Get More Out of Your Students

You can get more out of your students by presenting thought-provoking, inspiring examples and additional ideas.

One of the most effective strategies that can be used in the classroom is to give students creative examples and additional ideas before having them do creative work on their own. Doing this covers two important aspects. It gives students a framework, a tangible springboard to begin on their own, and it sets a standard so that they will know what we as teachers expect from them. Rather than just stabbing in the dark at whatever they come up with, the information we give them gets their brains in gear and supplies them with a direction from which to begin.

Examples give students structure and help them to better understand concepts. For instance, if I’m asking students to write a character sketch, I tell them about my grandfather tinkering with engines in his workshop. I describe his appearance (tall, wearing glasses, and smiling) and his personality (humorous, focused, and inquisitive). Telling students about the sounds and smells (sweat, gasoline, and oil) also helps to give them concrete ideas that they can in turn apply to their own writing.

Presenting additional ideas and/or options to students prompts their brains to ponder the various possibilities that exist, and usually encourages them to try to accomplish something greater than they would have produced without their teacher giving them the extra ideas and information.

For example, this week in art class we were working on making little wooden houses from scraps of wood. I put together a slideshow of sixteen photos of various artists’ little wooden houses. I gave my students a piece of paper and asked them to design their own. The next day they transferred their designs onto their own houses and began painting. The results were far above what I had expected. There were arched doorways, triangular attic windows, Gothic windows with curtains, and clotheslines hanging above the doors. They got most of those ideas from the photos, but what happened next surprised me even more. Once they got to work and started viewing each others’ houses, they took it a step further and began designing on their own. One student turned her chimney (a nail) into a flag pole. She painted a flag and added it to the roof. Another student painted bricks all over the front and sides of his house. One accidentally flicked white paint from his roof onto the front of his house. He decided to make that the snowy winter side of his house and painted the other side as the summer side.

The concepts of giving examples and presenting additional ideas works for most subjects. Here are a few examples.

Writing Read aloud your own, other students’, or other authors’ writing before giving a writing assignment. This can be used for journal entries, creative writing, research paper introductions, poems, short stories, etc. Art Make one of each project yourself ahead of time to show the students and make another one during art class if you have time. Show students pictures of other artists’ work. Point out creative things that other students are doing in class. “Everyone, look. See what so-and-so did to his house? That’s a really great idea.” Encourage them not to copy, but to think of other creative out-of-the-box ideas of their own. Science fair Find interesting lists of possible projects. Suggest a few from the list that you think are especially interesting. Give students ideas for their boards: photos, three-dimensional items, etc.; and show them past students’ examples or photos of amazing presentation boards. Offer to proofread their titles and paragraphs (or have them turned in for an English assignment.) History For projects or papers, present many different interesting topics and have students write down a few that they find interesting. Give students ideas for what they could build, show them examples or photos of these, and ask questions about fascinating facts they could answer in a written paper.

Presenting examples and additional ideas gives students a framework from which to launch their own work. Set high standards, give examples, and watch your students fly!

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