For a high school English teacher, it seems as though every time of day has a reason why students may feel more tired, lethargic, or less engaged: It’s the morning, or it’s right before their break, or it’s after lunch, or the school day is almost over. And I don't disagree—learning and school can be demanding, exhausting, and not always entertaining.
But adding more movement and discussion into the classroom can awaken your students’ interests, passion, and sense of community. While getting students out of their seats may be intimidating for some of us, or seem chaotic, there are so many strategies that are easy to implement, and you will surely see the difference in your students’ energy levels.
Four Corner Discussions
Replace anticipation guides with a classroom four corner discussion. Before reading a text or at the beginning of your new unit, come up with a few debatable statements that are relevant to what you are learning. For example, here are a couple of statements I use with my ninth-grade students as we read Romeo and Juliet: “True love can conquer all problems,” and, “Our lives are governed by fate,” among others that are relevant to the text. Then, I divide the room into four different corners: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. Make sure to label these corners of the room to make this activity easier.
After announcing a statement, have students stand still for a few moments so they can think about their position and then tell them to move to the corner of the room where they can discuss their position with like-minded peers. After giving two to four minutes of small group discussion time, pause their conversations and have a short whole-class discussion with representatives from all sides. Then move on to the next statement. This increases movement while students practice their speaking and listening skills, along with their academic language.
Gallery walks are a commonly used strategy in the classroom to get students to walk around the room and interpret or analyze different materials displayed on desks or walls. Perhaps you are a history teacher and you want students to observe several primary sources, or maybe you are an English teacher who wants to expose students to a variety of poems or short stories. You don’t have to stick to words—students can observe, discuss, and reflect on images as well.
Gallery walks are relatively easy to prepare for, while getting students out of their seats and engaging with content. This activity allows for higher exposure to your content, which is a great way to front-load a topic or to have students dig deeper. Recently, my students did a gallery walk to observe and discuss a variety of political cartoons, poems, and articles all around the unit theme of Power and Oppression.
Depending on your class size, you may want to post or display five to 10 artifacts that you would like students to interact with. Allow students to walk freely with a partner or a group to the different artifacts and either have a small-group discussion or write down their answers for you to review later on.
Silent Discussion Boards
Another way to increase movement and collaboration is through silent discussion boards. Around the room, put up poster paper or butcher paper, each with a question written on it. The questions should be open-ended and relevant to the topic you are currently teaching. Have students silently walk around the room and write their answers on the poster paper. They are able to walk freely and should write on each poster paper more than once.
As the conversations grow, students are essentially creating a collaborative mind map with their peers. They can stem off each other’s statements and ask their own questions, or respond to another classmate’s ideas. As they return to the different discussion boards, they can see how each conversation has grown and evolved.
This activity is particularly empowering for more introverted students who may otherwise not feel as confident about sharing their opinions.
This activity can be used as a community builder or as a way for students to further discuss a topic or concept from your classroom. As you play music, the students walk around the classroom. Once the music stops, they find the closest person to them. Ask a question that they discuss with their partner. This could be get-to-know-you questions like what their favorite TV show is or a content-related question for them to explore together.
You can instead ask the question before starting the music to give students more thinking time and to alleviate any anxiety that students may feel about talking to others.
This is a fun activity to get students moving and socializing with students in the class that they otherwise may not interact with much. It also takes out the awkward panicked feeling of a student needing to find a partner for an assignment.
These four activities are simple, easy ways to awaken your class and increase engagement. Having students moving and talking not only builds important social and public speaking skills but also adds some fun to the learning environment that empowers and engages learners.