Children can’t wait to start school. Kindergartners and preschoolers often talk passionately about what they are going to learn and do when they get to school. But unfortunately, with a crowded curriculum, these children can quickly lose their love for learning as teachers take to a more sedate classroom environment all in an effort to cram in everything they need to teach. In their zeal to raise test scores, too many teachers wrongly assume that students who are laughing, interacting in groups, or being creative with art, music, or dance are not doing real academic work.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Research suggests that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are enjoyable and relevant to students’ lives, interests, and experiences. When students are engaged and motivated and feel minimal stress, information flows freely through their brains and they achieve higher levels of cognition, make connections, and experience “aha” moments. Such learning comes not from quiet classrooms and directed lectures, but from classrooms with an atmosphere of
exuberant discovery (Kohn, 2004).
So how can we make our classrooms fun (and still continue to meet the needs of the curriculum)?
Let’s take a look at a few approaches:
1. Change things up –
Don’t just settle for the same way of teaching and delivering lessons. Look for new ways of delivering content such as videos, YouTube, picture books, invited guests, excursions, etc. These are ways our children are familiar with and can bring automatic engagement with very little effort.
Taking your students outside for lessons can spark so much joy that what was once dull content, is now more alive and engaging.
You may even like to let your student’s take their shoes off in your classroom while they work. Researchers at the University of Bournemouth found that pupils who leave their shoes outside the classroom are more likely to arrive to school earlier, leave later and read more widely – ultimately resulting in better academic achievement overall.
2. Dress up –
Now I appreciate that this one may not be for everyone, but seeing a teacher dressed up in a costume is certainly bound to bring a smile to your student’s faces. Dressing up doesn’t mean you need to go hire some flamboyant Mary Poppins costume either. Simply a wig, hat or glasses may be enough to engage and capture the attention of your students and increase their recall of what you are teaching. You may like to do this when reading a book, when introducing a new topic or even when conducting a science experiment. Dressing up can be a truly powerful engagement tool in your classroom.
3. Be silly –
Now when I say this I don’t mean go crazy. And certainly moderation is needed with this as well. But simple changes in your voice and body language can help maintain student engagement and increase retention. Use funny voices as you read picture books. Sing your instructions to the class rather than speak it. Use body language and hand signals as you are explaining a concept to your students. Your movements and expressions help keep the focus on you and what you are saying and not other distractions that are always present in a classroom.
4. Allow students to work together –
There has been extensive research on using cooperative learning strategies in the classroom. Research says that when students work together, they retain information quicker and longer, they develop critical thinking skills, and they build their communication skills.
5. Give your students choices –
One strategy that teachers have found to be effective is offering their students the ability to make their own choices when it comes to learning. Choice can be a powerful motivator because it helps to foster student interest and independence. The next time you’re planning an activity, try making a choice board. Print out a tic-tac-toe board and write down nine different tasks for students to complete. The goal is for each student to choose three tasks in a row.
6. Games –
Whether you’re 5 or 25, playing a game can be fun. Games are also a great way to keep lessons interesting. If your students need to remember their spelling words, conduct a spelling bee—a contest in which participants are eliminated when they misspell a word. Or if the students need to practice math, have a math bee, which is similar to a spelling bee, but with math problems or facts instead of spelling words. Games make learning fun, and games in class are a prescription for happy kids.
7. Use Technology –
Technology is a great way to keep your lessons interesting. Children love electronics, so try incorporating it into your overall teaching strategy. Instead of standing in front of the room and lecturing, try using a Smartboard interactive display. Expand your cooperative learning activity lessons by connecting to a classroom in another city or country via videoconferencing. Use technology in a variety of ways, and you’ll see the interest level in your classroom increase by leaps and bounds.
8. Make your lessons interactive –
In a traditional classroom, the teacher stands in front of the room and lectures to the students as the students listen and take notes. Unfortunately, this is not the most effective way to hold students’ interest. Make learning interactive by creating hands-on lessons that involve students every step of the way. Maybe try a hands-on science experiment. When you involve students and make your lessons interactive, your class becomes more interesting.
9. Connect learning to real life –
Try to create a real-world connection to what your students are learning. This will give them a better understanding of why they need to learn what you’re teaching. If they’re constantly asking you why they need to learn something and you’re always answering with “because,” you will soon lose credibility. Instead, try giving them a real answer such as, “You’re learning about money because in the real world, you’ll need to know how to buy food and pay your bills.” By giving a straightforward answer, you’re helping them make a connection between what they’re learning in class and how they’ll use this information in the future.
10. Bring ‘mystery’ to your lessons –
Learning may be the most fun for your students when they don’t know what to expect. Try to incorporate a sense of surprise and mystery into your lessons. When you’re about to unveil a new lesson, give students a new clue each day up until the last day before the start of the lesson. This is a fun way to make your lesson mysterious, and you may find that your students are actually looking forward to finding out what they’ll be learning about next.
So which strategy are you going to start including in your classroom today?