distracting others?

Try This:

Approach the student and calmly ask this question, ‘What’s stopping you from getting on with your work?’

Possible responses: My friend keeps talking to me, it’s too noisy, I don’t know what to do, I can’t do it, I don’t want to do it, I can’t be bothered, I’m tired, I don’t know, it’s too hot, too cold, I’ve lost my pencil, my dog died this morning, Mum and Dad had a big fight last night, I had a fight with my friend –The responses will be varied.

This gives you a starting point for the next question to the student.

‘What are you going to do to be able to get back to your work. It’s important to be to good to yourself?’

By asking ‘what are you going to do’ puts the onus onto the student. No need to tell them how important it is to do the work, they know that already.

Provide wait time for possible responses.

I could move, get another pencil, ask for help, put on my jumper, start again, have a drink, eat some brain food, talk to mum when I get home, chat to my friend – the ideas will be as varied as the problems.

If the student has no ideas, ask them, ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’

Act as a mentor and counsellor to guide the student towards a plan of action.

Note – Ask Ed the app can be used in this situation. Students can voice their problem and develop a plan of action.



  • Students can reveal the problem.
  • The problem can be sorted and a plan of action developed.
  • Students feel better and can resume working.
  • Teacher feels better. There has been a calm conversation and a logical outcome.


  • If the student chooses to move, let them. (Check Optimal Learning Spot and Optimal Work Environments for strategies that allow students to decide where to work based on ‘Learning Likes and Preferences’)
  • Follow up in a few minutes and pass the student a small thank you note.

Eg. Thanks for getting on with your work.

Thanks for caring for yourself and getting things sorted.

I like the way you think and care for yourself.


Lots of interesting information will be gained when you ask for responses from the whole class in relation to what stops them from working.

Use the feedback to make changes within your room.

Doing a PMI is useful – Plus Minus, New Ideas.

 A Story:

A Year 3 student was sitting at her table – no work was being done. I approached and asked the question, ‘What’s stopping you from getting your work done?’

Everybody is disturbing me.

‘What can you do to get this sorted?’

I don’t know.

‘What about trying another place to work?’


‘Where would you like to go?’

Could I sit on the floor where the sun is shining?

‘Sure, I’ll let you get organised.’

Student sat in the nominated spot and happily got back to work.

I passed by later and gave her a little note that said, Thanks for making a great decision.

Her face lit up and she said, ‘That’s ok’.

We will never know what the problem is if we don’t ask. It’s easy to assume that the students are being lazy and can’t be bothered.

Take the time to ask, you will find there is always a reason.