Let’s be real, not every teacher loves every part of the content area they teach, at least not that I’ve seen, and certainly not me. So then the question is, how do you put on the excited face for a topic you’re less than thrilled about and keep your kids engaged? Give them (relative) control of that unit!
This would be a perfect time to try out project based learning if you haven’t already. Alternately, depending on the age of your students, this could be a unit when they break up into groups, each group gets a section, and they teach it to each other. Some groups will be more comfortable with power point and a traditional lecture delivery, others might be be more comfortable getting creative. I’ve had students put together skits, create a series of dioramas that they “lead tours” of, write songs, recount the topic through mock social media posts, and more. By letting my students choose how they learn the material and also by presenting the information to their classmates, they are increasingly engaged, material retention goes up, and they get me excited to see all the different ways they present the material (and by default they give me ideas for the next year).
I should add, I always give the students a brief overview of the topic first, and we always have some sort of “get comfortable with the vocabulary” activity that we do on the first day of the unit so that when the students are working with the material themselves they don’t hit stumbling block after stumbling block when they get to a new vocabulary term. I also, whenever appropriate and possible, have the students work into their project or presentation how the material is connected to other topics we study (the influence of the American Revolution on the French Revolution as an example) and on their lives today or when they will be adults.
I also enjoy, as do my students, “Create Your Own…” type projects. Each one always turns out differently, as they are a reflection of each group of students. Some are whole class projects and others are for specific units. Each year the results are always a bit different and that keeps things interesting for me and my students always appreciate having creative outlets. They get to create their own plan for Reconstruction, create their own corporation in the unit on Industry and Labor (those two topics are honestly not even close to being in my top 10 favorites so my kids do a lot of the heavy lifting in those units), they make a cereal box to review historical figures, create a Hollywood style bus tour, create museum displays in the classroom (or whole museums), and so much more!
These creations end up being things the kids are proud of, tell their friends in other classes about, and it gives them a sense of pride and ownership in the material. And honestly, this gives me the chance to not dread getting to a certain topic because I know my students will make it interesting for me, and they’ll learn it better with such a variety of projects and perspectives from teaching it to each other. Kids are perceptive and smart. If I’m less enthused about a topic, regardless of what’s on my face, the kids will know it and they’ll feel more inclined to zone out. They can’t zone out if they’re taking the lead.
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