How Teachers Can Use Their Hobbies to Boost Student Engagement

Infusing lessons with their personal interests can help teachers model the benefits of perseverance and curiosity.

When you’re a teacher, a big part of your job is battling student misconceptions. Often students come to the classroom assuming that learning can’t be fun and that what they learn isn’t relevant to the real world -much less to their personal interests. I’ve discovered that if I show students how what they learn is relevant to my hobbies, they’re much more inclined to make connections to their personal interests and develop their own hobbies.

I think of it as a hobby mindset. Modeling enthusiasm and making concepts personally relevant, can do wonders for student engagement, self-direction, and relationships.

Text by: Hubert Ham

Bring your hobbies into the classroom

I always try to find ways to bring my hobbies into the classroom. For example, I’m a car enthusiast, so when I want to teach vocabulary on various parts of cars, I contextualize concepts with my knowledge about cars. We talk about horsepower, speed, safety on the road, texting and driving, drinking and driving…and lots more. By doing this, I add an extra layer of interest. This extra variable shows students that concepts they’re learning in class have real-world applications and can even connect to their interests.

Other colleagues of mine who are interested in gaming, arts and crafts, literature, etc. do the same. 

Students learn a lot from their teachers’ hobbies such as: traditional art concepts like perspective and colours in painting, characters in literature, talk and write backstories for characters and events.

Students often enjoy and find inspiration in learning how you landed on your hobby, so share with them how your initial observations led to experimentation. Let kids know that something they learn about in passing can become a perfectly healthy obsession, and that it can be incredibly gratifying to spend days exploring the nooks and crannies of a new hobby and practicing the skills it demands.

Cultivate student interest in their hobbies

When a student shows enthusiasm for your hobby or another one seems to resonate, take care to introduce them to resources that can help them to explore it more. Any learner needs access to expertise, and if you’re learning a new hobby, you need guidance through pinch points.

Encourage students to poke around on YouTube for videos and online forums as they’re exploring a new hobby, and make sure they know that people learn in various ways and speeds, so they might need time to work through processes and need opportunities to make attempts and iterate. If you can, ask them questions to help guide them or even position yourself as a thought partner.

Be transparent about the fact that learning can be a difficult process, no matter how enjoyable the topic is, and that by taking on that challenge, students can build important skills, like perseverance and knowing how and when to ask for help. There’s also a social and emotional learning component, as there is with most learning: When you learn a new hobby, you often have to learn how to manage your emotions, like excitement and disappointment.

Sharing hobbies also builds relationships

When I first brought my hobbies to my classroom, I was focused on how doing so would build engagement and help my students understand various concepts. But I quickly learned that the practice also helped me build stronger relationships with them. When I let them see an aspect of my life outside of school, some students who were also interested in cars connected with me more and became more engaged in my courses. They paid more attention in class and wanted to talk with me and connect on a personal level more frequently. Even those who didn’t share that interest with me seemed more engaged once I showed a different side of myself.

What started as an experiment is now more of a philosophy. Even when I’m planning classes, I tend to think about how I can weave in my hobbies. I find that doing so energizes my instruction, engages my students, and demonstrates to them how abstract concepts play out in the real world. Best of all, my passion for my hobbies seems to inspire them to be passionate about finding their own.