5 ways to energize your students while they learn


You're in the middle of your school year and you're trying to keep your students motivated through those hump months. Or it's the beginning of a new semester and you want to make it clear that your classroom is a great place to be. Sometimes you just need something quick and engaging to get some engagement in the classroom, and the best way to do this is with short, activities that build skills at the same time. I've collected some of my favorite strategies here and am offering you 5 ways to energize your students while they learn.

1. Do it standing up

Many of the exercises we ask students to do can be done on their feet. When any human sits for long periods of time, the natural inclination to veg kicks in. If we build in opportunities for students to move a bit during class, you will be amazed at how it improves energy and engagement.

And you don't need to plan something elaborate to make this happen.

The think-pair-share is a well-used strategy in many classrooms: pose a question, give students time to reflect, then have them share with a partner. It's an effective way to get all students thinking. However, when I read the room and see that I may be losing the students, I'll get them to do a stand and share instead. It's exactly the same as the turn-and-talk, they just do it standing up.

And just giving students a few minutes to stand can do wonders for re-energizing them.

I used lots of activities that required students to work standing up. If you like the idea, check out these blog posts:

The Gallery Walk

Quote walk

Take it to the wall

10 ways to get students moving to learn

NOTE: the first time you get students to stand to work, you may have to cajole them into it. You aren't teaching physics but a body at rest does tend to stay at rest. Once you train them, however, your students will get into it. Trust me. I did it every semester with every group of students I had- and it works!

Now on to some other ways you can energize your students while they learn.

2. Energize with a Sentence Stem Challenge

If you'd like to help your students improve the discussions they have in class, try this sentence stem challenge.

Tbis strategy is the perfect way to energize your students because not only will they enjoy the competition of the challenge, they will also practice their skills for discussion. It's also something that can take very little time.

There are two ways you can do this:

The quickest and easiest version do when they are studying a text together - a novel, a short story, even a poem. Group your students and give them sentence stems for discussing author technique (👉🏻 grab it here).  Tell your students that they will be competing to see which group can come up with the most accurate assertions about the text in the time you give them.

Timing will depend on the age of your students and complexity of the text, so you'll have to be the judge of that. However, I'd probably start with five minutes and then circulate to see how they are getting along. Give them a one minute warning when it looks like most are getting to the end.

This is a great way to know only energize your students, but also to have them practice writing analytically.

You can do something similar with discussion stems: assign a topic that you think students will engage with, one that will have multiple points of view. For example, should we have school uniforms? Would a four day school week work? Should our screen time be limited?

First, start by giving students a handout with some sentence starters or stems. You can access some of mine here. Then, group them and tell them you want them to brainstorm how they feel about the topic. Then, you get reps from each group up to the front of the room to practice debating the issue using the sentence stems. You'll get more detail and direction here.

If your students like this, extend it with an argumentative or persuasive challenge (that's fun to do and easy to grade!)

3. Sagas or 100 word narratives engage students

These short, meaningful stories can pack a powerful punch that energizes even the most apathetic student. Most students love to tell their stories, and when you give them a short, focused way to do so, they'll get engaged. 

Start with a six word memoir: Tell the story of this class right now. Give them this example (or one of your own) as a jumping off point: Students look bored; must change something.  Or Bell's ringing soon. Time to dance. 

Next, you can move on to more words with sagas, short 50-100 word narratives that focus on point of view and conflict. My students used to have so much fun with these that they often begged to do more. Seriously.

Energize students with sagas

You can check out my saga lesson here. The New York Times also has lots of ideas and examples for 100 word narratives.

4. Create a fake TikTok video as a character in your book

If your school is ok with students using phones, have them work in small groups or pairs to create a fake TikTok video that captures some aspect of a character in a text you are studying together.

Tell them to pick one characteristic and that the content of the video needs to illustrate this trait without a) saying who the character is and b) what the trait is. Students will submit the videos to you and guess as a class who and what each group was trying to capture.

Your students will have a hoot - and practice their analytical skills at the same time.

5. Teach analysis with visuals 

If you want to build your students' analytical muscles, spend some time analyzing visuals. They find them much less intimidating than text. And, let's face it, many of them spend more time inundated with visuals than the ideas in the books we give them to read. So it makes sense to devote some time to analyzing them.

To do this, find some interesting visuals and ask your students to analyze what the creator was trying to achieve with it. Your students will enjoy the process and use skills they can transfer to close reading.

You  can get more ideas for teaching visual literacy here.

So there are 5 ways you can energize your students while they learn. Which one might you use with yours?

Here are more ideas from my friends here in the Coffee Shop:

8 Ways to get students moving

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