It’s that time of year when a nice, warm bowl of soup can make a dreary winter day feel warm and comforting. Those soups, every now and then, need a little extra something to help them hit the spot. Our lessons in our classrooms are not much different. When the learning might feel dreary, adding a little bit of spice to our lessons can go a long way.
To go a little further with the metaphor, not all soups need the same thing to make them better. Some might benefit from more salt or pepper, while others need more substance to them or might need thinning out. Each of these can create a perfect balance for the consumer, making sure the “spice” is just right for the season.
Making It Through the Winter Months
As we cook up lessons during the winter months, we start to realize that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution—it’s a balance much like the winter bowl of stew. It also has to hit the spot for our students in a way that other times of the year it might not.
The beginning and end of the school year have a natural excitement to them, and throughout the fall there are seasonal activities that our students really enjoy. Finally, as the world warms up in the spring, it’s easier to be excited and engaged about everything. It really is the winter months that can be the hardest for students, so spicing up the learning can make a huge difference.
Here are some ideas for making this happen in our classrooms:
- Novelty: The brain craves novelty, so any color, texture, or comedy that can be added to any lesson can spice it up for the students. Things that might seem silly for inane to adults might be just the added touch that students need to stay focused.
- Options and Choices: Any time of the year is a good time for giving students options, but more so when learning is difficult. Teachers should think about how projects could be used to stimulate thinking and engage students. Winter months are especially important for this because students are probably bottled up most of the day and need activity more than other time of the year.
- Save the Best for When You Need It: I had a veteran teacher who once told me she held back her best activity for a week when she thought the students really needed it. Whatever this might be in your classroom could be a consideration to spice up January and February.
- Tap in to Their World: It can be hard to feel like some lessons are relevant to students. During the times when motivation might be low, it’s a great idea to use pop culture references that the students will know and enjoy. If you aren't sure where to get started, following a few famous young movie stars or musicians on Instagram could help.
- Let Them Talk: Classrooms naturally should not be full of silence, but there are times when it’s easier to engage students in dialogue than others. Structuring some lessons to have deliberate opportunities for students to talk with one another is a great way to spice up the classroom. Students need to be social and can learn a lot from one another when allowed to talk.
- Increase the Frequency of Things They Like: There are different approaches to this one, but all have the underlying premise that teachers are connected enough with their students to know what they enjoy. One class might love using a new seating arrangement each week or letting students pick their own seats. Another class could be into listening to music while they work. And another option for a different group might be to get away from their desks while they work and sit on the floor or with a partner. Any of these ideas can help students to be motivated.
- Reinforce With Fun: Another consideration that comes up during the winter months is behavioral issues with students. One tool to circumvent this is using fun and novel reinforcers for behavior. This can be all sorts of different things as long as they are unique to the time of year.
By adding a few of these small spices to the classroom, the winter months will not only be tolerable, they'll be enjoyable.
How do you keep students motivated during the winter months? Let us know in the comments below. For more useful teaching tips all year long, be sure to subscribe to the Educator blog!