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Begin with a Bang: 6 Ways to Make Students Go “Huh?”

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 15, 2014 1:55:10 PM

teachersTeachers can learn a lot from a well-written headline. Let me give you an example: When I logged onto Facebook this morning, the first post I saw was a link to a Buzzfeed article entitled, “20 Adorable Animal Couples…the Last One Astounded Me!” Did I click on it? You bet I did.

Regardless of what you teach, try beginning each lesson like Buzzfeed would—with some sort of provocative, attention-getting statement or activity that will make your students scratch their heads and go, “huh?”  Here are a few ways to do just that.

Begin with a Bang: 6 Ways to Make Students Go “Huh?”

  • Use a prop from a story you are going to read and discus. In my high school literature class, we were assigned John Steinbeck’s short story, “The Chrysanthemums.” On the day of our discussion, the teacher didn’t greet us at the door like usual. Instead, she sat cross-legged on top of her desk, staring at a plant (which, of course, turned out to be a chrysanthemum).

    This was strange behavior and certainly uncharacteristic of our teacher, but it did grab our attention. Rather than beginning our discussion with the text, we spent the first fifteen minutes of class talking about the plant on her desk, which ultimately led to a deeper discussion about Steinbeck’s story.

  • Go on a gallery walk. Set up several stations around the room and place a different image or object on each one. To give students a clear sense of purpose, provide them with a series of questions or tasks that they must complete at each station. When they are done, gather as a class and have each group share its conclusions.
  • Hand out a survey: Survey your students by asking questions and having them step to a side or corner of the room that represents their response. This gets students up and moving and out of their seats!
  • Begin with a relevant YouTube clip. Every semester, I ask my students to choose an advertisement and write a rhetorical analysis of it. I want them to not only describe their advertisement in detail, but analyze it and explain how the advertisement works, and how it delivers its message to consumers.

    Before beginning our unit on advertising, I always begin with Lucky Strike Ad Pitch,a clip from the popular AMC drama, Madmen. It goes perfectly with the unit and always sparks an interesting discussion that we might not have had otherwise.
  • Showcase a student’s work. This is another trick I picked up from a former teacher. Before my teacher would return our essays, he would select a couple from the stack and read a short section to the class. After he finished, he would talk briefly about what he liked in the essay and why he selected it. Every week, he selected essays by different students, read them aloud, and highlighted something that the student did exceptionally well. This was empowering for both the strong and weaker writers.
  • Pretend to be confused: Start class by describing a conundrum you’re experiencing and don’t know how to get out of. The only way you can get out of it is with your students’ help.

  Pedagogy with a Personality

Tags: icebreakers for teachers, student engagement

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