Engaging teaching strategies #1
This series of blogs is a compendium of activities that I find work well in the classroom. It grew out of a desire to document all the best things I use in my teaching, week in week out, so that I could pick and choose from a list to ensure that things were kept fresh, different and exciting. Clearly any activity has to be chosen carefully to aid the learning that a lesson sets out to deliver, and some will be more effective than others depending on the types of classes and the individuals that make them up.
When I started teaching, planning very much involved planning for tasks and activities rather than for the learning that was taking place. In fact, I don’t think I ever thought explicitly about the abstract learning that children were doing; rather I designed tasks that I thought just made interesting and exciting ways into novels, poems and plays. When I look back, I realise that yes, students were learning a lot, but we just weren’t ever explicit about what the learning was.
But when you think about it, it makes a lot more sense to begin with the learning and then choose or design the activities afterwards to allow the learning to take place. What follows is a kind of menu of tried and tested activities that I have used in the classroom and that you can pick and choose from to ensure your learning objective is achieved. Very few are my own invention, and so I owe a huge debt of gratitude to many, many educators. I’ll post them in groups of three. Please get in touch if you want to discuss them in further detail.
Allowing thinking time for questioning
This appears obvious but in reality doesn’t happen often enough. When you ask a question in the classroom it’s important to allow students plenty of time to cognitively process their thoughts and articulate an answer. It’s so easy when we don’t get an answer straight away to rephrase the question or add another on to help students answer the first one. But, although it can feel like a long time, giving 10 seconds thinking time will almost always result in somebody offering a decent answer. So don’t keep stacking the questions up; get used to allowing that long uncomfortable silence that will give students chance to process their thoughts and ideas.
Collapsing (or filleting) a text (word quarry)
This is a fantastic way into poems. It involves putting the text into a word document and rearranging the words into alphabetical order using the find and replace tool. You can then present the resulting “word quarry” to students who can try to rebuild the text or work out what the original was about. It works equally well for analytical and creative work.
Dice to add an element of randomness
Using dice in teaching is a great way to engage students. The dice automatically shout excitement to the students because of the connotations of luck and chance. You can use them in lots of ways. When looking at a text or passage you can use the dice to randomly select words to analyse or use creatively. You can use them to select students to answer questions or to select groups to do activities or tasks. The possibilities are limitless.