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We’ve all been there! We’re teaching a lesson, and our students couldn’t look more disinterested. It can be frustrating, especially since we spend time and effort planning our lessons. As teachers, we know that what we are teaching them is important. So why aren’t they paying attention? Well, chances are they are bored! And I know that’s hard to hear sometimes. None of us want to be like the Charlie Brown teacher, am I right? But as teachers, it is our job to make learning fun for students, so they can stay engaged. And you can do that by maintaining a spirit of adventure.
What does an adventurous teacher do?
We can all get stuck in a rut as teachers. Especially once we have been teaching for a while. It’s easy to find something that works for us and stop innovating. Innovating can be scary, and many believe being innovative (or adventurous) has to take tons of time and effort.
But don’t worry! Being an adventurous teacher can be quite simple. It’s less about what you actually do, and more about your willingness to do it. You don’t have to be an Instagram teacher, spending hundreds of dollars and hours of your own time to create elaborate room transformations. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel day after day. There are small things you can incorporate throughout the day that will make learning fun for students (and for yourself!) Again, having an adventurous teaching spirit is just about getting out of your comfort zone and trying things, even if you are not sure if they are going to work.
How can being adventurous make learning fun for students?
Your willingness to try new things and get out of your comfort zone will make learning fun for students because it will break the boredom. Although students thrive on structure and routine, your routine doesn’t have to be boring. There are things you can incorporate into your regular day that can infuse life back into your classroom. You just need to be willing to try them.
You should also be willing to make small tweaks and changes from time to time. It’s ok to break the routine if it means you and your students get to try something new. And if it doesn’t work, you only lose one day. There is always tomorrow.
How can being adventurous make teaching more fun for you?
Guess what? Being a more adventurous teacher is more than just making learning fun for students. It also makes teaching more fun for you! I don’t know about you, but when I get stuck in a rut, I become irritable and unmotivated. Being more adventurous by trying new things (even if they end up not working out the way I hoped) breathes new life into my teaching.
Whenever I decide to try something new in the classroom, I show up to work with a renewed positive attitude. Teaching becomes more fun again. And my positive attitude affects my students.
How to be a more adventurous teacher in just a few steps:
1. Give students some choice
A great way to be a more adventurous teacher and make learning fun for students is to give students choice. And I know that can sound scary. I know many teachers don’t like to give students a lot of choice because they believe that will negatively impact their ability to manage their classroom. But there are simple things you can do to infuse choice without losing control of your classroom.
- Literacy centers: During literacy stations, let your students choose the station they want to visit each day using a choice board. You can even give them a list of must-dos and may-dos for the week. Once they finish the work you want them to complete, they can work on other fun activities of their choice. Those activities can be games that are still tied to the content, so they are still learning. Even a little bit of freedom will renew their love of learning, and your love for teaching. If you would like to read more about how I do literacy stations in my classroom, including some ideas for literacy stations, I have written a couple of blogs about it. Just click the links below to be redirected to those blog posts.
- Five simple and effective ideas for literacy centers in the dual language classroom
- Three awesome literacy centers in Spanish for upper elementary students
- Partner work: During partner work, let your students choose who they work with. Set parameters first and explain to students that they need to make good choices, but give them the freedom to choose who their partners are. And if they would rather work alone, let them do that too. I have found that giving my students the freedom to make these choices significantly decreases their anxiety levels. After all, who wants to work with someone they don’t like? And let’s face it, not all of our students are going to get along.
- Add flexible seating options: I love flexible seating! It took a lot of courage to even try that, but once I did, I was sold! Do people walk into my classroom and think I am crazy? Sure! But part of being an adventurous teacher is being able to tune out the naysayers. It’s your classroom, and if something works for you and your students, then no one else should be saying anything. I have written an entire blog post about how I use flexible seating in my own classroom. You can click here to read more about it.
2. Change things up!
Say it with me: “If you are bored then your students are probably bored too.” The whole point of being an adventurous teacher is to try new things. Sometimes, that includes changing up some old routines. Now, I know what you’re thinking! We worked hard to establish these routines. It’s too late to change things now. The kids will be confused.
I hear you! I really do! But trust me, a little change in your routine can be just what you need to make learning fun for students. Here are some ways small changes you can make in your classroom that will renew your students’ excitement to come to school:
- Take your students outside – As spring approaches, is there a way you can take your students outside while they complete some independent work? My students and I have been going outside for writing. They are currently working on a research paper. I teach the minilesson in the classroom, and when it’s time to write, we take our computers and notebooks to the picnic tables behind our portable. They absolutely love it!
