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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 involved? It’s certainly not students completing worksheets, answering basic questions, or taking notes from a lecture. Take a minute to think about the definitions of these two words. The word active it means moving, working, participating, full of energy and causing action. The word commit to it means to demand use/occupy, to attract and hold attention, and to engage. So basically, when students are actively involved, they participate and work in an active way, full of energy and movement, and they are involved and interested in what is being learned.
Wow! Is this a lot to ask of our students, or is it more that it is a lot to ask of us? This type of learning requires much more work and effort on our part in order to be more meaningful to the students. It is much easier to read the chapter, answer the questions at the end, and complete a ready-made worksheet. However, there is hope! Many of the new textbooks now available include activities that actively involve students in their learning. Does your textbook have these tips and ideas in the Teacher’s Edition? If so, do you ever use these activities in your lesson plans? The next time you sit down to plan lessons, read the activities provided and think about how you can incorporate them into your lesson. If you don’t have a newer textbook or are just looking for other ideas to get students actively involved, the tips provided below are for you.
Have students create their own game that applies the concepts and/or skills learned for a particular unit. This activity also integrates writing, as the students will have to write the instructions. Take some time to look at the educational games that are already available and discuss them with your students. Help them see the items found in a board or card game. Look at how the instructions are organized and written so that students have a role model. One of my students made a Colonies game as a project for our 13 Colonies unit. He was able to show all his learning by creating this game.
There are also many great games available these days to help practice reading, spelling, math, science, and social studies skills. How can you use Monopoly, the Allowance game, Scategories, Scrabble, Mastermind or Taboo in your classroom? While students may think they are simply playing a game, they are actually applying important skills/concepts learned in class. To make the most of this learning opportunity, then have students discuss the different skills they used during the game. Did they learn something new? This type of debriefing creates connections between the game and your resume. Without the debriefing, the students just participated in a fun but meaningless activity.
Create a search for clues, phrases, or questions and have students read the chapter to find the answers. It’s more of a learning experience if the answers aren’t 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 some time to discuss the activity and results with the class when everyone has finished.
Another twist on this activity that requires more thought on the part of students is to first read the chapter and then create their own cart quest. Students then swap roles with each other and have a partner complete their scavenger hunt. Let pairs of students talk about the positives and negatives of the cart search created. What was too easy? What was a challenge? Were the questions/clues misleading or clearly understandable?
Again, this activity works very well with reading textbooks. Have students work in pairs or groups to turn a historical event, textbook chapter, or story into a play. You could also ask students to work together to explain a concept or skill through a drama or play. Writing the script incorporates writing skills into the classroom and gives you an assessment tool.
A twist on this activity is to have students rewrite events or concepts read in the textbook or recently learned through direct instruction as a children’s story. This type of activity requires students to think at higher levels. Comprehension, analysis, application and synthesis are involved as students must understand what they have read and be able to explain and apply it within a children’s fiction story brief
You don’t have to be an elementary school teacher to make learning stations work. Take your unit and think of five or six different activity or reading stations for students to complete. Write the directions for each station and tape the page to the construction paper. We laminate ours so they last. Then write a checklist for students to use as they travel to each station. This will help them know what to complete in each. To set it up, simply put the directions and materials on a group of desks or a table for each “station.” When finished, place the laminated directions in a manila folder and label it. Then stick it in your binder for next year. In fact, I plasticize reading passages, checklists, etc. so you can use them again and again every year. This type of activity is also a great way to integrate other subject area concepts and skills into your lesson/unit.
With all of these activities, it’s important that you’re pacing and monitoring 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 should also take time to review your expectations for behavior and academic performance before each activity. This reminder, along with constant follow-up, helps minimize student misbehavior. It is also very important that you take time to discuss or “debrief” with students about the activity. This type of discussion creates connections between the activity, the overall objective, and the lesson objective of your curriculum. Don’t settle for time fillers. With just a little preparation and perspiration, you can get your students moving, engaged in their learning, and loving every minute!
Copyright 2007 Emma McDonald
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