One of the best ways to boost engagement is with fun. To kick off a unit, do something silly. Do something that the kids will remember. Do something that has a strong emotional hook to it, that you can reference all year long. Tell the kids that is what you are doing and the purpose is for them to be instantly reminded of that unit. Give them one-liners and hang them on your wall as “tag lines.” Your test scores will be glad you did.
These are some hooks and tag-lines I’ve used with kids in my sixth grade math classroom.
One kid has to carry a step stool across the room and get something off of the shelf for me and then bring the stool back. The next kid has to climb on the stool and then try to put the item away. They learn that you can’t go “up” or “y-axis” before you go “across” the “x-axis.”
My sixth graders love to dance. I put on the Cha-Cha slide music and clear the classroom floor. As we dance, I jokingly make mistakes and kiddingly make fun of others that do too. Once we are done, I explain that in line dancing, you always have to make the right moves or you will “look dumb.” I explain that is the same with the Order of Operations. If you don’t go in the exact right order, you’ll get it wrong.
Before we break a number down into it’s parts, I show the kids a video I found on YouTube that is of a guy and a bear fighting over a can of smoked salmon. It is a lame video, but my sixth graders think it hilarious. Then, when we go to “breaking” the number into their factors, we say “punch ‘em out.” My boys especially like this silly hook.
After teaching fractions conceptually for many days, I go through the algorithms for each type of function. To kick it off, I pull up lame “Why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes from around the web. I then explain that he crossed it “straight across” to Keep Chickens Free. He changed the Kentucky Fried Chicken sign to KCF, which stands for Keep Change Flip.
To kick off the graphing unit, I begin class very seriously with some vocabulary and discussion about graphs. I tell them that we are going to analyze some graphs and make them predict what types of graphs we might encounter. I then pull up a slideshow of about twenty goofy graphs off of the internet. I make them explain the humor in them. Then, for the rest of the class period, I let them go find funny graphs and post them to our class wall in our student management system. I love how this one always catches them off guard. It turns out to be one of their favorite days all year.
What type of silliness could you add to your classroom to make the learning a little more fun and memorable for your students?