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Engaging Students in Learning – Tips and Ideas
A brain-based classroom is one in which students are actively engaged in learning. What exactly does it mean for students to be actively engaged? It certainly isn’t asking students to fill out worksheets, answer basic questions, or take notes on a course. Take a minute to think about the definitions of these two words. Word asset means moving, working, participating, energizing and provoking action. Word to hire means demanding the use of/occupying, attracting and holding attention, and involving. So basically, when students are actively engaged, they participate and work in an active way, full of energy and movement, and they are engaged and interested in what is being learned.
Wow! Is it a lot to ask of our students, or is it more than a lot to ask of us? This type of learning takes a lot more work and effort on our part in order to be more meaningful to students. It’s much easier to read the chapter, answer the questions at the end, and complete a ready-to-use worksheet. However, there is hope! Many of the new textbooks available now include activities that actively engage students in their learning. Does your textbook have these tips and ideas in the Teacher’s Edition? If so, do you sometimes use these activities in your lesson plans? The next time you sit down to plan lessons, read through the suggested activities and think about how you could incorporate them into your lesson. If you don’t have a more recent textbook or are just looking for other ideas for actively engaging students, the advice provided below is for you.
Have students create their own game that applies the concepts and/or skills learned for a particular unit. This activity also includes writing since the students will have to write the instructions. Take the time to look at the educational games already available and analyze them with your students. Help them see the found items in a board or card game. Watch how the instructions are organized and written so students have a pattern to follow. A student of mine created a Colonies game as part of a project for our 13 Colonies unit. She was able to show all her learning through the creation of this game.
There are also many great games available these days to help practice reading, spelling, math, science, and social studies. How might you use Monopoly, Allocation, Scategories, Scrabble, Mastermind, or Taboo in your classroom? While students may think they are just playing a game, they are actually applying important skills/concepts learned in class. To take full advantage of this learning opportunity, then ask students to discuss the different skills they used while playing the game. Did they learn anything new? This type of debriefing establishes links between the game and your program. Without the debriefing, the students simply participated in a fun but meaningless activity.
Create a scavenger hunt of clues, phrases, or questions, and have students read the chapter to find the answers. It is more of a learning experience if the answers are not immediately visible, especially for older students. Have them read the chapter so they can answer the questions or find the clue. Allowing students to work in pairs or groups adds an extra element of fun to this activity. Again, take the time to discuss the activity and the results with the class when everyone is finished.
Another twist on this activity that requires more thought on the part of the students is to have them read the chapter first and then create their own scavenger hunt. The students then exchange the papers among themselves and ask a partner to complete their treasure hunt. Allow pairs of students to discuss the positive and negative aspects of the scavenger hunt created. What was too easy? What was difficult? Were the questions/prompts misleading or clearly understandable?
Again, this activity works great with reading textbooks. Have students work in pairs or groups to turn a historical event, textbook chapter, or story into a play. You can also have students work together to explain a concept or skill through a skit or drama. Writing the script integrates writing skills into the classroom and gives you an assessment tool.
A variation of this activity is to have students rewrite events or concepts read in the textbook or recently learned through direct instruction in the form of a children’s story. This type of activity forces students to think at higher levels. Comprehension, analysis, application and synthesis are all involved, as students need to understand what has been read and be able to explain and apply it in a short fictional children’s story.
You don’t have to be an elementary school teacher for learning stations to work. Take your unit and think of five to six different stations of activities or readings for students to complete. Type the instructions for each station and glue the page onto construction paper. We laminate ours to last. Next, type a checklist for students to use when they visit each station. This will help them know what to do to each. To set up, simply place the instructions and materials on a group of desks or table for each “station”. When you’re done, place the laminated instructions in a manila folder and label it. Then paste it into your binder for next year. In fact, I laminate reading passages, checklists, etc. so you can use them again and again every year. This type of activity is also a great way to incorporate other concepts and skills into your lesson/unit.
With all of these activities, it is important that you walk around with supervision at all times to keep students on track. Ask guiding questions to help students complete the task and get the most out of the activity. You will also need to take the time to review your behavioral and academic performance expectations before each activity. This reminder, along with constant supervision, helps keep inappropriate student behavior to a minimum. It is also very important that you take the time to discuss or “debrief” with the students about the activity. This type of discussion makes connections between the activity, the overall goal, and the lesson objective for your program. Don’t just fill in the time. With just a little preparation and sweat, you can get your students moving, engaging them in their learning, and loving every minute of it!
Copyright 2007 Emma McDonald
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