The image of the bored, half-asleep, daydreaming teen sitting in a high school classroom is all too familiar for teachers. Most teenagers seem to treat school days like a prison sentence.A recent poll found that the top two words teenagers most associate with school are “bored” and “tired,” and this probably isn’t all that surprising. With schedules that are often packed with difficult classes, homework, and extracurricular activities, teenagers likely find sitting in a desk for hours a day to be pretty low on the excitement scale.
As teachers, the task of keeping students interested and engaged can often feel like a steep challenge. Teachers are competing with endless distractions, sleepiness, and a general lack of motivation. It may be a challenge to find new and inventive ways to help form a more positive view of the school experience for students, but it is a worthy challenge nonetheless. By implementing a few new engagement techniques, teachers may be able to encourage students to be more engaged in class and to put an end to that prison sentence.
Make Relevant Connections
One of the best ways to get teenagers interested is by talking about the things they know and care about, whether that’s pop culture, music, or television shows. For example, creating an English lesson around crafting tweets from the characters in the class novel could be a fun, new way to approach looking at the text. Making references to pop culture within the lesson, or even opening up the floor for student input and feedback about how the class material relates to their everyday lives, could make way for lively conversation.
Some teachers who use Power Point put related memes or GIFs in their presentations to break up the information and maybe get a laugh or two from the otherwise weary students. By tying in things the students enjoy engaging with outside the classroom, teachers may be able to foster more interest in the classroom.
Teenagers like playing games, even if they might roll their eyes at first. There are tons of easy, classroom-friendly games that teachers can implement into just about any lesson in any subject to help keep students on their toes and interacting with one another. One go-to game is throwing a beach ball around the room to choose who will answer the next question. Or, write questions on the colored sections of the ball, and whichever section the catcher’s thumb lands on, they have to answer. Create a game of Jeopardy made out of questions from the study guide for an upcoming test and split the class into teams to play. Since many students are grade-driven, consider offering an extra point or two on an assignment to the winner(s).
Work in Groups
Group work is an easy, fail-safe way to get students moving around and talking. Students can be broken into groups to work on any number of assignments, from answering complex discussion questions, to creating a presentation on a textbook chapter to teach to their classmates. If students are particularly disengaged when it comes to class discussion, try putting them into small groups of 3-5 and giving them a set of questions on index cards. Challenge them to spend 5 minutes discussing each question, and ask them to be prepared to share their thoughts with the class. By giving students time to bounce ideas off of one another in a smaller setting, they may feel more prepared to share those ideas to the larger class afterwards.
Using the space in the room is a great way to get students on their feet, rather than sitting stagnantly through a lesson. Four corners is an activity in which the teacher will label each corner of the room with an answer of sorts (for example, the corners might be “strongly agree,” “agree,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree,”). Then, the teacher will ask questions and/or make statements and ask students to move to which corner of the room they identify with. Once in their chosen corners, students can discuss why they chose that corner. Not only will the activity get students out of their seats, it will also require them to make a conscious and critical decision about what they think about the material of the lesson.
If there is any kind of technology available in the classroom for students and/or teachers to use, teachers could try implementing it into a lesson plan. With some schools around the country moving to one-to-one technology (one device per one student), there are more and more opportunities to incorporate these devices in the learning process. Since most teenagers are nothing short of glued to their tech, using it in the classroom could definitely help keep them more interested in the material. Online platforms like Kahoot! can be used to create interactive quizzes and polls that students can participate in from their own devices, giving them a bit of agency over how the lesson unfolds and what they get out of it.
Participate and Learn With Students
Just because the teacher is in the front of the room doesn’t mean there isn’t anything they can learn from their students. Rather than maintaining an entirely authoritative position in the classroom, teachers can participate in projects, share their own experiences and interests, and get to know their students’ interests. Asking students questions about the things they’re fluent in can make them feel as though the things they care about are interesting and what they have to offer is valuable.