Lesson #4 in Student Engagement – Make Your Classroom Fun

Who said learning wasn’t fun? If you’ve spent too much time in academia, however, you start to get the feeling that learning isn’t fun.

Students hate going to class, professors are teaching too many classes. Homework, tests, grading – it all starts to overwhelm and make the learning process kind of a drag.

Here’s the crazy thing: most people cite learning as one of life’s most rewarding activities.

One of the best ways to make your classroom fun is to be surprising. In our last post we talked about experimenting to find your voice. Well one of the benefits of trying new voices is it can wake your students up by providing them with the same old material but in a fresh and different way.

In a sense, when you experiment with your voice you are doing something surprising. This can really reach out and grab your students – especially those who have gone into a coma in the back row of your classroom.

How to be surprising?

It’s often easy to get in a rut doing your same old routine but it’s pretty simple to do something different and surprising.

  1. Expand to related topics: Every class has some material that is related to current events so don’t be afraid to talk about industry trends or things in the news. Real life examples have a way of sparking interest. Look for the angle that will make your students say ‘Wow, I had no idea.’
  2. Have your lecture somewhere else: Teach outside or at a restaurant. There is something cool about learning outside of an academic building. Things seem more relevant and the conversation seems to flow more freely.
  3. Change your voice level: If you’re usually pretty quite – yell. If you’re usually loud – speak softly. This is a trick from musicians. If you change your dynamics you’ll have a much better chance of keeping your audience engaged than if you play at the same level the whole time. Works the same way in the classroom.
  4. Use metaphors: Everyone loves a good metaphor. Metaphors can peak a student’s interest because they want to know where it will lead. Students also tend to remember weird and strange metaphors so the more outlandish the metaphor the better.
  5. Humor: One of my favorite days of the year is April fool’s day. Students will remember a good April fool’s day joke for years, plus, everyone loves a good prankster. Before you pull out your jokes check them at the door to make sure they relate to your students. A bad joke can really put a damper on things.

Extra Tip – Coming up with fresh and surprising ways to present information can take work but can also be fun if you listen to the crazy ideas you come up with in your head. Often these ideas start out just plain bizarre, but if you can capture them and shape them into reality it will be well worth it.

These kind of surprising moments are the things that get students talking about your class and generate buzz on campus.

Homework: Shut down your computer and go to some place convenient you usually don’t visit. Pull out a pen and some paper and right down a topic you will lecture on in the next week. After you’ve done that, create a mind map of all the crazy ways you can present this information. No idea is too crazy. No idea is too weird. Do this for 15 minutes or so and afterward weed through the ideas and find the ones you can make work and voila! You’ve turned your old lecture material into something new, fresh and interesting – something that is sure to be fun for your students.

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Photo credit: Eole