Published Online: October 16, 2012

Spice Up Your Class Routine

By this time of the school year, your students probably have a sense of the rhythms and routines of your classroom. There's a lot to be said for predictability. At the same time, adding a jolt of the unexpected can help banish the ho-hums:

Friday "Fun Days"

I often choose to mix things up on Fridays, giving students a chance to review what they've been exploring during the week. Start a tradition that your students can look forward to—a fun time when you learn differently together. What this means, of course, depends on how you ordinarily teach.

In some classrooms, a curriculum-based art project might spice things up. (Here's an example: When teaching my math students Cartesian coordinates, I lead them in developing versions of our school logo based on coordinates.) In other classrooms, old-school flash card activities could be a welcome novelty.

My students enjoy a Friday competition created online with JeopardyLabs. I use the game to review concepts we've highlighted during the week, challenging students to demonstrate their learning.

Whiteboards, Whiteboards, Whiteboards

I am a fan of distributing individual whiteboards among students. They are cheap—you can even create your own, by cutting a piece of white paneling from a building supply store.

What's the secret of whiteboards? I don't know, but my students love them, especially as compared to the traditional paper-and-pencil combination. And they're low tech—add a paper towel and a dry-erase marker, and your students have a simple way to show what they're learning. No password or charger necessary.

In math class, students can independently solve problems, holding them up for you to quickly scan answers and identify misconceptions.

When working on vocabulary, I sometimes ask students to sketch designs that represent new words, having other students guess which word matches their drawing (think Pictionary!).

Who's the Teacher Now?

Now that it's October and you have a sense of your students' strengths, interests, and personalities, consider how each could contribute to the classroom over the course of the year. Assign students to teach mini-lessons or lead review sessions.

Students are usually eager to be the "sage on the stage" and embrace this role, coming up with creative ideas to impart knowledge to their classmates. Be sure to set aside time to work with the "teachers" in advance to ensure they understand the concepts and skills, then to help them fine-tune activities.

Having them work in pairs can reduce anxiety and offer practice with authentic collaboration.

Seating Switcheroo

Many teachers utilize a seating chart for classroom management. One day each month, offer students the chance to sit wherever they want. (Alternatively, if you have a "sit anywhere you like" policy, try assigning seats once in a while.)

The change in scenery will add some welcome variety to your students' experiences—but will likely enrich your perspective as well. (You might even consider swapping seats yourself!)

Share Some Tunes

Many students spend the school day in music withdrawal—their iPods banished or stowed away in backpacks. Share your own favorite tunes with the class from time to time.

Use music to change the mood of the crowd—something low and slow during independent work time can help calm fidgets. A lively beat can help motivate during cleanup time. Whether you choose to share twangy country, West African call-and-response, jazz standards, or singer-songwriter ballads, you will likely be expanding students' musical repertoire.

Offer Brain Food From Time to Time

Once you are familiar with your students' food allergies and preferences, look for healthy treats to share. Raisins, nuts, trail mix, or snack bars can be bought in bulk fairly cheaply. And handmade treats are usually appreciated, too. Food makes most students feel cared for—and boosts their attitudes about the most daunting assignments.

Whatever you do, mix it up often to keep you and your students motivated and engaged. Remember that the element of surprise goes a long way to stimulating minds!

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