One of the chief characteristics of great teachers is that they pay constant and careful attention to the engagement levels in their classrooms. They work to capture and then to maintain a high level of student interest throughout a lesson. Great teachers know that students who are bored are students who are just not learning.
They also know that students who are bored are likely to be students who are on the way to disrupting class in a misguided attempt to make things more interesting for themselves and their classmates.
And who could blame them? Hours of sitting and working on dull assignments is enough to make anyone into a serious clock watcher longing for a long day of tedium to just be over. Or to daydream about making things more lively by tossing a pencil at a classmate or asking to use the restroom or sharpening a pencil until there is nothing left or…
If you find yourself in a lesson rut or if you just want to add to your repertoire of activities to help students engage in a lesson, try some of these simple, low-tech techniques that are easy to implement.
1. Have students brainstorm as many items as possible in specific categories related to the day’s lesson. They can do this as individuals, pairs, or teams competing with other students. Because students enjoy writing on anything other than ordinary paper, consider giving them strips of paper or note cards or small white boards or posters or colored paper.
2. Draw a triangle on the board and place one concept or vocabulary word related to the material under study in each corner. Ask students to relate the three items to each other. You could also ask students to do this at their desks in mini-brainstorming sessions with partners.
3. Call out a fact from the lesson and ask a student to repeat it and then add another one to it. That student indicates a classmate who then has to repeat the two facts and add a third. This continues until every student has had a turn.
4. Ask students to create three quiz questions from the lesson and then move around the room to mingle with classmates while quizzing each other.
5. Have students play bingo using facts, concepts, or definitions from the subject of the lesson. There are numerous blank templates are available online. Search for them using “bingo template” as a search term.
6. Ask students to write a summary of the day’s material in twenty-five words or ten words or five words. They can then share their summaries with partners and then with the whole group.
7. Call out unusual words related to the subject matter and have students predict their meaning and how it could relate to the lesson.
8. Call out definitions and have students write the words being defined. Giving students a word bank in advance or having them work with teams will make this more suitable if you intend to use it to introduce a unit of study instead of as a review.
9. Arrange for students to play games of tic tac toe. When students give correct answers to questions about the subject, they can select squares. You could make up the questions in advance or you could have students generate questions and answers to be shared with the entire class.
10. Pass out three sticky notes to each student. Have them write a fact from the lesson on each sticky note and then trade notes with each other until every student has had the opportunity to trade several times.
11. Have a mystery box filled with several objects. Ask students to relate the objects to the material they are studying.
12. Ask students jot down five things that they have learned about the subject and then share their new knowledge in a whole class round robin by passing their papers around the room. Each student can add information that is missing from a paper that is passed to them.