Cultivating Curiosity in Students

by Deana Swanson

One of the most exciting tasks we teachers can pursue is cultivating curiosity in our students. When our students are curious, they are usually engaged in what they are learning, enjoying themselves, and eager to discover more interesting tidbits. A classroom is rarely boring if students are curious. While cultivating curiosity in students isn’t that difficult, it does take some effort. Here are a few suggestions that have been helpful to me.

Model curiosity yourself.

Ooh and aah over the fact that a bird can glide forward for twenty-three feet while only going down in altitude one foot. Look up words in the dictionary. Make statements to arouse curiosity such as, “This art project has the neatest effect. Just wait until we get to finish it tomorrow!” or “For our business letter writing assignment today, we are going to write a real letter and send it. You will hopefully get a letter back.” Curiosity is contagious.

Do as many additional activities in the core subjects as you possibly can.

These are usually included in the curriculum, but too often teachers are busy, these take too much extra work, and projects don’t get done. Assign the speeches in English class. Make the pie chart posters in math class. Do every experiment in the science book. Find cultural folk art projects or eat foods from other cultures in history. The changes you will see in your students’ interest and attitudes are well worth the effort on your part.

Go overboard with exposure.

Expose your students to as many different edifying concepts, facts, buildings, art projects, stories, and field trips as you can. This isn’t stuff that they will be tested over. It is just interesting information, activities, true stories, experiences you’ve had, items, or just crazy ideas. My latest idea has been that I’m dreaming of taking my junior high students to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim. While it’s kind of a joke, it gets us thinking, and dreaming, and curious about the process and the possibilities.

Keep their hands and minds busy.

Focus on completing the classwork on time with good grades, but also provide a myriad of different activities for them to do when their work is completed. This is not only often a good motivation to finish classwork, but also a delightful way to encourage curiosity. Can they figure out how to solve the new puzzle or brain game? Have they read that new amazing book and seen the beautiful photographs or paintings in it? Having art supplies and a weekly project available is another good way to keep students’ hands productively engaged and busy.

Arrange classes carefully.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. How would we feel if we had to sit at a desk and write most of the day? I love to write, but I wouldn’t want to sit in a hard chair at a desk for hours on end to write. Classes and hard work, including math problems, writing assignments, and answering history and science review questions should be interspersed with activities which give students a physical and mental break. I try to give my students a schedule that has a more difficult and focused class following a lighter one that includes more group discussion and/or activity. Example: math, piano practice, reading, Bible with group discussion, English, recess. Doing this helps prevent boredom–the exact opposite of curiosity.

Feed their interests.

First of all, you should present many different concepts and activities to be curious about. Students will choose the ones that particularly interest them and ask about them. That’s when I like to dig up books, art supplies, science experiments, or whatever it is to feed whatever has sparked their interest. Usually this happens naturally because they’re noticing what I’m presenting to them, but sometimes this is assigned, as in the case of a research paper. Give them super interesting topics and perhaps have them do some preliminary work (sketches, a project, etc.) to help spark their interests in their chosen topics.

Surprise them.

Donuts on a cold winter morning, the announcement of an upcoming field trip, and a new history and/or art project do wonders for cultivating curiosity. If students are surprised with a few things like this, they will have a new outlook on school. Keep it up, and you’ll have them hooked, wondering what you will surprise them with next. Note: Students should never expect these. Talk to them often about being grateful and have a good attitude.

Avoid negativity in any shape or form.

This includes countdowns to how many days of school are left, eye rolling, heavy sighs, and any negative comments made by students. Meet these with a big smile and a positive comment. One of my favorites is “We GET to do this!” Thank God daily during morning prayer time for the privilege to have a Christian school, to be in a nice warm building, and to have interesting learning opportunities.

Curious students are interested in learning and approach school with enthusiasm. The effort it takes is well worth the results produced.

Modeling curiosity yourself, exposing students to different concepts and activities, keeping students busy, having a varied schedule, feeding students’ interests, and surprising them are all viable ways that teachers can cultivate curiosity in students.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Deana Swanson

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