by Annemarie Stockton, AmeriCorps member serving with Channing Elementary School

In my four months of service with City Year Boston, I've learned a lot about supporting and motivating my students. Students are people too, and putting myself in their shoes has helped me hit on effective strategies to help them learn. Here are three of the most important techniques I've learned.

1. Get students moving. We’ve all been there—stuck in a meeting, a lecture, behind a desk, just itching to stretch our limbs. How many times have you escaped a conference or meeting to just go walk around under the guise of using the bathroom? Our students (and us adults, too) need to move. Allowing them the opportunity to be involved in a different, more physical manner will allow them to be better engaged in the way we are asking of them. Incorporating movement wherever you can into the lesson is crucial to a successful learning experience. Having the students stand up behind their desk, walk to a different place in the room, or, if they are able, do some light exercise, allows them to focus and get back on track. Whenever I see my students nodding off, I’ll either take them for a brisk stroll down the hall or I’ll have them bust out 10 jumping jacks. The mental and physical break allows the student to get back on task in order to be their best, most successful self.

2. Give them a role in the lesson. I can only take a short amount of time being talked at before I start to tune out. However, whenever I’m given a role, I am instantly more engaged. Students also benefit from having a role in the classroom whether that be showing their work on the board, teaching their neighbor how to solve a problem, or having a specific task in a group project. But my personal favorite is Think-Pair-Share (TPS). TPS encourages the students to first think quickly and critically about their response to the question. Next, they pair up with someone near them and discuss what they came up with. This step is vital because this is where they collaborate with one another to test out the kinks in their individual responses to make one Super Answer. The final step is share, where they are given the floor to explain their brilliance to the class or a larger group. I’ve found that following this three step, trial and error tactic enables the students to be more comfortable sharing their opinion. By giving students these participatory roles, you allow them to have ownership of their personal learning. This keeps students interested, and most importantly, engaged.

3. Make it a game. I think I speak for most people when I say that playing games is more fun than just plain learning. Sometimes it can be beneficial to combine the two. If a student perceives an activity as fun, then they are more likely to engage with it. Easier said than done, right? Your first step is to find out what they are interested in. If they like running around, try the Fly Swatter Game. This game is fun, easy, and keeps everyone engaged. Break the students into two teams and have their team stand in a line, giving the first players fly swatters. When you read a question to the class, have the first player from each team race to the board and slap the answer from the maze of words you’ve created. But this is just one example! You can always incorporate sports and other games that the students like to keep them interested. Do they like basketball? Try Trashketball! Do they like working independently? How about Bingo? Creativity combined with student collaboration is key to keeping the students engaged.

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