The best compliment a teacher can ever receive from a student is when they look at you and say, "Class is over?" These three words let you know loud and clear that they were engaged, focused, and enjoying the lesson you have created. But how do we develop those types of lessons on a regular basis? How do we create an atmosphere in which students become so engrossed in what they are doing that your students are surprised when the class period comes to an end?
Engaging our students can definitely be challenging as we continue to compete with Snapchat, Instagram, spinners, drama, and any other fad that enters our classrooms. But I do believe there are simple things you can do to help add some spice to your lessons and fuel their desire to learn.
Enthusiasm Breeds Enthusiasm!
When you, as the teacher, are excited about being with your students then they are excited to be with you. When you show enthusiasm for the subject you are teaching kids get energized about it too! Never underestimate the mindset you bring to your class. As the leader of the class it is you who sets the tone. This doesn't mean you have to bounce off the walls to demonstrate your excitement. It could simply be that you greet each student at your door saying, "Hey, I'm so glad you're here." Or you could start your class by telling them how much they are going to learn today. Or simply tell them how much you love your subject area and love being with them!
There are many times I say to my students, "I just love teaching this stuff … don't you love learning about it?" Remember, teaching middle school kids and making that comment could result in some of them looking you right in the eye and saying, "No, not so much!" Just look right back at them and say, "Seriously, I love it!" and move on.
Pacing is critical for our students and critical to engagement. We know that brain research tells us that kids can only listen for as many minutes as their age. For example, if you teach a 50-minute class period to seventh graders who are 11 or 12 then you need to move your students at least 4-5 times per class period!
As we develop our lessons it's important that the pace of the lesson moves at a decent speed. When I work with young teachers I say it this way: your lesson needs to be a little bit of you … a little bit of them … then back to you, etc. Pacing is a vital component to engagement.
Move, Move, and Move Some More
To create a lesson that is paced at a good speed requires giving students opportunities to move. Veteran middle school teachers learned a long time ago that if you don't move middle school kids they will move you in ways you wished you could forget.
Moving our students is critical to the development of their brains. We know that movement increases oxygen to the brain, which in turn helps the brain learn and understand information. We also know that movement grows brain cells, improves concentration, and most definitely improves behavior. Ways to move kids could include Brain Boosters, found online or on my webpage at www.motivatingthemiddle.org, delivering handouts by putting a pile on two sides of the room and having students come get one, or having students take seven steps from their desk and seven steps back.
Movement in your class can no longer be optional; it's a must for our students' brains to be in the best condition to learn. According to Hanscom (2017), "In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order for children to pay attention, we need to let them move."
I'll never forget this past spring when a student came to class and asked me if we could go outside for our brain booster today. My initial reaction was…heck no, that wasn't a part of my lesson plan. And then I thought, why not, it's a whopping 50 degrees (heat wave for those of us in Minnesota), so off we went. We simply walked to the soccer net and back for our brain booster. Being spontaneous shows kids that you are flexible and fun. So, don't hesitate to put the structured lesson plan aside for a few minutes and just be spontaneous with your kids. I have a feeling they, and you, will thoroughly enjoy it!
Just Gotta Laugh
If you aren't laughing everyday in a middle school, you are missing some pretty funny stuff. Every day I laugh. I laugh with the kids, at the kids (in the privacy of my office), and most certainly, at myself. When you ask students what characteristics their favorite teachers have, many of the students will say they have a sense of humor and are not afraid to laugh. And laughter is good for all of us. People who laugh a lot live longer, have lower blood pressure, and even lose weight.
I know what some of you are thinking … what if I'm not funny? Great question. Some of us are not, so try some of these ideas:
- Read knock knock jokes every day and act like you love them
- Find funny YouTube clips and show them to the class
- Show them your prom pictures in the middle of your lecture
Teaching is just too hard to not let yourself laugh. Plus, anyone who doesn't think and middle school kiddos are hilarious is simply not looking hard enough.
Engaging our kids means we need to think outside the box on designing creative lessons that engage our students. This might mean learning a new piece of technology to use in your class. My favorites right now are Quizlet Live, Pear Deck, and See Saw. Have students learn about Spoken Word and have them create one on what they learned in class. Find every simulation you can get your hands on and implement them ASAP.
Give Kids Choices
Give them choices on what their homework will be, what they can produce for a project, what they read, where they will sit, and what partners they can work with on a particular day. Being creative brings the fun back into your classroom.
Engaging our students can no longer be where our students "sit and get" all day. Our students need to be actively engaged, having fun, laughing, having choice, and experiencing a teacher that is energized by their subject area and, most importantly, their students.
So, take a deep breath, and take a moment to remind yourself why you went into teaching, I have a feeling it wasn't because of the month of standardized testing, but rather because you love having fun with kids and helping them become lifelong learners. Now let's get out there and do this!
Kim Campbell is a proud teacher at Hopkins West Junior High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota, as well as a speaker, workshop facilitator, and consultant.
Published August 2017.