One of the best ways to engage and motivate students is to apply learning to real-world situations or to associate the learning with something that students can identify with. The examples that follow have been used successfully in classrooms around the country and can be adapted for your subject and situation.
1. In social studies, history, or Government, hold a Party Convention to teach the principles of the democratic process. One teacher in Nebraska organizes a party convention with affiliation to any major party, and then breaks his class up into as many two or three student state delegations as possible. After appointing one student as “the candidate,” students research their state and attend the convention as delegates of their state.
2. Another social studies or history example is to reenact major events, such as the Battle of Bunker Hill, or the Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. As the teacher, you might dress up and set the stage before acting such things out yourself, or you might engage the class more deeply by including them in the process.
3. Math and science concepts lend themselves well to music. Put your students into groups and have them create a song or rap to help remember the concept being discussed. I’ve talked repeatedly about the value of music in remembering information and this strategy bears inclusion again here. Bringing students into the process and allowing them to use music they love motivates them to participate and remember. There are a variety of resources available on my website.
4. Teachers have been using animals like fish, reptiles, and amphibians in the classroom for years to teach students about life-cycle, habitat, and responsibility. The problem with this idea is that, over time, the process becomes more chore than treat for students. Another approach, and something that many communities offer, might be to have service animals brought in during specific days or times. These animals are specially trained for a variety of tasks and service organizations are always on the lookout for ways to help train these animals by offering them opportunities to interact with others. This is an especially good activity for involving students with special needs and can be adapted to a variety of subject areas.
5. Having a cook-off or using food examples is an excellent way for students to apply concepts like fractions, U.S to metric conversions, geometry. Teach fractions using a pizza or cake. Show how a sandwich is a square until you cut it in half and it becomes two triangles.
6. One life skills activity that reaches students can be applied to a variety of teaching moments. Give students an ‘entertainment budget’ and have them use their ‘money’ to purchase a new gaming system with games and extras. Make the budget small enough to be challenging. Many students have no concept of the skills involved in managing money, but they will apply critical thinking to the mathematics with this sort of challenge activity.
7. Hold a mock trial with lawyers, a judge, etc. to examine the judicial process, act out current or historical events, or to deter students from making poor life decision. Many high school criminal justice courses use this activity, sometimes including field trips to actual courtrooms, but the idea can be applied to a number of other courses and ideas as well.
For more information on differentiation strategies to reach ALL learners, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Special Needs in the General Classroom, Strategies That Make It Work. Available in both print and electronic versions!
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