Keeping students engaged during tough teaching times takes planning. I have few strategies for successful teaching in the classroom no matter the time of year.
1. Plan ahead for the challenging teaching times of year
This means to have a few lessons or units on stand-by for when it’s especially difficult to keep students engaged, LIKE…
- the days before and after Halloween
- the days before and after Thanksgiving break
- the week before and after winter break
- Valentine’s Day
- days before and after spring break or Easter break
- after state testing is done each day
- the last week or two of school
There are things you can do to address these challenging teaching days. Here are a few ideas for what to have in your teacher tool belt.
2. Save a few really engaging lessons for these times
These can be review lessons, lessons that introduce something, or lessons to practice. For example, I have a high-interest lesson about the importance of punctuation (FIND IT HERE), that I’ll save for just such a time.
I teach 6thgrade, and many students know about the rules for many punctuation marks, but what they may not realize is how ridiculous writing can get when punctuation is used incorrectly. I love using pictures of street signs, grocery store signs, business signs, etc. that have poor grammar or punctuation so that what was intended is either unclear or completely different.
You can find these images online, copy them to a slide, and project them, asking students to read the sign and see what they think. Simple, fun, engaging, and students are learning!
Often, kids don’t get it. You need to explain the egregious error. Then show a second image. Students will soon beg to see what you’ll show them next, and the anticipation is palpable. Give them a minute to figure out the error, then have students share their thoughts. After several signs, give them a page of silly sentences that they’ll correct. This is great for partner work.
3. Dressing up in character helps with keeping students engaged
Dress up so that when students enter, they have no idea what’s going on. Depending on what you teach, you can take on the identity of a character in a novel, a figure from history, a scientist, a substitute teacher, an expert in the content area that you’ve invited in. Give your lesson in character, answer questions in character, and during work time, maintain the character. Here’s an example:
I teach social studies (as well as ELA), and we learn about primary, secondary, and invalid sources. I dress up like Obi-Wan Kenobi (may the SOURCE be with you), get a child’s light saber (I have one in my classroom closet for just this reason), grab my daughter’s karate gee and a brown sheet that I found somewhere to create a cape. When students walk in, they have no idea what’s going on.
I tell them that their teacher asked me to teach today because I’m a specialist in using the source. I then give my lesson on the differences between the three types of sources, maintaining my character’s voice, and I stop mid lesson and say in a loud voice, “May the source be with you!” When it’s time to have students identify the sources, I take out the light saber, strike a pose, and ask, “Have you found the source?” in a serious tone, acting in character.
The costume, the voice, and the acting, keep students totally engaged in the lesson. After a recess or toward the end of class, I take off the outfit in back of the room and come in as myself, asking if they enjoyed our guest lecturer.
Here’s a quick change I use every year when we do an artifact dig. Simple and fun!
You can do this repeatedly throughout the year. Think about your content, the characters that may be important, whether an archaeologist, and pop star that sings some song that’s relevant to your content, an author, a character, a scientist, etc. It’s really endless. You just need to get a bit out of your comfort zone (perhaps), and have a few things ready to go.
4. Plan a unit that ends the day before a break helps keep students engaged
Have an engaging unit that will end on the last day before break or starts the day they return from break. I like using literature circles because they take about 2-3 weeks, and I can time the unit to end the last day before a break. Since I don’t do literature circles all the time, they are special, kids work in groups, have some autonomy, and the work progresses each day toward the upcoming meeting day. I generally have four meetings for a book.
Read this blog post HERE for more details on how to run literature circles. In fact, I have a series of posts about different facets of a successful literature circle. Check out this resource that has everything you’ll need to run successful literature circles.
If you don’t teach ELA, you still have engaging units that you know kids love. Save a few of those to pull out during the really tough teaching days/weeks. Here’s a blog post specific to teaching in October. It has great ideas for maintaining student engagement.
As you become more familiar with the curriculum and the year’s schedule, it’s easier to plan out what to teach & when to teach it. You also become more comfortable with developing your own lessons/sketches/characters that will fit in with your content.
Take some time over summer or on a weekend and really think about what you’re going to do during those really tough teaching times. It will pay off, I promise!!
This is the first in a 2-part series on this subject, because it’s just that important. Here’s the 2nd post on how to increase student engagement.
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