Ever catch yourself yawning as you try to explain for the millionth time the difference between a subject and predicate or the steps of the Scientific Method? Do you find yourself bored with everything you do in the classroom only to look up and see bored students as well? After you’ve been teaching for a while, it is so easy to get caught in a rut and do the same things over and over. To help combat the doldrums of teaching, here are 10 ways you can put that “Spark” back in your classroom and get fired-up about teaching again.

  1. Invite Aliens into your classroom. Yes, you heard me right – aliens. Creatures from another planet do not understand our world and need to have many different concepts explained to them. Have students create an alien as a group and give it a name. Once students have their alien, use it as a way to check for understanding. Have students write an explanation of the skill, concept, or event to the alien to help him/her better understand what we do here on earth. Make this as creative as you want. Students could explain orally, through a letter, through pictures, or even using in-class email. Student groups can keep the same alien all year as their “mascot” or create a new alien for each new unit. You’ll be surprised at the creativity and motivation of your students.
  2. Bring the world to your classroom, that is, the real world. Students crave an opportunity to see how the skills and concepts you teach will affect them in the real world. Rather than assigning problems, questions, and activities from the textbook, think about how you can get students to apply their learning in real world situations. Bring in grocery ads, design additions for your school, write letters to local and state representatives, and more. There are so many ways for students to apply the skills/concepts they learn from you in a meaningful way.
  3. Get students actively involved. Reading from a textbook and answering the questions at the end is boring for you and boring for them. Think of ways you can get students actively involved in their learning. Use sentence strips to organize and categorize information, to create sentences from random words, to create timelines. Use scavenger hunts to get students actively seeking knowledge to find clues, answer riddles, and develop questions of their own. The more you can get students manipulating information with their hands and their brains, the better.
  4. Turn your students into teachers. The pyramid of learning developed by the NTL Institute for Applied Behavior Science shows that human beings retain 90% of knowledge gained when they teach others and/or immediately use the skill/learning. Capitalize on this and get your students teaching. Have groups of students prepare lessons on a concept or topic to present to younger students in the school. Have individual students become “experts” on a particular section in the textbook or a particular topic within your unit and then teach the rest of the class.
  5. Introduce new skills and concepts with a problem. In order to solve the problem, students must learn about the skill, concept, or topic. Turn your students into detective sleuths and give them the resources and freedom to learn as much as they can to solve the “mystery”. Don’t make it easy on them, but provide a clear challenge. Next, act as a mentor as you help them discover the information they need to solve the puzzle you’ve place before them.
  6. Allow students to work together in groups. As human beings we are social creatures. We crave the company of others. In today’s workplace a team of colleagues working together to complete specific projects has replaced the individual “worker bee”. When we allow students to work together, we provide an opportunity for socializing in a controlled environment as well as the opportunity for students to learn from one another.
  7. Make connections between subject areas. Whether you teach in a self-contained classroom or a departmentalized setting, making connections between subject areas helps students to understand how our world really works. Making connections between subject areas also encourages higher-level thinking and makes learning more fun for students. When teaching a novel or children’s book, pull out the atlas and look for the setting or locate where the author lives and discuss how it might affect the story. In social studies, look at how the environment may have affected historical events. In math identify how different shapes and objects are used in creating different works of art.
  8. Incorporate centers or learning stations in your classroom. It is easy to create rotating learning stations where students learn about different aspects of the skill/concept/topic you are teaching. Take a manila folder and write the “Title” for the center on the outside. Write the directions for the activity/learning on the inside. Paste a copy of the activity sheet or a picture showing an example on the other inside page. Laminate the entire thing and place copies of handouts/activity sheet inside. Place one on each table and have students work their way through the different stations learning as they go.
  9. Get to know your students. The better you know your students, the more likely you are to have fun with them in class without getting out of control. Additionally, when students know that you really truly care about them (and are not just faking it), they will begin to trust and respect you. This results in more risk-taking and participation on the part of the student and a better dialogue between both the students and you. Trust and respect in turn lead to students who are better behaved because they want to know what you have to teach them.
  10. Give yourself a break. Maybe part of the issue is your own attitude. It is easy to get burned-out when you give and give and give of yourself every day. Take some time for yourself to get refreshed and recharged. Whether one week, one weekend, or just one day, give yourself some time to do something fun that is not related to school or teaching. Go see a movie, go to a bed and breakfast for the weekend, workout at your local gym, or any other activity that is fun and relaxing for you. If all you do is eat, drink, and think about your students and teaching, you’ll burn out of energy and love for your job.