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Strategies to Use When a Child Refuses to Complete Work

What do you do when a student refuses to complete work in the classroom? Check out these teacher-tested strategies to help get things back on track.

What to Do When a Student Refuses to Complete Work

When a child refuses to complete their work, it can leave teachers feeling frustrated, confused, and even upset.

But the trick is to know when to push and when to back off. The teacher-tested tips below will give you options and ideas to help you navigate these tricky situations!


Student Refuses to Complete Work? Here’s How to Navigate It

There are many reasons why a student may not want to complete his work. Some may be legitimate reasons, and others may stem from lack of confidence, frustration with the subject matter, or issues with something else happening in his life.

Like teachers, students often have trouble leaving their outside troubles at the door and the stress of other situations can spill over into the classroom.

If you have a student who refuses to complete work, here are some strategies that might help.

Create High-Value Incentives

Students love incentives, and when you hone in on exactly what motivates your students, you can use it to your advantage. Many students are motivated by food, so snacks and small pieces of candy can be a great motivator to work even when they may not feel like it.

You might have individual incentives and a class incentive that everyone can work towards. Pizza parties or outside time are always favorites – even for middle and high school students.

Break Up the Work

When you assign work, assign it in small chunks. Instead of a 30-minute writing assignment, break it down into smaller pieces. Five minutes to write the first sentence, 10 minutes to write the next two sentences, and so on.

When you break the work into manageable chunks, it makes it feel less overwhelming for students. That, in turn, makes them less likely to refuse to do the work. Just be sure that the amount of time you assign to each “chunk” is realistic and takes into consideration any accommodations or modifications that they need.

Order Doesn’t Matter

Why insist that assignments be done in a certain order if they don’t need to be? When you let students choose the order in which they complete them, they feel more in control.

If you tend to have trouble with students refusing to do the “challenging” assignments, share Mark Twain’s idea of eating the frog first with them. Then ask, “What’s your frog today?” It’s a quick and easy way of validating that the assignment is difficult for them while also giving them the choice to tackle it first.

Twice As Much – Cut in Half

Another teacher trick for when a student refuses to complete work is to assign twice as much work as you want them to complete and then let them choose the half that they want to do.

This puts them in control of the problems that they do while making them think they are really only doing half of what they are assigned. In reality, you really only want them to complete half of the work anyway!

Verbal Reinforcement

Sometimes encouragement and validation are all a student needs when he refuses to complete work. Your support and kind words can make a huge difference.

If he still refuses to complete work, you can gently express your disappointment. Be sure that you are not expressing anger or frustration, as this can lead to a power struggle that spills over into other areas.

When you have developed a good rapport with your students, sometimes the most powerful motivator is disappointing you.


How do you deal with students who refuse to complete their work in the classroom? Are there any special tricks that you have discovered while teaching? Share them with us below!

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I'm a special education teacher, presenter, curriculum writer, and educational blogger behind Mrs. D's Corner.
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