Frame It Up
Make the Beginning and End of Class Count
“The eight minutes that matter most are the beginning and endings. If a lesson does not start off strong by activating prior knowledge, creating anticipation, or establishing goals, student interest wanes, and you have to do some heavy lifting to get them back. If it fails to check for understanding, you will never know if the lesson’s goal was attained.”
— Educator Brian Sztabnik on Student Engagement in Edutopia
As educators, we know that the we need to make class time count. When everything clicks, you’re connecting with your students, seeing the sparks fly and the watching eureka moments cross their faces. We know that the first few moments of class present a critical opportunity to awaken our students’ curiosity and get them hooked and paying attention for the duration of class. Equally important are the last minutes of class when you help your students bring it all together. I can vividly recall my days as a teacher, standing in front of my class and feeling the pressure to make the most of every moment. Here are three ways I’ve found to light a spark in the first and last few minutes of class:
Beginning of Class: Getting Started
Share an intriguing image
Display an intriguing image related to the day’s topic. Prompt students to come up with every question they can think of about that image. Now they are doing the heavy lifting. Rather than you telling them why to be interested in it, they are generating their own curiosity.
Find a surprising fact or demonstration
Find a surprising fact, or better yet a surprising fact that you can demonstrate in some way.
Let’s say you’re beginning a unit about Japan. Or maybe a unit about population growth. Or maybe a unit about ratios. Ask, “what does Japan have that’s 10x greater that what we have?” Students speculate — 10x more people? Nope, we have 300+million, Japan has 127m. More square miles? Nope, we can look at a map and rule that one out. When you are ready or student have exhausted their guesses, ask for 1 volunteer. Point to the square area you tapped out before class. Say “imagine this represents 1 square mile.” Ask your first volunteer to stand it in. “This student represents about 85 people. That is how many people share a square mile in the United States.” Ask that person to stand aside. Then ask for another volunteer. Then another. Then another. Until you have 10 students crammed into the same square. That’s how many people share a square mile in Japan. That means, Japan has a population density 10 times greater than ours.
From there you’ve set the scene. If you are talking about Japan, you’ve got them thinking about how life might be different there. If you’re talking about population growth, you can talk about the implications of having a large population and what difference the geography makes. If you are talking about ratios, you can now start working backwards to figure out the population in each country and the size of the countries.
Tell a Story
Set the scene for students. Tell a story about that moment in history you’ll be covering, or the person who discovered the truth you will explore today, or what life was like before that invention. Your words will be most important for setting the scene but you can enhance it by adding a little ambiance or even some images, props, or costumes.
End of Class: Pack it up
In the last 5–10 minutes of class, try to pack up the main lesson of the day. But again, let’s let the students do the heavy lifting. Not only will they retain more, they’ll also be more engaged than if you are doing the concluding for them.
Group mind map
Write the main topic of your lesson in the middle of your board. Have students brainstorm a giant list of all the things you talked about during the lesson, including whatever your hook was at the beginning. Write the list as something like a word bank on the side of the board.
Ask students to come to the board and connect the concepts into the mind map. You can ask students to come up as they are moved to do so, or you can call on 2–3 students at a time. Let students know it’s ok to erase connecting lines and redraw them in new ways. This will be an evolving map. Allow them to discuss and make arguments for where ideas are connected in the map.
This is similar to Mind mapping but is smaller in scope and can be an individual activity. Ask students to think of 4 things from the day’s lesson and place them at the 4 corners of the page. Then ask them to draw in the connecting lines and explain how those concepts are connected.
Tell students what you want their main takeaway to be. Then give them 3–5 minutes to reflect on that takeaway. Have them put the concept in their own words and explain their opinion about it.
It can be daunting to step into the classroom every day and take on the role of teacher. Depending on your personality, it can even be pretty scary. Breaking down the first four and last four minutes of a class can be a great way to focus on engagement and can be a game changer for your students. Give it a try!