We don’t have to flip our classrooms into fantastical worlds in order to deliver content in a way that students will remember and enjoy. Try some of these fun tips to boost engagement in the classroom!
Get Them Up and Moving
I think the easiest way to get our students excited about their learning is to do something unexpected! I once wrote a blog post explaining 5 ways to make worksheets fun, and they all had to do with cutting them up! Yes, taking a pair of scissors to a perfectly good worksheet and cutting it up. Read more about those ideas here! One of my favorite things to do is to cut up our math chapter reviews. They’re long, they never copy correctly (my copy machine and I don’t get along well), and they’re pretty boring. To combat this, I cut off each question, put them in a Ziploc bag, and have my students work in groups to solve each problem in the review. What you do from there is the truly exciting part!
I have this basketball hoop in my classroom and one of the many ways we use it is to toss paper through the hoop, specifically pieces of our math chapter review! Each group works together to solve a problem, once they all agree on the problem, they crumble up the question and shoot it at the hoop! You can get technical and give points for making a basket, but the simple act of playing “basketball” in the classroom is exciting enough! They take turns throwing the crumbled up piece of paper and just like that, a not-so-fun match chapter review is now the highlight of their day! If you don’t have a basketball hoop, garbage pails or plastic bins (I know we all have a ton of those) work just fine! Check out this blog post to read more ideas for cutting up worksheets!
And grab this Back to School getting to know you activity that’s perfect for building classroom community and having FUN while answering silly, stress-free questions!
Click here or the image below to download these adorable Slam Dunk Day Recognition Tags! Send home a positive note so parents can share in the excitement of their child’s accomplishment!
I like to use music as a tool in my classroom. I like to play kid-appropriate background music during independent work time. A couple of my favorite stations on Pandora are ‘Classical goes Pop’ and ‘Kidz Bop.’ It’s also fun to play a themed soundscape to match what we’re learning. Youtube offers many continuous loop soundscapes that can enhance any lesson. Crackling fireplace for cozy reading in the winter months, sounds of a rainforest or the ocean for studying animal habitats, and spy music (10 hours of the Mission Impossible soundtrack 🤪) for any math problem solving lesson. Using music is an easy way to boost engagement and help students focus on the task at hand.
Another way I use music in the classroom is to get students ready for a RACE response! I will play this song from the classic Space Jam to pump us up and make this time special. I teach evidence-based writing early in the school year to get students familiar with the format. For most third graders, this is the first time they’ve had to identify text evidence and justify their thinking in a written response, and it can be met with some resistance at first. This is how I make it fun! I play the song for about 90 seconds and the kiddos use that time to transition to their seats, take out their pencil and highlighter and get ready to RACE. You can grab my RACE resource here!
Take It Outside
All you need is a clipboard and good weather and you have an instantly exciting experience for your kiddos. Add in some sidewalk chalk and you’re suddenly the coolest teacher in school! On a whim, I like to give each student a clipboard and a piece of chalk and invite them to work outside. This works really well for math practice! Students just work out the problems on the sidewalk and record their answers on the math page or math notebook. Anything you’d normally have students work on in the classroom can probably be done just as effectively outside, but now you’ve switched up the norm and made it more exciting.
Turn it into a Theme
Sometimes all it takes is a perfect Dollar Tree find to make a lesson perfectly engaging an memorable! The next time you stroll down the aisles, stock up on a couple packs of fake mustaches, Hawaiian leis, plastic Army helmets, and silly glasses with a nose attached to them. Then break those babies out for a surprise and put a fun twist on a lesson! Tape task cards all around the room, turn on that secret spy background music, turn off the overhead fluorescent lights (if you don’t have those in your classroom, you’re LUCKY), and give students a pair of big-nosed glasses to wear. I promise they will go home saying how much fun they had practicing the distributive property, or whatever it is that they’re learning!
Check the Calendar
There are so many interesting/silly “holidays” on the calendar that my kiddos get a kick out of! You can see a list of silly holidays by month on this website and this one. I’m sure there are others, too! Plan ahead and use the “holiday” to your advantage! For example, did you know that August 25th is Pluto Demoted Day? Have students write a friendly letter to Pluto to express their sympathy for losing the title of ‘planet’ or turn it into a persuasive piece to ask scientists to reconsider the demotion! Also, September 16 is Collect Rocks Day! Let students collect rocks around campus and incorporate them into your math lesson as manipulatives or make the rocks a reading buddy for the day. Encourage the silliness, let them be kids. But drive home the fact that even though what we’re doing is out of the norm and a little wacky, we’re still LEARNING–your students will be all about it! Click here or the image below to grab your Chocolate Milk Day freebie to celebrate this special (and yummy) holiday on September 27th!
Let them Choose
One of the easiest ways to get students engaged in what they’re learning is to give them freedom of choice. Instead of requiring them to complete a paper and pencil book report, provide them with an outline of what you expect to be included (Characters, Setting, Problem, Solution, etc.) and leave the rest up to them! This will let them tap into their creativity and result in a product that they’re passionate about. You could also do this with my Expert Project which allows students to become experts on any topic they’re interested in… OR flip the script and have the students be the test maker for once with this enrichment activity. There are so many ways to incorporate the standards we’re expected to teach, we just have to look at them from a different angle sometimes!
Another way I provide choice is to offer students a range of graphic organizers to complete based off of any book they’ve chosen to read. These standards based creative graphic organizers have a many options to choose from for each reading skill. Students love choosing the skill sheet they’re in the mood to work on and it’s okay if it is a different choice than their neighbor!