- Add project-based learning activities – In my classroom, we are currently learning about fractions. About half of my students remember a lot of what they learned about fractions in fourth grade. So while I review those skills with the kids who need more help, the group that doesn’t need the reteaching is working on a PBL activity with a partner. This was a big change in our classroom routine, but it’s paying off in huge ways. I get more time with my students who need me the most, and the ones who are ready to move on are being challenged. You can click here if you want to read more about one of my favorite PBL activities in Spanish.
- Add “Free Time Friday” to your schedule – I don’t do “fun Friday.” I don’t like the idea of some students getting free time based on their behavior. I find that the students who don’t earn fun Friday behave even worse. To me, “fun Friday” is not the best way to build community in the classroom. However, I have recently started to incorporate “Free Time Fridays” in my classroom. Throughout the week, students have to complete a math spiral review and finish at least five lessons on Dreambox. Dreambox “is an interactive, adaptive, self-paced program that provides engaging activities for students to learn and practice skills in mathematics.” This is part of their morning work. They also have time to work on it throughout the day. So on Fridays, they can come in, turn in their finished spiral review, have their Dreambox lessons checked, and if they have finished everything, they get free time in the morning. This small change has had a ripple effect. They all want to finish their work before Friday, so they can enjoy their free time.
3. Embrace the possibility of failure
When you are looking for ways to make learning fun for students, you have to accept the fact that things won’t always work. You have to be open to failure. I know that can be scary. My way of embracing the possibility of failure is to tell students that what we are about to do may not work. Let them know that although you have planned for it, things don’t always go according to plan. Explain to them that if things don’t work, you will have to adapt and make changes. I think this a great lesson for our students. And when things do work, you will all get to share that sense of success and accomplishment.
4. “Gamefy” your activities whenever possible
There are some simple ways to gamify even the most boring worksheets. And gamification doesn’t have to take up a lot of time to set up. Here are some ideas to easily gamify your classroom:
- Digital platforms, such as Keep the Score, Plickers, and Jeopardy Labs – One of the simplest ways to gamify your classroom is to go digital. I have written an entire blog post about digital platforms that can be used to help you gamify your classroom. And I am sure that some of these platforms you have probably never heard of before. So click here to head over to that post and learn more about them.
- Adapt old-school board games or create your own – Use games like Battleship, Connect4, and tic-tac-toe to add some fun to your lessons. Simply create a large version of these gameboards on Google Slides and display it on the board. As students answer questions, they can add a sticky note with their names to the board or just write their names on a spot with an Expo marker. If you would like to see this in action, HelloAlgebra wrote a super detailed blog post about how she uses Connect4 in her classroom. You can read about it by clicking here.
- Use scavenger hunts – Scavenger hunts can be so much fun! I love creating digital scavenger hunts for my students. In fact, if you would like a free grammar scavenger hunt that is perfect for literacy centers or review, you can click here. This FREEBIE includes differentiated grammar scavenger hunt boards in English and Spanish.
- Bring out the mighty magic pen! If you like to use task cards in your classroom, you can use a magic pen to write down the correct answer. Whenever students are done answering the question, they can use a black light flashlight to reveal the answer. This is such a simple trick, but my students absolutely love it. You can even do this with worksheets. Write the answers to each problem on index cards using the magic marker. Number each index card according to the numbers on the worksheet. Then, tape the index cards to the board. As students finish answering each question, they can walk to the board and use the flashlight to check their answers. Instant fun with very little prep!
5. Remember: If you try something, and it doesn’t work, you only lose one day!
I heard this from my cooperating teacher when I was doing my student teaching. She was one of the most amazing teachers I have ever met. I feel so privileged that I got to work with her. Mrs. C. was all about making learning fun for students without driving herself crazy with work. She had been teaching for 25 years but was constantly looking for ways to change things up. She attended PDs, invited teacher coaches to come into her classroom and offer feedback, and always allowed me to try whatever crazy idea I had. Whenever I brought up a new idea, her answer was always the same: “If it doesn’t work, we have only wasted a day!”
When I think of an adventurous teacher, I think of her. Even after teaching for 25 years, she was always willing to try something new. Be like Mrs. C. – never stop trying new things!
Making learning fun for students doesn’t have to be hard!
In my opinion, making learning fun for students is directly related to our willingness as teachers to get out of our comfort zone and embrace the adventure. I know the road can be scary, but the payoff is huge! Not just for your students, but for you too.