All teachers know that one of the hardest things to do is getting your students re-motivated after a big break. If three day weekends weren’t hard enough – a big break like the winter holiday can often seem to take away any hope of students reengaging in their studies. Luckily, it’s not impossible to get students back on track and it can be made easier with some creativity on your part.
Having your students come in, sit at their tables, and get straight back to the grind does nothing for them and can often cause behaviour or attention problems. Our brain constantly receives large amounts information. To counteract this, it puts a filter on incoming sensory information. It then gives priority to information that is out of the ordinary, or: new.
The first thing your students want to do when they get back is talk with their friends about everything they’ve been up to. Their brains are attracted to new things right? So it’s no wonder that seeing their friends after so long and having so many new stories to tell is at the forefront of their thoughts. Use this to your advantage. Spend a period allowing students to speak about their holidays with creative restrictions. For example, let them share stories from their break but they must also talk about a kind act that they saw or performed.
In order for a learning environment to function properly, the students must not only be listening to what you say but also retaining the information given. You need their full attention. As neurologist Judy Willis states, “you can use strategies to make sure the sensory information you provide (through what you say, show, do, or have them experience through physical movement) gets through their attention filters.” Here is where the creativity on your part comes in. Things need to be different in the classroom to hit that hot button in the brain that says things are new and exciting. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started. They may seem simple but science says they work.
Physically change things around. Why not reorganise the classroom over the break so that students come back to something completely different? Perhaps have exciting new posters or pictures on the wall pertaining to the unit or activity they are about to begin. Place hints around the classroom that have to do with the new unit, but don’t address them so students are left wondering.
Verbal cues for attention. The brain is naturally drawn to things that are unknown or curious. Leaving a mid-sentence pause followed by important information is a great way to tune every brain in the room into what you’re about to say. As an added bonus, it can increase the likelihood that the brain will retain the memory of what you say or do after the pause.
Changes in movement. Take something ordinary like writing a lesson plan on the board and do something unique with it. Judy Willis suggests walking backwards to get their attention. Another suggestion is having a few students each write part of the lesson plan. Just make sure the usual routine is turned on its head for a new and exciting stimulus.
Rotate. A great way to really shake things up is to change the seating arrangement. To make things a bit more interesting, why not hand out a riddle or a joke at the door and have the answer sitting on the desk. Make them look and wonder which desk is theirs.