How you can inject joy into your daily lesson plans
True story: I’m a bit of a nerd.
I like to spend my mornings looking up random facts that strike my fancy and researching things that have very little relevance to my actual everyday life because it’s fun and it’s interesting.
Recently, my current research hobby has been marketing. From random blogs and podcasts to Seth Godin’s book, This is Marketing, I feel as if I’ve learned a lot, and a lot of what I’ve learned is actually surprisingly relevant to teaching.
As 21st century teachers, much of what we do involves “selling” education to our students: why do you want to learn this? How does this apply to your life? Why do you need to know this fact I’m trying to teach you?
It is when our marketing fails that our students become disinterested.
Seth Godin, in his TED Talk on spreading ideas, noted that it is no longer acceptable just to market “average things to average people.” Our products must be remarkable, meaning that people must have talkability; people must be driven to remark on our products.
When I think about my best “products” (i.e. lesson plans), there’s an element of talkability inherent in them. Students feel driven to tell their friends, their parents, and other teachers about what they did and what they learned. Maybe talkability takes the form of a whole-class debate over whether technology is forever damaging society; maybe it takes to form of a horror story unit where we discuss the nature of fear. Regardless, talkability is one of the modern teacher’s greatest tools.
So then, this begs the question: How can I build talkability in my own classroom?
Here are a few strategies and ideas that may help…
1. Identify relevant and engaging connections between your students’ world and your lesson plans
We are blessed to live in an age of connections and information. Even though it can be overwhelming and distracting, information is always at our fingertips in the form of television shows, news articles, podcasts, etc. With a little bit of your own research power, you have the ability to find connections between your content and the world your students are engaged in.
Are you doing a short story unit including horror stories? Make connections between American Horror Story, Castle Rock, and other great horror stories/movies/shows/books of our day and age.
Are you doing a unit on dystopian worlds? Make connections between the dystopias they are already familiar with (Black Mirror, The Good Place, Hunger Games, etc.) and the ones they are about to study.
If you’re doing a unit on Shakespearean language, engage students through having them adapt pop songs into Shakespearean pop sonnets.
Making those meaningful connections is the first step to talkability.
2. Similarly to my previous point, look for ways to break the mold with your teaching.
Do something different than students might expect.
Many times this “something different” takes on the form of student choice,, debates, movement, games, or challenge.
It may seem simple, but, instead of giving students worksheets, give them task cards. Let them move from station to station while answering questions.
Instead of just having students learn how to write a persuasive paper, give them something to debate and have them debate with one another.
Rather than having all students work lock-step on the same nonfiction text (which can also be spiced up to break the mold), have students choose their own books on their own interests and seek to conference with each of them.
Rather than just writing a research paper, have them plan and research for a TED Talk on the topic of their choice that they have to present to an audience of their peers. Have students create something that they’re proud of and they will be so excited to share that discovery with others. This is what makes learning stick.
3. Finally, recognize that every student is different and that “remarkability” varies from student to student.
My last caveat is that – in order to be talkable – we must keep in mind our “consumers” (students) wants and needs. They vary from year to year, so we as teachers must be intentional about identifying what connections or challenges will be more pertinent than others.
We’ve all had those lesson plans that worked wonderfully with one group of kids and flopped with another. We must intentionally learn about our students and what brings them joy in order to serve them.
There are many ways that we can do this. We can have regular chats with our students about what makes them tick, give them interest surveys, ask students about what they want to learn, and give them choices.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed!