We all remember that one teacher that we had that was able to keep the whole class mesmerized. Somehow, she/he was able to keep the whole class on the edge of their seat. They all wanted to hear what she was going to say or do next. And somehow, she could probably ask the class to do anything, and the whole class would think it was amazing. Undoubtedly, her lesson planning as well as ability to relate to her students was behind her great success.
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Those teachers are few and far between. Unfortunately, they are the exception rather than the rule. Most of us teachers would love to hold that significance with our students. But sometimes it’s just hard to figure out how to capture the attention of our whole class on a daily basis. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 1990, the average number of students per teacher was 17.4. Of course, this number could change depending on the location of the school, amount of funding the school was receiving, and type of school surveyed (public vs. private). By 2015, that number had only changed to 16.2. See more details on the chart on NCES’ website here.
That is a large number of kids to keep interested in what you want to teach them. The kids are also coming from all different walks of life, different family dynamics, and different levels of learning. Each child in the class is also going to have a different personality, interests, and dislikes. It seems like an impossible task to try to hold everyone’s attention at the same time. Add to that the fact that you feel the need to actually make them excited about what they are learning. A good number of students are already not fond of spending their day at school, so how do we even begin to reach them?
How Does a Teacher Shape Lesson Planning to Reflect This?
Probably the number one thing we can provide for our students is a truly listening ear. We generally hear what they are saying to us, but are we understanding it from their perspective? Are we taking the time to actually listen to what they are trying to communicate? Or are we just physically hearing the words they are speaking to us without true understanding? This is a very difficult task, especially in a large classroom where all of the students are vying for the teacher’s attention and help. And even the best teacher in the world will not succeed in this all of the time.
But truthfully, the students aren’t expecting perfection from you. They are desiring that you genuinely care about them and reflect that in the respect and attention you give them as people. They are used to being treated as “less than.” When an adult actually pays attention and makes them feel like they are worth listening to, it opens up a whole new world for them.
The Practical Stuff that Shapes Your Lesson Planning.
I believe that the majority of teachers aspire to this in the classroom, and most do a great job most of the time. We are all human, though, and even the most patient person has their limits. But let’s look at seven more things that can make all the difference in classroom enthusiasm and participation.
The next seven items in my list are actually under the heading of variety in the classroom. Once the students know they are being listened to and that they are valued, they tend to flourish academically. So, now let’s concentrate on more tangible ways to make that happen!
Developing Great Comprehension
Number two is encouraging students to express themselves through mastery of comprehension. Discussions that are on point but still allow the students to express their thoughts, comparisons, and applications will grow their confidence in everything they read. When students are wrong about certain concepts, we can gently bring their thinking around without embarrassing them. Try to focus on some aspect of their thinking that is correct. Then you can go on to help guide their train of thought to a better conclusion. This allows them to feel comfortable sharing in front of others and develop and grow their analysis skills.
Number three is capitalizing on those students whose imagination runs wild. This is certainly more common in the younger grades. In middle and high school, though, there are still some students who have not allowed their imagination to be hampered by life. Capitalize on students’ imaginative ideas to help get the rest of the class engaged.
I have taught classes that nearly everyone ended up contributing to the imagination of the original student. It made for such an awesome class. A by-product of this type of class participation is that the students are excited about coming back to the next class. They know that they are allowed to have fun in this classroom. They just have no idea that the fun they are having is constructive. One caveat here is to make sure the imagination is not inappropriate. If it is, you can always guide it back gently without hampering the expression of the students in a hurtful way.
Food Wins Over Everyone!
We all know that food is universally at the center of life. Kids learn this very early on, because they are with us when we eat to celebrate, to mourn, to have fun, when we do just about anything, routine or otherwise. And I didn’t even mention that we have to eat for nourishment above all! We can’t live without food, so we may as well make it fun!
It is generally pretty easy to come up with themes for food within the chapters of nearly every book. So many chapters speak of food directly. This is by far the easiest because it doesn’t require any creativity on our part–we can just procure the food from the store or possibly make it homemade to bring it along with us.
For the chapters that don’t mention any foods specifically, there are usually some key words that allow us to get creative with food choices. I found these to be especially fun for the kids, as they were eager to guess what could be next. Many times, the first question they would ask upon coming to class was, “What’s the snack for today?” The next: “How does it relate to the story?” It could range anywhere from a small snack to a mini meal. The one exception is the final party at the end of major books–that would be a feast.
