By Shannon Anderson, author of Coasting Casey
It’s back-to-school time, and teachers everywhere are striving to motivate and challenge their students. Whether it is finding a way to stretch your gifted students or just keeping things new and exciting, here are some tried-and-true strategies to keep boredom at bay as you kick off the new year.
1. Interest Inventories
The best way to find out what kids are passionate about is to ask them! You can create a survey to ask kids about favorite hobbies, subjects, books, sports, and other categories. Armed with this knowledge, you can tailor reading, writing, and research choices to match up with their interests.
2. Grouping Options
Giving students opportunities to work in partners or small groups can add some fun to the day and reinforce cooperative learning and social skills. Think outside the box on this one. Partners and groups don’t always have to be from the same class. You could include kids from another classroom or even another grade level. You could even partner online with someone in another school or country!
3. Try Technology
The sky is the limit for the various options available to incorporate technology into learning. From researching information to practicing skills to presenting what they learn, students can use many apps and devices to enhance their learning experiences. Can they turn your lesson into a cartoon video, or make a commercial for a book they just read? How about playing or creating a game to go along with a new skill?
4. Prior Knowledge
Nothing brings about boredom quicker than requiring students to practice something that they have already mastered. Using simple preassessments or K-W-L charts, you can determine what kids already know at the start of a new unit. Encourage kids who already know the information to set new learning goals for independent projects or explore different angles to dive deeper into the topic. You could even have students create learning opportunities for the kids who are still developing in certain skill areas.
5. Offer Creative Options
Something as simple as allowing kids to write with glitter pens or scented pencils can add a whole new element of fun to a pencil-and-paper activity. How about having kids tape their papers to the underside of their desks and writing while lying on the floor? Could you give options for typing in fun fonts or colors instead of writing on paper? What other ways can you add variety instead of just using the familiar lined paper for written work?
6. Goal Setting
Have students set all kinds of goals at the beginning of the year. These can be academic goals, like mastering multiplication facts or reading a certain number of books each month. Or kids can set social and emotional learning goals to become a better leader or improve how they deal with disappointment. They can also set personal goals that may be hobby or future-career related. When kids have lots of goals, they can devise ways to work on them when they finish something early or have “tested out” of something you are teaching in class.
7. Acceleration Options
You’ll always have students who work at different paces. Are there ways you can compact their learning or cluster students with more difficult texts or research questions? Can you give them learning contracts with checkpoints to allow more flexibility with their completion of assignments?
8. Output Choices
For students who crave variety, allow them to choose how they will demonstrate their learning. It could be a keynote presentation, a dramatic role play, a poem, a podcast, or some other creative work. Allow students to present their work to select students, to you, to the whole class, or even to other classrooms. You could create a choice board of options for sharing their new learning.
9. Change Up Your Space
What can you change in the classroom to create a new experience? Whether it is a new seating arrangement, a room transformation to go along with a theme, or new physical chair or table options, a new atmosphere is always refreshing. Hang kids’ work in the room, and change up what is on your walls often. New stimuli are great for the brain!
10. Change Up Your Teaching
If your schedule allows, teach subjects in a different order or switch up something that may be part of the regular routine. If you normally have students do self-selected reading time at their seats, take them outside or let them bring a towel or blanket to spread out on the floor instead. Dress up as a character or record yourself teaching in a funny costume. Let kids lead some of the lessons or swap teaching a lesson with a nearby teacher.
11. Service Learning
Is there something students can do with the new skills they are learning to serve other students in your school or community? How can you take students’ learning to the application level, while also giving them a way to add purpose to their learning?
12. Boredom Buster Jar
At the start of the year, have kids brainstorm options for taking learning to the next level and add them to slips of paper in a jar. Kids can choose from the jar when they are seeking a new challenge or when they complete something early. Ideas could include finding a mentor for a particular thing they want to learn, finding tutorial videos on a subject, gathering extra materials from the library, inviting a guest expert to the classroom, or writing a letter or an email to someone about questions on a topic, among many others. Any ways that kids can expand their learning, conduct further research, or benefit from the learning of others are always great options for meaningful challenges.
There are many ways to be creative with students’ input and output choices, who they work with, how you teach, the tools they use, and the space where they work. Try whatever fits your needs and teaching style. The more choices and changes you offer, the more eager and engaged your students will be! Have a fantastic school year!
Shannon Anderson has taught for 25 years, from first grade through college level. Her career highlight was being named one of the Top 10 Teachers who inspired the Today Show. Shannon is also the author of many children’s books and a national speaker. She was named the JC Runyon Person of the Year for her work helping kids with social and emotional issues through her writing and speaking. To find out more, you can visit: shannoisteaching.com.
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