3 Ways to Get Your Teens to Dig Deeper

Do some of your students like to skate across the surface of things, just doing the bare minimum to get by? I certainly have my share every year. I also have quite a number of students who want to do their best, but they need more guidance to be able to push themselves to the next level. I've found that I get so much more out of my students when I do the following: 

Lessons and activities for middle and high school English
Students have a tendency to put their focus so much on creating a final product, that they skip over important parts of the process -- and those parts are where the magic happens. Unless we force their hand sometimes, many will take the easy way out and just "get 'er done." When my kids are reading, writing or speaking, I build in opp-ortunities in class that require them to slow down and think. Learning to analyze complex texts, for example, is difficult, but it's less so when students realize that even we English teachers have to go through a process when we analyze -- it doesn't just come to us magically. I also focus on the process when they write, taking them through the steps necessary to write something great. Giving an effective presentation requires a thinking process as well, so we spend time on that too. Even something as simple as a bell ringer prompt turns into an opportunity to dig deeper. Before they begin any prompt, students need to brainstorm. Then, in the following days (or later in the class), they spend time on the different skills they can use to turn the prompt into a effective piece of writing. You can try one of these by clicking here

All of this process work takes time, of course, but to me it's time very well spent.

Collaboration is an important part of the thinking process for so many reasons. The ability to listen and ask good questions during discussion is a key component of learning, because speaking allows us to explore our ideas; hearing the ideas of others helps us to take them even further. 

My students do a lot of work together in groups, but they need to be shown how to do that effectively too. Early in the semester, I take volunteers to the front of the room to help me model what effective collaboration looks like. Then, I provide discussion starters for the students to use when they work in groups. Most of the group activities I have them do require that they follow a process to get to an end product, so I constantly marry process with collaboration.

Lessons and activities for middle and high school English classes.
One of my favourite new tools for student collaboration are my placemats. They are not only colourful and fun to use, but they take students through a process they can follow when they work together in groups. I especially like them because they begin with individual reflections, some-thing many of our students need to do before they can share their ideas with others. Then, students are guid-ed through a process that helps them complete the task in a way that requires that they fully flesh out the idea on the placemat. 

Classroom decor
If we want our students to grow, they need to be willing to take risks. And, if we want them to do that, we need to provide them safe place to do so. One of the first activities I do each semester focuses on the importance of failure in life and learning. I love this activity because it gets the kids talking about learning from failure while I teach and model the skills they will need to be successful throughout the year. It is also the first time I will give them a formative assessment, as they get descriptive feedback on the responses they do for the unit. Using formative assessment is a sure way to encourage your students to try new things, to stretch just a little bit farther. (Would you like to grab the poster in the above image? Grab it  here.)

When we put a focus on process, collaboration and risk-taking, we give our students quite a gift. They won't often analyze a text or write an essay in years to come, but they will be working with others. They will need to think. They will definitely need to be friends with failure. By giving them a safe place to hone these skills, we are preparing them for a lifetime of learning.

Back to Top