Several books carry huge opportunities for students to learn about different cultures and/or time periods. Books set in different locations or time periods make perfect object lessons that the students will remember for potentially the rest of their lives. Adding food from those cultures and time periods will add such a huge experience for your students. It will appeal to senses that will cause your students to remember what they learned for the rest of their lives.
Many schools have limits or rules about food, and allergies are always a concern, but we can almost always work within those bounds.
Lesson Planning in Our Play
Kids of any age love to play–even us adult kids! So what an amazing way to make your students’ day by having themed play around their literature lesson!
In much the same way as finding food ideas to coordinate with what you are learning, you can easily find games or activities to play. Just build it around what the kids are currently reading in their literature for that day or week. For instance, if there is a chase scene, then play freeze tag to incorporate game play and exercise into their lesson.
For days that there aren’t obvious activities in the reading, a game of Bingo using vocabulary words or other concepts in the book is a great idea. Make the Bingo marker pieces Skittles or M & M’s if you are not hindered by the rules of your institution. You will be the hero of the day. Finding play activities is probably one of the easiest things to figure out. You can turn just about any activity into the theme of what you are working on. Just change the terminology of the activity or game into words and ideas used in the book.
Lesson Planning Crafts that Mom will be Proud of
We have all faced this dilemma: our kids come home with a craft that they are so proud of. Immediately, they ask where they can display it. But when you already have a hundred of these crafts around the house, how many more can you absorb before you must choose which ones stay and which ones go?
I also faced the dilemma of how to finance crafts that make the cut in the quality department. This is probably the hardest hack of all the hacks in this article. I can’t even tell you how many countless hours I have spent online searching for the perfect craft. First, I would attempt to find something relevant to an event or item in the chapter I was covering. I often did this as an image search so that I may be lucky enough to find a craft idea that someone else had already done. Most of the time I was not overly successful using this method.
My next attempt would be to look through craft books or crafting websites to get an idea of a great craft. That actually was very successful. But theming was usually off when searching from this angle. That was not so difficult to work with once I had a craft idea, though. I would just change the theme of the craft to a main point, idea or character in the book. One example of this would be seeing some great stained glass crafts but nothing that really matched what we were reading. So I changed the picture to a lion for the theme of The Lion, the Witch , and the Wardrobe.
From Concept to Creation
By the time I presented the craft in class nobody could tell that I had to maneuver to make the craft fit the book. When they took their projects home nobody had any idea that it wasn’t an idea straight out of the mainstream curriculum. Except that it was too well done to be thrown in the trash a month later.
Regarding cost to make better-than-average crafts–thrift stores, the dollar store, and yard sales worked really well. I usually had to be a couple of weeks ahead in the lesson planning process, but it paid off well. Also, Amazon and Ebay had tons of art supplies without having to shop around. They also usually cost less than the local craft store. I was usually able to keep it pretty close to one dollar per student.
Lesson Planning for Great Language
Reading is great for learning language skills, but there are so many more ways to reinforce great language skills. Students listening to you explain concepts they have never seen before, engaging based on your encouragement for them to speak, and showing their ability to write a great summary of what they have learned or thought based on what they read all help to make their language education well-rounded in ways that will make them great communicators throughout their lives. Classroom participation drives communication and language skills exponentially. The better they get at it, the more they will do it.
Lesson Planning that Makes Memories
As adults, we realize that our memories come from times and places that we never could have planned or imagined. But there are also memories that were meant to last–family trips, celebrations, big events (good or bad). We know students in the classroom aren’t necessarily coming to class to make lifetime memories. But what if we could do that for them in some of the best ways?
We already have a lot of components to making great memories in these hacks. Memories are stirred by our senses (a smell, taste, touch, sound, sight, or even a sense). All of the above suggestions will collectively work on making these times great memories for the students. These are things that could encourage them to reminisce about with their own kids one day. Even more, what if some of the crafts they created had survived long enough to be seen by their kids because they weren’t the normal school craft fare?
So that is my list of 8 hacks that will help make lesson planning easier for a most memorable year of literature for your students. All of these ideas work well regardless of the school setting, and the sky’s the limit for how far you can take these! I would love to see and hear what you have done with these ideas in your own school settings. Or you may have an idea that has worked well in your class that isn’t mentioned here.
Don’t forget to check out my sample lesson plan for chapter 1 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. You can find it right here on Complete Literature at this link: Sample