We need to talk about goldfish. Though often considered the most boring of pets, these fascinating little fish actually have a long history of being misrepresented throughout the animal kingdom. For example, many people have heard the “fact” that a goldfish’s memory only lasts for three seconds. In reality, a goldfish can remember something up to three months. They also have a reputation for croaking early, but the average goldfish can live to be 40 years old if properly maintained. Now consider its awareness. People laugh when they discover a goldfish has an attention span of only nine seconds, but do you know what species is even worse? Humans. That’s right, you literally have a shorter attention span than a goldfish!
This news probably won’t surprise educators. As teachers, we know all-too-well the struggle of keeping students engaged on a daily basis. “What’s for lunch?” “Does my hair look funny?” “I haven’t checked Instagram in a while.” “Fortnite is getting new swords!” these thoughts battle constantly for your students’ attention as you’re trying to teach them geography. If teachers hope to win the war of concentration, we need to implement strategies of engagement within our classrooms. Thankfully, several constructive methods exist which can help us achieve victory. Here are six ways teachers can better engage their classroom:
Start Off Strong
Students respond to dynamic action. If you want them to stay engaged, make sure you hook them early. One way to accomplish this is through demonstrations. Create a chemical reaction during a Science class or recite a poem at the beginning of English. If you want to encourage collaboration, surveys are a good tool for sharing opinions. Other times, all you need is something they can touch, like a fossil or a model airplane. Don’t be afraid to jump into your lesson feet first!
Keep it Brief
Droning on is a sure way to lose an audience. Make sure you keep your lectures short and to the point. This doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. If you know an interesting historical tidbit or fun fact behind a certain subject, feel free to share. Just be aware of your time. Initiate quick-write exercises. If you’re reading To Kill a Mockingbird, give students a minute to summarize what they have learned or what questions they still have. As they say, “Timing is everything.”
Make it Relevant
Don’t be fooled, “Why should I learn this?” is an important question. Students fare better when they have a relevant connection to the content. Have them keep a journal as a way of personalizing the information. For topics which involve multiple opinions or possible outcomes, draw a line in the room and have them choose a side. This is particularly useful when discussing literary themes, state and federal rights, and scientific inquiry. By putting the outcome in their hands, students become deeply invested in the journey.
Lists, charts, and graphs are a great way to get students involved. The work forces them to contribute their own ideas and, if handled correctly, gets them up and moving throughout the classroom. Comparing examples with partners is a good way to foster interaction while expanding their view of a subject. Meanwhile, allowing them to monitor their own learning via signals, brainstorming, or achievement goals will ensure they don’t get left behind. Remember, a teacher’s job isn’t to dispense information, it’s to create learning opportunities.
Who doesn’t like games? The more interactive you can make a lesson, the more engaged your students will be. Creating a Jeopardy!-themed event with small prizes, or building a scavenger hunt which allows for discovery, are creative ways to motivate students. Even something as simple as an acrostic puzzle can keep them occupied while exploring the day’s topic. Games have always been used to teach complicated subjects, so go ahead and have some fun!
It’s hard not to become predictable. We all fall into our own routines, habits, and schedules. Constantly surprising students with improvisation or creativity feels like an impossible task. But teachers really are in a battle for their students’ attention, and the effort must be made to remain surprising. One approach is to always try new things. Use a new website, assign a new book, and construct a new activity. Keep students on their toes. Mix up the social groups in your classroom so students learn to be flexible. So long as you never fall into an established routine, chances are your students never will either.