Finding Ways to Get Them Excited: Going beyond the Lecture with Objects and Color


You’ve taught the lesson. Your students have learned the parts of speech, the parts of government, or the parts of a tooth. But have they learned? Will they use the information? Do they want to know more? Deana believes that, unless children are excited about learning, the teacher’s job is not complete. In this video, she describes tools to communicate the information in the textbook in ways that engage your students’ enthusiasm. And it’s not merely a matter of having fun. When students are involved in the learning experience, their understanding of the subject increases.

Let’s say you’re talking about the root of a tooth and so you have your science book and there’s a really good drawing in the science book of the tooth, but what if you actually passed around the tooth with the gross root hanging down and they could actually touch it? Ew, that’s gross. I think this is a cow tooth or something. It’s going to make a lot more sense to them and they’re going to remember it a lot better.

I believe that good teachers feel it’s their job—it’s my job not just to present the material and say, “Here it is. Here are the three branches of government or plants or diagramming, whatever it is. You need to learn it. There, I’m done.” But to get my students to want to learn it, to get them excited about it, to think, “This is fun, I can do this.” It becomes achievable if we do present it the right way.

A lot of people have asked me about educational activities. And that’s actually doing things in the classroom other than just lecturing or filling in workbook things. Why do we do it? Number one, it involves the students rather than just sitting there listening, they’re actually involved doing something. I think that helps get them, number two, excited about learning because they’re involved in it. They’re taking more of an active part and it’s more exciting, more fun. And the third part is I think then that participation helps them care. Helps them take more of a stock in learning. They’re going to care more about their test grades, about what they’re learning because they’re involved in it. They’re not just sitting there listening passively.

I think if we believe in what we’re teaching, we think it’s exciting, we think it’s fun, we like to be involved with it—well, then let’s get them involved with it as well. They’ll get excited about it if we are, and if we find ways to get them excited about it.

Their understanding increases. If they’re just sitting there listening about the judicial branch and the legislative branch, it might be kind of boring, but what if they’re the judge now and what can they do if they don’t like a law? There’s going to be much greater understanding going on because they have to think through the process, “What can we do if we’re the judges and we don’t like the law they just passed, how do we do it?”

One of the easiest things to do is to actually get an item that you’re talking about. It’s not hard to do this. I go to thrift stores, garage sales. You’d be surprised. If you’re studying the native Americans you can talk about [that] they hunted or whatever, but what if you could pass around—and again you can get these things on eBay for really pretty cheap. And I tell them, “This is a thousand years old… Chipping at this and then using it to scrape a hide. And you get to hold it in yourself. It fits in the palm of your hand. You get to hold this.” Then I’ll pass it around and it’s a little bit annoying because they’ll be [examining it] while I’m trying to talk or we’re reading the book.

One of the literature stories we were reading had a story about a chamber pot. well, and they had no clue what a chamber pot was. And so, I purposed, “I’m going to try to find a chamber pot,” and here I found two of them within a short time period. But here is a chamber pot. And back when the outhouse was out back and it was 20 degrees outside and you didn’t want to walk downstairs and walk across the backyard to the outhouse, this was the little chamber pot they had underneath their bed. And they, “Oh, gross,” and everything, but they know what a chamber pot is. So I might not pass that around. They might not want to touch it.

Something else I love to do for history: When I was a little girl, we had to get map colors—and I always tell my students this the beginning of the year—so I would go to the store with my mom and I would get my big chief tablet and my pencils or whatever, and then—we called a map colors, but they are those colored pencils, this little pack of colored pencils—and they were beautiful. Red and green and blue and orange, and then we’d put them in our little school supply box and we’d go to school. I think I remember one time in four or five years of elementary school that we actually colored a map with it. At the end of every year I’d have these map colors that had never been touched. And I was like, “Why don’t the teachers let us use our map colors? They’re beautiful.”

So I determined when I was a teacher—and I’ve done this with 11th and 12th graders—that we’re going to color maps. For instance, today we’re learning about the North Atlantic slave trade. And so we’re going to get them out tomorrow and we’re going to go from Africa and we’re going to use whatever color—I always try to pick some color that correlates with what we’re learning—and they’re going to draw the arrow down to the West Indies and then we’re going to draw an arrow up and then draw the arrows on there.

Or color this state, whatever. I have an example here. This was a history test and on the back of it they had to mark the territory that was claimed by Russia red and the territory that was claimed by Britain orange and the Louisiana Purchase and the 49th Parallel. So not only do we do this in class, but I like to add it to my test. They have so much fun. They pull all their colors out and make all kinds of noise and they love it. There’re 7th and 8th graders and they sit there and they color their maps and it adds to their understanding.

We do that with our diagramming, they use red and green and purple.

[At board] It’s like a little green barrel, it’s like a little red barrel, it’s a little orange barrel. We’re finding all these little goodie things.

Some of my students’ papers are just beautiful with purple and blue and green and they’re sitting there changing their colors and their marking it. And they’ve got to be noticing it more. I know they are, rather than just, “There’s your blue pen, and you mark all of the subjects and verbs.” To use color is such a simple way and yet it makes them look at it and there’s green and there’s red and there’s blue just on this one page. It’s causing them to look at it in a different way to pay more attention than if they were just writing.

I think it’s contagious. If they are excited about diagramming—”I can diagram noun clauses. I can make an A on this really hard test about all the different branches of government”—then they’re going to get excited about learning itself. They’re going to get excited about school and their whole attitude can be improved or can even change.

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