Classroom Toolbox: Strategies for Survival

boy swinging

They outnumber you.

While the calendar says you have about 180 days together, those days will fly by unsuccessfully if you don’t wrangle and redirect your students.

Here are nine strategies from my classroom toolbox I use to motivate, entertain, refocus attention, and encourage reflection.

I hope one or two will prove useful to you in your own classroom.

Laser Focus: Last year, two of my students were beyond impressive in watching my every move. I called it “laser focus” and I still refer to them both as examples of how to listen to me as I try my best to teach them. It was even more impactful that they both performed at an advanced level once those state assessment scores were returned. When students’ eyes are wandering to the far reaches of the room – I prompt them with the laser focus command.

Why or How?: After years of being given the assignment of teaching concepts that are sometimes developmentally beyond the understanding of my students, I have the following conversation.

During a lesson some students will want to know why and grapple with understanding a concept until the why is fully understood – this may, of course, take some time. For some students this will be accomplished in a matter of minutes, while for others it could very well take days. For the remaining students, even after repeated attempts using various approaches, a concept just may never “sink in” within the current academic year.

Time to go to How. I clearly remember blindly following my teacher’s instruction in math when I was in school. Instead of why we were regrouping (as an example) I immediately went to the just tell me what to do and I will do it exactly that way. This is obviously not what we want our students to do – we want questions and thought provoking conversation, however we also can’t have students participating in mass melt-downs as the curriculum becomes more difficult as the year progresses.

Sometimes teaching the how, and waiting for students to ask why is ok. Sometimes acknowledging that students just asking how is perfect for that moment.

The Success Board: When my students have achieved an A and have shown the paper off at home, I ask them to return it to school so I can staple it on our Success Board. I then frequently refer to it as the days pass claiming that each of them can indeed achieve awesomeness. Each of them has within them the ability to achieve anything they desire – I hope that seeing it, will help them believe it.

Your Choice: When I ask my students to read as they sit in the hallway and wait to use the restroom, or when I want them to begin their homework and instead they want to stare at the ceiling I tell them it’s their choice. They can do as I ask or they can do it during recess. While some teachers may get upset and raise their voice, I prefer a little logic prompted by a carrot.

Crush It: The other day my students and I spoke for some time about the state assessments and the choice each of them had. They could take them and hope for the best, or they could crush it. I continued telling them that my hope was they would not just prove their capability to people who loved them, but they would prove to themselves that they could overcome any challenge. The constant battle of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards is one with which I continue to struggle as society looks to equate learning to getting a reward

The Worm: Students’ nature is to be competitive with one another. Often this leads to a race to the front of the line. For some reason being first is worth falling on the floor or pushing others out of the way. This is when I introduce “the worm”. As we reach our destination, whether lunch or resource, I have the last person swing around and become the first person. As they curl around, I remind them to worm around behind one another.

Teaching With My Head Down: Too often students feel it appropriate to put their head down and listen to my instructions. So I pretend to teach with my head on my desk. It leaves the same impression on them – except I’m sure I look sillier with my head on my desk.

Foreign Language Redirection: when we have a student in class who is a non-English speaker and we’re determining how to help him, I pause and speak to them in German for a minute or so. Hearing an unfamiliar language of an uncomfortable amount of time helps hit home how our ESOL students might feel each day, every hour, every minute.

Speaking in a different language also encourages sleepy heads to perk up and look around while they wonder for a moment if they haven’t in fact fallen asleep and awoken in a world where no English is spoken.

The Mumble: Some students are really loud. Others are very quiet. I can relate to both. Until I entered my senior year in high school, I was that quiet boy in the class who hoped no attention would come to him. If I can get my student to smile, perhaps I can get that quiet person inside to show a bit of themselves.

So occasionally I will repeat a student’s question with a reply that doesn’t have a thing to do with what was asked. For instance: “why yes, when the moon spins backwards my hair does grow quicker.” Not done too often or when my student is having an off day, I make sure that the smile I’m hoping for will likely come quickly. I then prompt them to ask me their question again.

I’m curious what tactics you have for those everyday occurrences in your classroom. I know I need to add a few to my toolbox to keep both myself and my students interested.

What tools do you pull out when necessary?

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