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Teachers are always looking to better facilitate the understanding, retention, and application of new information for their students, but students have diverse learning needs and each may require an individual—creative— approach. Instead of dreading disengagement, acknowledge it and begin to build your arsenal against it.
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1. Give your students autonomy
Classroom activities which allow students to self-monitor can increase active participation, so let students work in groups and even (at times) dictate what they’ll learn. Perhaps schedule an hour-long lab once a week where students can research and learn about any topic of their choosing.
It is also important to allow students to set both academic and behavioral goals for themselves; then, help them work to accomplish these goals. The ability to set their own goals and work toward them provides individual meaning and purpose. Achieving those goals then becomes a matter of meeting personal standards—not those set by an outside authority.
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2. Draw connections between lessons and life
Connect the classroom to your students’ lives, and they can’t help but stay interested. Making the topic relatable is part of the journey to understanding. Make sure new information is both challenging, accessible, and relatable. For example, if you’re finishing a unit about cause and effect, ask your students to illustrate an example of cause and effect from their own lives. Or, you could create a classroom garden to supplement a unit on the life cycle of plants.
By giving students an assignment that makes them consider a concept in connection to their own lives, you’re reinforcing their understanding of that concept. And, by asking for them to illustrate this experience or perform this action themselves, you’re making the learning process fun.
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3. Cater to multiple learning styles
It’s impossible to tailor every lesson to each student’s learning style. However, you can plan lessons that encompass as many teaching methods as possible.
Offer as many mediums as possible for your students to learn. Allow for group projects, encourage creative presentations, and present lessons in which students participate in tactile learning. Teach using a combination of visual and auditory cues to help students with various strengths grasp the material. Allow creativity through self-expression, performance, technology, and media. These are all ways to enhance the learning process and boost classroom morale.
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4. Bring in presenters
Mix things up by involving community members in your lessons. Find interesting presenters with unique experiences and skills to liven up units. Perhaps there is an Abraham Lincoln impersonator who can bring life to your unit on the Civil War or a wildlife rescue volunteer who can discuss local wildlife. These presentations and activities work in your favor by changing up the day-to-day routine and presenting new information in a fun way.
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5. Fill every minute with active learning
Some students simply cannot sit quietly for more than 20 minutes without feeling anxious. Fill every single minute of class time, being careful to allot pockets of free time as well. Plan on including activities that are both interesting and short, to account for wandering minds and short attention spans. If students are working on an in-class assignment, you can be engaging in one-on-ones with students who have demonstrated the need for help. Allow students to explore self-expression, art, and public speaking, while also scheduling time for class discussion.
While there are many different variables to consider when designing your lesson plans, there are also some very straightforward and simple strategies that are both useful and effective. Sometimes it takes work and careful planning to engage students, but as long as you are willing to be innovative, you can lead a cohesive and fun classroom. If you start seeing symptoms of the onset of ‘zoning-out,’ consider these creative ways to engage your students.
Sasa Afredi is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.