I have a HUGE passion for student engagement. This passion has been a fairly recent discovery, though I’ve always loved making learning fun and felt that it’s important for students to love school.
However, last year, in the middle of my fourth year teaching, I was feeling a little burned out and bogged down with curriculum and doing the same old thing every. single. day. I felt like I was failing my students and I sure wasn’t having any fun teaching. I was losing my why and feeling a little demotivated.
I had been hearing a lot about the newly released book, The Wild Card, by Hope and Wade King, so I decided to give it a shot. And y’all – it changed my LIFE. Seriously. I devoured that book in two days and immediately got started thinking about how I could amp up the student engagement in my classroom.
This is, in a nutshell, how The Average Teacher began. I started creating games and activities for my class, and figured, why not open a Teachers Pay Teachers store so I can share my resources with others? And now – here I am!
Anyway, all that to say, I’m fairly new to the #setthestagetoengage trend, BUT I really am passionate about it and try to make things as fun (but still rigorous!) as possible for my kiddos.
You might be thinking, well that’s great that you have fun, but in my class, we don’t have time for that because we are actually LEARNING. First of all, let me be the first to say congratulations! Your students are learning. That is fantastic, and our number one priority as teachers. You are awesome.
BUT, let me also be the first to say that student engagement is NOT all about fun, and fun and learning really go hand in hand. Actually, I’ve noticed an increase in student achievement since making more of an effort to make learning fun.
Just think about it – are you more likely to do something if you enjoy it? Of course you are! That’s normal.
Conversely, we are more likely to give up — or just never start in the first place — things that we do not enjoy. And you know who is even more likely to give up on something they don’t like than responsible adults who know they have to do things they don’t like sometimes? Children.
And we teach children. Children who need to play, who need to interact with their peers, and most of all, who need to learn.
I recently did an activity with my 2nd graders to review for a test we had coming. I think review days are a GREAT opportunity for some serious engagement. You don’t really have to worry about not getting content taught because they already know it! I always try to play some sort of game for review.
I used this free Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? PowerPoint template to make a game for my kids. I edited the questions to go with the content we were reviewing. I had each student bring their whiteboard and marker over to our gathering spot. We went through the questions, and each student had to write their answer on the board. After a minute or two, I had them show me their answers, and as long as the majority of them got the correct answer, we moved on. They LOVED it. They were so excited every time they got a question right and “won” more money. They have asked me several times since then to play it again!
Clearly, that was a fun lesson. But how effective was it?
There are 3 major things I noticed happened with this activity that don’t normally happen with a typical lesson, and I want to share those 3 things because I think they are HUGE.
1. Everyone was participating
This is so important. I’m not saying that my students don’t participate other times (there are consequences if they don’t), but they actually WANTED to participate. I didn’t have to tell anyone twice to answer the question. I didn’t have to take away the privilege of playing from anyone because they weren’t following directions. They actually wanted to participate, and they wanted to do well.
Part of this has to do with the way I set up the game. Last year I played this same game and had very different results because I chose to do it in teams instead of whole group. Whole group worked much better for this, because I could be sure that everyone was participating by writing the answer on their board. When we did teams, only one team was answering at a time, so there was lots of down time and no one student answered every single question.
It can be tricky to make sure everyone participates when you plan a fun activity like this. You definitely have to be careful to ensure that your activity allows everyone to participate for every part of the activity, and no one is ever sitting around doing nothing.
However, there are so many activities you can do whole group, and there are lots of tweaks you can make to other types of activities to keep everyone learning. And if the activity is fun enough, you won’t have to pull any teeth to get your students to do it — they just WILL!
2. My students wanted to be there
Fun fact about my new class — they have teeny tiny bladders. Like seriously. Every single day, a student was in the bathroom at any given moment. It was actually getting a little ridiculous to the point where I had to have a serious conversation with them about when and how often it is appropriate to ask to go to the bathroom.
Who Wants to Be A Millionaire marked the first day that not one. single. student. asked to go to the bathroom during our lesson. I’m not kidding! I teach two classes — both have tiny bladders — and not one student asked to go during the game in EITHER class!!!
They were having so much fun, they didn’t want to miss it! And this is huge because when kids are in the bathroom, they are missing valuable instruction time. Every single student of mine answered all 15 questions in our review, and I truly believe that helped them be more successful on their test.
3. Behavior issues are few and far between
I used to think that fun activities would be an open door for behavior problems, and I’m positive I’m not alone in that. It’s easy for things to get out of hand when you’re having fun. You aren’t in the normal daily routine, so things are a bit more unstructured and sometimes, chaotic.
BUT…I’ve noticed that when I’m very clear about my expectations up front, I really don’t have many behavior issues. Especially when they know that breaking the rules will result in their having to sit out from the game (or at least the fun part…they will still have to do work).
Sure, things can get a little crazy. Name one game night you’ve ever been to that didn’t get a LITTLE bit out of hand. I can’t, and my friends are actually pretty tame. They are also responsible adults with full time jobs and families and driver’s licenses…they are not 8 year olds.
So imagine how much more chaotic having some fun can get with 8 year olds. But you know what? Chaos isn’t always bad…as long as it’s structured chaos! I’ve had to come to terms with this myself, but the best class isn’t the one where the kids are robots, always in their seats, only speaking when spoken to. The best class is the one that students both learn in, and WANT to be in.
It’s okay to be loud. It’s okay to be a little crazy. It’s okay for students to be excited. It’s NOT okay for students to be disrespectful or unkind, but honestly, when they are having fun with their work, they really don’t have time for that. Just make sure your rules are clear, and stick with whatever consequences you’ve threatened if a student does break the rules. Remove them from the activity, and everyone will learn real quick that you’re serious. (I usually give the student a second chance after a few minutes, and then I don’t have any more problems with them). Usually this only has to happen once at the most, and then it’s smooth sailing.
I’m so serious y’all, about ALL this. Planning engaging lessons really has made my life so much easier! Classroom management wise, I have very few issues because they don’t want to lose the privilege of having fun. And instructionally, students are more likely to participate and less likely to use the bathroom during your lesson! Which not only increases student achievement, but saves you precious reteaching time later on.
Shifting my teaching focus to student engagement has absolutely made me a better teacher, and I know that my students are having a good time, too. Fun activities certainly don’t happen EVERY day, but I try to incorporate them at least once a week and on review days. And those days are by FAR the most successful!
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