Teaching Strategies

Increasing Authenticity in the Classroom

Real-life scenarios enhance lessons and shouldn’t require teachers to completely overhaul their practices.

February 4, 2022
SDI Productions / iStock

One of the important lessons we have learned from Covid-19 is that the real world permeates the classroom whether we like it or not. Of course, a virus isn’t the only real world that we face on a daily basis. From political strife to global warming, our students and teachers are constantly interfacing with the world outside the classroom and often finding it hard to juxtapose both in class curriculum and outside contexts.

Teachers want to leverage the real world in their classrooms. But how?

Before looking at a few helpful habits, let’s define authenticity. Authenticity may be best defined as a set of experiences in which teachers and students engage in contexts and content that align with real-world experiences, and students have choice in the experiences. As such, authenticity is not a binary concept in the classroom. The question is not whether we have authenticity. The question is, to what degree are we exhibiting authenticity at this time?

Beyond increasing the degree of authenticity in the classroom, we need to find ways to make practices doable for time-starved teachers. One way to consider moving toward authenticity in the classroom is stacking new habits with what teachers are already doing in the classroom. Stacking is the idea that we integrate a new habit with habits we already have in place.

Stacking is focused on embedding a habit before, during, or after something we already do. The following stacking prompts may be helpful:

  • Before I do the following, I will...
  • After I do the following, I will...
  • In between, I will...

To move toward increasing authenticity in our classroom, high-leverage authenticity habits fall within three key areas: contexts, content, and choice. Let’s review each area and evaluate important questions and a few suggested habits.


Context is the degree to which students and teachers are engaging in contemporaneous, real-world situations, opportunities, challenges, and people.

Students are drawn to problems of the present and problems that connect to them in some way. They are buzzing with questions such as what’s happening now, how does that connect to me and the people I care about, and how can I help solve that problem?

Such questions are all powerful motivators for kids. The past and future are used as fuel for students’ contemporaneous drive. The following questions and habits are wonderful ways to promote a greater level of real-world contexts in the classroom.

Key questions and suggested habits:

  • How does this task, activity, or lesson connect to my life presently?
  • Where does this idea apply right now in the world? Across how many contexts?
  • Who is working on these problems presently?
  • Who can I engage within these contexts to learn about opportunities and challenges, various perspectives, and potential people and organizations that I may be able to work with over the course of study?

Before starting a new unit, teachers may want to introduce students to a real-world professional or community member impacted by a problem who will task them with working to understand and solve the challenge. This would include interviewing community members and reading about the current situation.

Another habit to consider would be embedding a question on each day’s exit ticket that asks students to brainstorm the number of contexts that apply to what the class is learning. Their responses can then be reviewed the next morning via a think-pair-share.


Content is the degree to which teachers and students are engaging in the academic knowledge and skills that are used in the real world.

Research continues to show that the ability to engage in real-world tasks and apply learning requires core content knowledge within the actual real-world situation. To promote the development of core content as a means of increasing authenticity, teachers should consider the following questions and habits.

Key questions and suggested habits:

  • To what extent do the task and context relate to the content area (discipline) I’m learning about?
  • To what extent do I need to learn surface and deep knowledge in one or more disciplines to get through the authentic challenges I’m working on?

Before students engage in a problem-based experience, teachers can incorporate a pre-assessment and engage in direct instruction for those students who need it. Or, after a lesson is completed, teachers can have students discuss the similarities and differences between what they have learned in class and the knowledge and skills they would need in different real-world situations.


Choice is the degree to which students and teachers have autonomy within the confines of an authentic context.

Students need a level of defined autonomy in the classroom. Clear boundaries surrounding a set of choices for students potentially include the specific question(s) to work on, the products to create, the choice of group members to work with, and the means for navigating group dynamics and choice of problem-solving strategies. The following questions and habits are helpful to prime such discussions.

Key questions and suggested habits:

  • Where do I have an opportunity to express my perspective on the product/presentation/process/work structure (group)?
  • To what extent do I have a choice in how I display my work? Where are the boundaries of my choice?

Before students begin creating a product, teachers can have them present their choice to others and receive feedback using a tuning protocol. Another option would be to have students work in groups and reflect on successes and challenges of their individual and collective decision-making using a critical friends protocol.

Authenticity doesn’t require field trips or yearly projects. Authenticity requires daily embedded practices that bring the real world into our classrooms. With a few shifts in our practice, we can bring authenticity into our classrooms and into our students’ daily lives.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Teaching Strategies
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.