Cause a Commotion

Brains seek novelty. You can tell by the way students snap from their stupors when a new kid walks into class or mouse runs out from under a cabinet. The brain notices change. It engages most with what is new, different, or unusual. And often when teachers don’t provide enough novelty to make a class interesting, students do.

I found that I’d rather cause a little commotion of my own than to have students shoot spit wads to the ceiling with cafeteria straws or heckle each other or pass notes. Here are some ways to add variety to a classroom so students don’t feel the need to do it themselves:

  • Introduce new activities every eight to ten minutes. Explain a concept, and then have students turn and talk with a partner about the concept. Rotate individual work with partner work and group work.
  • Alter sound. Change your voice volume—whisper, then speak up. Play instrumental music. Use white noise during quiet work.
  • Vary visuals. Use slides and real objects and white boards. Teach with lights on and then off. Buy a lamp with multi-colored bulbs.
  • Move around the room. Teach from the front and the side and the middle.
  • Change pacing. Be urgent, then reflective. Push, then relax.
  • Tap into both logic and emotion. Discuss the theme of a book. But then tell a personal story about how that theme has shown up in your life. Stories invite emotion and increase understanding.
  • Incorporate micro-breaks. When eyes start glazing, ask students to stand and stretch before going on.

Teaching for high engagement, I found, takes some planning. But I prefer planning over writing detention slips. And my brain also enjoys the variety.

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