8 Ways Not to Start a Class

9 Mar

I wrote this lesson with a friend of mine when we were going to school to get our certifications. While we were learning about the lesson plan writing process, a lot of time was spent discussing the “Initiation” of a lesson, or rather, what were you as a teacher going to do to get your students interested in learning for the period? What was your “hook?” We were told that if you came prepared with a great initiation, then the rest of your lesson would be successful. So, I thought for a few minutes about how my teachers used to initiate lessons when I was in school, and whether or not they succeeded in capturing my attention. Here’s what I came up with:

1. “Take out your books and open to page 65.”
(Wait, what? What page did she say? I turn to my neighbor and ask them, but they didn’t hear either. Shoot. I’ll just pretend like I’m following along.)

2. “Does anyone remember what we learned yesterday?”
(Do you? Aren’t you the teacher? I don’t think I should be held accountable if you’re not going to be.)

3. “Well, the photocopier was broken this morning, so why don’t you just go ahead and read the next chapter on your own.”
(Yes! I love it when the copier is broken. Now, I can open my book and pretend to read while I write a note to my friend. Probably about boys.)

4. “I have half a muffin left…does anyone want it?”
(I do!! I LOVE history class!!)

5.”We’re watching a movie today. No talking.”
(Ha! He didn’t say no passing notes. And he ALSO didn’t say we had to take notes, even better!!)

6. “Amy, you’re late. Where were you? We were going to start our lesson but now you’ve interrupted the whole class.”
(I forgot my book in my locker. Plus, I’m pretty sure YOU just interrupted the whole class.)

7. “Raise your hand if you are still confused about yesterday’s lesson.”
(Yeah, right. I’ve been confused since 2 weeks ago, I’m sure as hell not gonna raise my hand now so that the whole class can laugh at me.)

8. “When I call your name, say yes or no if you did your homework. Hold it up so I can see it!”
(Hmm. This homework from last week sort of looks like last night’s homework. I’ll hold this up instead and see what happens.)

Well. Seems like I spent most of the time trying not to get in trouble, and much less time actually learning anything. Since initiations really did seem important, my friend and I spent a lot of time coming up with ours. Our lesson was on negative space, and found object sculpture. Instead of stating the topic and handing out an informative packet, here’s what we did instead:

Students enter the classroom. Right inside the door, there is a clothesline strung up. Hanging from it, are plastic monkeys from a Barrel of Monkeys. One per kid, and attached to each is a slip of paper with each kids name on it (enabling you to take attendance without actually calling out names). Students are instructed to find their monkey and have a seat. “Today you will be building a habitat for your monkey. Under this sheet (spread out on table with found objects, or junk, underneath) you will find everything you need to create your habitat. When building your monkey a home, think about how he will use his surroundings. He will need to climb, sleep, etc, but he will also need enough room around each feature to be able to interact with his environment. This is your negative space. Take both the positive and negative space into consideration when building your habitat. At the end, display your monkey in his environment. Ready, set, go!” The sheet is then whisked away, and the students dive right in to find the “best” pieces of junk for their sculpture.

Of course, this lesson might not be for you. Maybe you don’t feel like building with found objects. That’s ok. But this lesson has always been wildly popular, and I believe it’s because of the initiation. The odd act of being given a monkey when you walk into class. The suspense of wondering what’s under the sheet. If you have a desire to get your students involved in learning instead of chowing down on muffins, I’d recommend putting some thought into your initiation. First impressions are everything, and a little plastic monkey would have made a big impression on me.

Get the full lesson plan here!
Get the Rubric


4 Responses to “8 Ways Not to Start a Class”

  1. teachtotherest March 9, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    “I have half a muffin left…does anyone want it?”
    That’s how NOT to start a class? At least it gets everyone’s attention…with the added possibility of half a muffin to boot.

    I think to generalize your lesson plan to other classes (because not every class has the possibility of monkey-related activities), you have to grab the attention of the students somehow…perhaps an interesting story to start, or a class activity. Once you have their attention, then you can move onto the “boring” stuff, like note-taking, worksheets, or assignments (although, if you’re a good teacher, this stuff isn’t boring at all).

    • Teaching Alternative Art Lessons March 9, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

      Agreed! I think no matter what subject you teach, you need to be creative. Give the kids something unexpected, and don’t get stuck in mundane tasks. Thanks so much for reading!!!

  2. Richard Larraga March 18, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    I teach at a Quaker school where the kids are used to sitting in silence during Meeting for Worship (imagine 800 kids, pre-K to 12, sitting in silence for an hour – it’s heavenly).

    One of the greatest teaching tools we have is to begin with silence. This works for everything: classes, concerts, meetings, etc. As soon as the kids arrive, I just say, “Let’s begin with a moment of silence.” For the bodily kinesthetics, I remind them that silence also means their bodies are still. They immediately settle down and focus. I can then begin the class with their full attention.

  3. Teaching Alternative Art Lessons March 18, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    Richard-that’s wonderful that you have a technique that works for you! The more ideas generated means that teachers of all kinds of populations will have more choices when it comes to initiating. Thanks for adding to the diversity of this site!

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