I am a firm believer that teaching is an art form and that only the best teachers know how to engage every student, every day. I also believe that a successful class period is often made within the first few minutes of class.
I mean, let's think about it...as teachers we all go to the dreaded in-services or conferences that are total snoozers. But every once in awhile you have the honor of taking part in a truly career- or life-changing session. These are the teachers (speakers) who are engaging and interesting to listen to. They make what they say relevant and you leave feeling energized and knowing more than when you entered the room. It sticks with you for the rest of the day. You want to go back to your classroom and incorporate what you learned. You tell other people about it. You are changed...
This is the type of teacher I strive to be.
The state lays out what we must teach, but how we teach is totally up to us. This is where the "hook" comes in.
Starting your class in an engaging way is a key component to a successful class period. For many years, I had this all backwards. I would begin class boring my students with loads of facts and figures, then hope to reel them back in with an exciting lab or demonstration. I now understand that what I do in the first 10 minutes of class will determine the success or failure of the rest of the class period. If you can just "hook" your students and get them to buy in to whatever you're selling during those first few minutes of class, they are more likely to follow wherever you may take them for the rest of the class.
What can you do to hook your students as soon as they enter your room? First of all, in my opinion, any idle time is wasted time. I like to immediately greet my students and get them working on something. And change it up! The "same old, same old" gets to be a bore. There are certainly some things that need to be routine, so that the students know what to expect to a degree, but how exciting is it for the kids to be looking forward to coming to your class each day just to see how you are going to start your class!?!
My students and co-workers can tell you that I am a very structured person. I like order and systems for getting things done efficiently. The things that are "routine" in my classroom are mostly what the students need to do as soon as they enter my classroom, how/where to hand things in, and what to do at the end of each class before leaving. These routines are mostly for my sanity and to keep things organized. I like my classes to reach a point where they pretty much run themselves and I serve as a facilitator. But what I plan for each class between all of those routines is usually a total surprise!
When my students choose to enter my classroom, they know that I expect for them to get busy on the "Do Now" for the day. This "Do Now" may consist of turning in the previous night's homework, cutting out/gluing foldables into their ISN that we will be using at some point in the class period, answering a few Warm-up type questions, or texting in their vote on a poll I have posted on the projector (I use www.polleverywhere.com for this). My agenda is written on the dry erase board everyday and the colored Expos that I use represent different things (i.e. "if it's in blue, it's something to do" [these are things that are done upon entering my room], black represents the basic things that will be done during the period, red is for homework or special reminders such as upcoming tests/quizzes [a few of my students came up with a rhyme for this one - "if it's in red, don't forget it or you'll be dead!"]) My students are welcome to socialize in the hallway before the class period begins or in my classroom (as long as all of the people involved in the socializing are busy working on a task that allows them to work and talk at the same time.) If they can't work and talk, then no talking. And obviously, there are some "Do Nows" that will not allow them to socialize at all, like warm-up questions that I expect to be done alone, etc...
Everything has a place in my room. Students have colored hand-in boxes for each class period. They know where the ScienceSaurus books go, the ISN's, the lab equipment, etc... My lab tables have drawers and each top drawer (shared between 2 students) has all of the supplies that they may need throughout a typical class period (2 scissors, 2 glues, erasers, colored pencils, rulers, Post-it pad, grading pens, highlighters, hand-held pencil sharpener, etc...) Everything is located nearby and very convenient for each student to put it back where it came from. Things not being put back "in their place" is one of my biggest pet peeves, so my students quickly learn how NOT to get me upset (although there is always the handful who I swear move supplies just to get my feathers ruffled)!
Before I dismiss my students, I like for them to have their lab tables cleaned up, lab stools pushed in, any resources they used to be returned to the correct location, trash picked up, etc... Other than the routines at the beginning and end of class, everyday in my classroom is different. I have labs, card sorts, group work, partner work, individual work, station rotations, task card scavenger hunts, vocabulary, short reading passages, snow ball fights, quick investigations, demonstrations, foldables, graphic organizers, research using various forms of technology, student BrainPop video creations, watching BrainPop videos with quizzes afterwards, music videos, short video clips for engagement, etc... (you get the point...)
