There was a time when engagement was the sole responsibility of the student. The teacher would dutifully drone through the lesson, randomly demanding answers and participation with the flick of a wrist, and any children who weren’t paying attention would feel the business end of a ruler or get to experience the shame of a dunce cap and a seat in the corner.
Look, we’re not so cold hearted as to suggest that these were the “good-old days,” but if you’re a teacher, you have to admit that things sure sound like they were easier back then. Now you’re expected to be both educator and entertainer. If you don’t do everything in your power to keep your class engaged in what you have to say, they’re going to lose interest, and that’s when trouble begins. After all, it’s not the kids who get fired if the test scores drop too low. So, with that helpful reminder of the precarious position you hold, here are five ways to get your students more interested in what you have to say.
1. Discuss rather than lecture
Have you ever been cornered by someone with a whole lot to say? It doesn’t take long for your interest to wane and your automatic response module to take over. In fact, most of us have gotten really good at learning how to maintain eye contact and nod at appropriate times, even though our minds are a million miles away. Students endure similar problems when faced with a lecture-happy teacher. So, mix things up a bit. Don’t simply tell your classroom how things are; instead, ask them. Have them share their own personal insight. Invite them to pose problems that they have encountered or to present alternate interpretations of text. If you let the students do most of the talking, they’ll never get bored.
2. Make it interesting
By the time that they’ve made it through a few grades, most children have come to expect that anything the teacher might have to say is invariably going to be uninteresting. It doesn’t matter what the subject is. You could be teaching the kids how to build their own working lightsabers, and most of them would still be doodling in their notebooks or napping on their desks. The best thing you can do to fight this is to mix up how you present your lesson. Instead of reading from your lesson plan, find a way to demonstrate the real world applications of your subject. If they’re learning about insects, bring some in for the kids to see. If you’re teaching them about electricity, get your hands on a Van de Graaff generator and have the students take turns having their hair stand on end. In addition to making the lesson more fun, a few hands-on activities will help imbed key points into the children’s memories.
3. Use technology
If you haven’t already noticed, kids today are fairly tech-savvy. As a teacher, you can either fight against this truth by confiscating iPhones, iPads, iPods, and whatever other i-centric gadgets students may be carrying around, or you can embrace technology and use it in the classroom. Consider using Skype or FaceTime to allow a guest speaker to help teach the class from anywhere in the world, or you could work with the class to design a webpage. Encourage your students to give multimedia presentations. Look for podcasts that are relevant to your lesson material and listen to them as a class—or make your own. Technology can be put to use any number of ways, and offers unlimited teacher resources, if you know where to look.
4. Share interesting trivia
No matter how useful and relevant your subject is, students are going to lose interest in it if it doesn’t provide them with some serious short-term satisfaction. This is where trivia comes into play. There are few things that kids like more than being smarter than the people around them, and if you share interesting, unique, and memorable facts about the subject you teach, then the formerly disinterested students in your class are going to perk up and take notice. Give it a try. Tell your kids something that they’ll be eager to pass along, and you won’t have any trouble getting them involved.
5. Provoke a reaction
It’s easy to sit and daydream when you’re being taught something that you’ve always known or believed. However, when those beliefs are challenged, people have a tendency to want to get more involved, if only to defend their own preconceptions. This isn’t to say that you should create argument in the classroom just for the sake of conflict. However, you should never shy away from teaching something just because it’s controversial. If you stick only to lessons that go out of their way to remain agreeable, you’ll be rewarded with a classroom that is quiet, orderly, and absolutely dull.
Jessie Jaureguy is a technical consultant and writer for many of the top industry blogs. She enjoys reading, web design, photography, and animation. You can follower her @jessiejaureguy.