Activities that Get Students Ready to Learn

Starting a lecture can be challenging: getting everyone seated, attentive, and ready to move forward with the content can take several minutes. I have found that sometimes it feels abrupt and disjointed, especially when it has been a week since the last class meeting, so I’ve been working on strategies that help me get a class going without wasting time and that get all the students engaged and ready to learn.

I now begin each lesson with a creative review of the last week’s materials. The reviews involve a variety of techniques for getting students to reflect on previous content and ready to move on to new information. They also help with building relationships, a critical component of teacher-student interactions. Here are some of the strategies that I think work best to accomplish these goals.

Who’s Your Partner?
Using sticky-back name tags, I put three or four names that go together on the tags. Some examples are John, Paul, Ringo, and George, or Bill, Chelsea, and Hillary. I then randomly put the name tags on the backs of students. The students are allowed to find their partners by asking only yes and no questions. When they find the rest of their group, I have them work on a short review assignment. This can be a list of questions from the previous week’s content or a reflection or anything that requires that they work together. The process of finding the rest of the group takes only a few minutes and gets students active and focused.

Piece the Puzzle
For this activity I break the content from the last lecture into four or five sections. Then I take key points from each section and make them into jigsaw puzzles, one puzzle for each section, with five or six pieces per puzzle. I jumble the pieces and give a set of puzzles to each group of students. I generally make each set of puzzles on a different color of paper and put the jumbled pieces in a Ziploc bag. Each group completes all the puzzles. This requires them to categorize previously learned information. I like to engage in competition for prizes from the local dollar store. The first table to complete all the puzzles correctly wins the prize. Another variation is to give each student a piece of a puzzle and have the student locate the other four or five students who have pieces to the same puzzle—I don’t make the puzzles different colors in this case.

Roundtable Review
With this activity, I have students get out a sheet of paper and write a list of numbers from one to ten. Then I instruct them to put one important idea from the previous lecture on the first line. The paper is passed to the person on the left. Each time the paper is passed, the person receiving the paper writes a different idea. After a few minutes I call time, and the papers go back to the original owner. This represents a collection of ideas for future review and study.

I have found that the preparation for these activities takes very little time and that the results are very worthwhile. My students anticipate the activities, and I look forward to having the students in a place where they are ready to learn.

Reprinted from How to Get Wet without Plunging In: Creative Ways to Start Class. The Teaching Professor, January 2006.