How can you make the classroom engaging and motivating to all students, even the most reluctant learners? When students are engaged, predicting answers, talking with one another and sharing with the class in ways that follow safe routines and practices, they not only achieve more but they also act out less. And everyone, including the teacher, has more fun.
Many experienced teachers suggest making brain breaks and getting kids moving around frequently during the day. Most kids’ attention spans are about as long in minutes as their age. So a third-grader can concentrate for about eight minutes before losing interest. It’s a teacher’s job to make sure there are lots of quick, effective brain breaks built into the lesson to give children a moment to recalibrate. So teachers must be prepared for a diverse cross section of learners with a large toolkit of strategies for teaching in multiple modalities, with many entry points to participation and content.
- Don’t Be Boring
In engaging classrooms, teachers use a set of procedures and routines. For example: ask students to look at a list of adjectives on the board. Ask them to greet two other students and use one of the adjectives to describe how they are feeling today. The activity gets them up, moving and ready to learn, plus they’ve used a new vocabulary word in relation to themselves, checking in with their community along the way.
Activate students’ brains with a quick round of voting. Puts three learning goals for the day up on the board and ask students to vote for the one they think is most important. All three goals are good ones and there’s no wrong answer. The reluctant learners get to look around the room and see who else thinks just like them. This quick activity helps create curiosity among students about what each of them is thinking.
- Set Goals
Set learning goals that are achievable, believable and measurable. Make goal-setting a regular and visible part of your teaching practice. But it’s very important to leave time for students to revisit the goal they’ve set. That opportunity to reflect will help them see and value what they did, as well as where they may have fallen short of the goal.
- Form Groups
Ask your students to break off to share with one another, brainstorm or collaborate, and always set a time limit for the conversation.
- Quick Writes
Throw out a question and ask students to quickly brainstorm on paper as many answers as they can. Get students to stand up whenever they want and throw out an idea. This strategy has the added value of forcing students to listen closely to their peers, since they don’t know who will pop up next.
Keep in mind the students’ perspective and listen when they explain what they need to learn. Take Ned’s Great Eight to heart.
Ned’s Great Eight
I feel OK
It stretches me
I have to use it
I think back on it
I plan my next steps
- Do a BRAIN checklist
Build a safe environment
Recognize diversity in the classroom
Assessment must be formative, authentic and ongoing
Instructional strategies should be a palette of opportunities
- New models
Be open to new ideas because teaching is an adventure. Each day you walk into the classroom, you never know what you’re going to get.
Frame every lesson in a similar format, but execute it differently each time. First activate the learners by making them curious and developing a need-to-know. Then, let them dig into the content in an exploratory phase. Last, help scaffold students’ broader understanding by helping them integrate it with what they already know. Some metacognitive questions that can get them thinking this way include: What part of the lesson did you like the best? What part was the most difficult for you? Why do you think that was? What do you think you can do today to help yourself stay focused?
- Chunk Information
Make information more easily digestible for students. Too often teachers deliver an entire lesson without letting students move or discuss once. Kids will give up if they are overloaded with facts, and chunking provides a way to pause and let students think over what they’ve learned. Breaks to assimilate information are crucial for mastery.
Keep a box of props for when you are teaching. Throws something to a child when it’s his/her turn to talk so s/he has something to focus on. This works particularly well for kids with attention problems, as well as for the tactile learners.
Short video clips can be a great brain break.
Post-It note discussions are a good way to get all students involved without making anyone uncomfortable by putting them on the spot. Ask an open-ended question. It could be an activator at the beginning, or a summarizer to test for understanding at the end of a lesson. Students jot down their answers to the prompt on Post-Its. Learners could write just one word or draw something. Then students share in pairs. Post all the responses on a graffiti board and pull out some trends.
- Make Snowballs
This is a way to summarize learning at the end of a lesson. Students write answers to a prompt on a piece of paper. On the count of three, they throw their “snowball” randomly up and away (but not at anyone). Then everyone grabs a snowball that landed near them. Students can write three new vocabulary words they learned, or three successes they had in that lesson, or three questions.
- Guessing Games
When slightly boring content must be covered, create a need-to-know in students by having them predict the answers. This strategy among others is meant to get students to manipulate and think about the information themselves.
- Balanced Inquiry
Lectures do have a time and a place, but they are far more effective when they are interactive. Connect new knowledge to existing knowledge, organize the materials into chunks, dual code the information so it’s stored in multiple places and exercise the brain.
Mind-streaming is another fun brain break activity that also gives students a chance to recall what they’ve learned and teach one another. Have students randomly pair up and then each person teaches the other the most important things they’ve learned in that lesson. Each person will remember different things, and when there is overlap that will reinforce the concept. It’s simple, effective and doesn’t require any teacher preparation because students are teaching one another.
- Be Interactive
Always try to make tasks engaging and interactive by giving students enough knowledge, giving them the language to express it, giving them an authentic reason for the interaction they’re engaged in, prime them with interesting questions, establish a community of learners that support each other, and give students a clear understanding of the task. If these elements are part of every class all students can be successful.
Have HOPE, an acronym for Have Only Positive Expectations.