Here is a list of some ideas for ways to "hook" your students at the beginning of class. And as I mentioned before, keep rotating through your hooks.
- Have a science music video playing as students enter your room. When the bell rings, play it one more time for the students who came in right at the bell and so everyone can focus on the lyrics. A great YouTube Channel to check out is Mr. Parr's YouTube videos
- Use Admit Tickets - Hand the tickets out as they leave class and explain that they will have to have "X", "Y", and maybe "Z" on the ticket in order to be admitted to class the following day. It could be as simple as "Write 1 thing you learned from your homework, or learned in class" and "1 thing you have a question about". In addition, let them know that they should be prepared to talk about what they wrote. The next day, stand at the door and collect the admit tickets. Pick 5 that best summarize the content from the homework or from the previous class. Read these aloud to the class and ask questions to clarify understanding. Pick 5 questions to address about the homework or class content. Get the students more involved - after reading each question, have them discuss the question with their "shoulder partner" and then randomly call on students to answer the question. Click HERE to be taken to a generic Admit Ticket on my Teachers Pay Teachers site for only $2.
- Have a quick engagement activity for students to work on that doesn't require much prior knowledge on the content. For example, before studying light-years as a measure of distances between celestial objects, have the students measure various distances in your classroom using different objects such as a pencil, a meter-stick, a piece of string (pre-cut by you), etc... After completing this activity, it will serve as a great springboard for discussing why using meters or miles is often not reasonable for measuring distances in the universe because of the vast distances. Using these units will also produce numbers that are very large and difficult to work with. ("It was most difficult to measure from the teachers desk to the back door using a pencil because it was such a large distance and the pencil was so small. It ended up being a distance of about 122 pencils. It was much easier to measure that distance using the long piece of string. The distance measured 2 1/2 strings.")
- Inner/Outer Circle - before class, post about 10 questions on the board that relate to the homework, previous lesson, or new material to be used as an anticipatory set). Make sure that these questions don't require a simple "yes" or "no" response. You want the questions to stimulate discussions or explanations.
- Can scientists predict earthquakes? Why or why not?
- Was the change in yesterday’s experiment a physical or chemical change? What observations do you have to support your answer?
- Would you rather have mitosis that is out of control or meiosis that is out of control? What is the number one reason that made you choose your answer?
- Top 10 - Divide the students into 10 groups Have each group come up with the Top 10 words that relate to or summarize the topic (from the previous night's homework, from yesterday's lesson, etc..). Students should discuss and justify the words to their group members. After all of the groups are done, have each group pick the ONE WORD from their list that is most important and have them write it on the board. No repeated words can be written on the board! When all groups have written their contribution to the class Top 10 list, go through the list, one by one, asking each group to justify or explain why they chose that word. Ask the other groups to raise their hand if they had that word on their list.
- Would You Rather? - The day before, send students home with instructions to come to class with 3 "Would You Rather" questions written on a piece of paper. Two of the questions should be related to the content being covered in class, while the 3rd question is the student's choice. The next day, as students enter, collect their questions and put them in a bag. If possible, move the student desks to the outer part of the room and have the entire class stand in a circle. Draw one of the papers out of the bag and read one of the questions. If students choose/agree with Option A, have them step to the center of the circle. If they choose/agree with Option B, have them remain where they are. Allow the 2 groups 30 seconds to discuss with each other why they feel the way they do, emphasizing the use of data and observations to support their reasoning. Depending on how animated the kids are and how well you stick to the time frames allowed for discussion, you should be able to get through 20-25 questions in about 10 minutes. Save the questions you don't have time to get to.
- Some examples of "Would You Rather" questions:
- Would you rather live in an area that is prone to tornadoes or an area that is prone to earthquakes?
- Would you rather live forever or never feel pain?
- Would you rather eat only protein or only sucrose?
- Would you rather be a tree or a rock?
- Would you rather continuously evolve or stay exactly the same?
- Would you rather be a physicist or a chemist?
- Would you rather have the job of your dreams and be broke or hate your job and be rich?