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How to engage students in lessons.

As a History teacher, or any other subject teacher for that matter, how many times have you thought how you can “jazz” up a topic? There are some topics that just generate teacher and student enthusiasm and some that even an experienced History teacher thinks are dull. So here are a few tips of bringing that “lust for learning” into the classroom.  They are all tried and tested and guaranteed to motivate and enthuse. Why not give them a go?

Tarsia Puzzles

These puzzles are brilliant for motivating and engaging pupils. This is because the students are competing against time and each other. They are really good for independent learning but students do often find it much easier to work in pairs. Students are given a series of questions and answers on a topic and they need to match them up by either using prior knowledge (revision exercise) or by using textbooks, information sheets or the internet. This doesn’t sound too hard I hear you say! However, the activity is to test the higher order thinking skills as the questions and answers need to be placed into a hexagon shape and this requires a lot of logical thinking.

The puzzles are extremely easy for teachers to make. You simply download the programme from the Tarsia website, input your questions and answers and the programme does the rest for you. This is an excellent resource for differentiation – you can use less questions, resulting in a smaller hexagon or even change the shape of the puzzle completely. My students of all abilities love this challenge.




Topic competition 

This is another lesson that is based around competition and students do become a little frantic during the lesson, so be prepared for some noise. This is probably not the best lesson to try when another class nearby are sitting an assessment.

Students need to be placed into groups of three or four. Each group is given their own set of coloured cards but those cards are kept on a desk in the front of the classroom. One student from each group comes to the desk, collects their first card and returns to their group. The card contains a question. Again, this could be used as a revision exercise or the introduction to a new topic. Together the group find the answer to the question and write it down. The answer is brought to the desk by the second person in the group. The answer is checked, if correct the second card is given, if incorrect the student returns to the group and they try again. The first group that completes all the questions correctly are the winners. This is where the noise comes in as the students are frantically running backwards and forwards in the room. However, there is always a “buzz” in the room and it is a fun and different way of learning. This activity also lends itself to differentiation as you can have mixed ability groups, ability groups, a MAT group with more challenging questions. The possibilities are endless. The only downside to this activity (apart from the noise) is the preparation of the cards beforehand. However, as with all resources, once you have made them you can use them over and over again.


Motivating students into writing extended answers.

Once upon a time this generally just applied to those students who took History at GCSE. This is no longer the case as with the new curriculum changes there is a greater emphasis on extended writing for everyone as well as spelling, punctuation and grammar. So as a teacher how can you possibly make this task engaging? My exam board love questions that allow students to explain a series of events. For example, Why was Hitler able to gain complete power in governing Germany in the years 1933 – 1934?

This lesson needs to be completed as a series of lessons. Around the classroom I place a lot of topic information that the students need to cover in their answer. Then begins the information hunt. Students are given the opportunity to work alone or in pairs. They circulate the room and complete a headed table by collecting as much information as possible about each topic. Information can be differentiated.

Many of our students have no idea of how to revise for exams, so this is the next part of the lesson.  They are all issued with six small postcards. The idea is to use the information that they have collected to design revision cards. For each topic, the information should be bullet pointed, short and snappy and contain key words and dates. Students are only allowed to use one side of the card for their notes forcing them to choose the information that is the most important.

The following task is the extended writing task. For this, students need large sheets of sugar paper, coloured pens and to work in partners. In pairs, they write the first paragraph to the question – this is their introduction. After five minutes, every pair swaps their paper – this is much easier if you go clockwise around the room.  The new pair of students reads through the work, they correct any factual and SPAG mistakes, then they use their revision cards and information table to write the next paragraph. They will need slightly longer for this so I usually give seven minutes to each paragraph after this. This then continues around the class until the whole answer is completed.

The final part of this activity is for students to produce their own individual answers. All class answers are displayed around the room. Students need to pick and choose which paragraphs they believe will produce the best answer. This is another form of differentiation as it allows lower ability students to see how to write a higher grade answer. They can then use this model to answer similar questions in the future.

Engagement for boys – but not just for boys!

This was originally set as a homework task to encourage students to complete research and explain their reasons for their choices. It became the most popular piece of homework that I have ever given. Enthusiasm went through the roof. I had students stopping me on the yard, coming to my room at break and e-mailing me to tell me their ideas. I have to say that there were a lot of parents involved in this task as well.  The task was simple. Students were asked to create a historical football dream team. They could choose any one from history but every person they chose had to be given a position on the team and this needed to include an explanation of why that person should play in that position – what qualities did they have? Students were given the option of e-mailing their homework to me or simply just writing it down. I was absolutely inundated with ideas. The results were all read and I used my tutor group at the time to help create the final “Dream Team”. This was then developed into a display in the classroom and it always generates a lot of interest.

Dream team

As a teacher, I have to say that developing lessons that create so much enthusiasm gives me great pleasure. Despite the planning and the noise, I get great satisfaction when students leave the room with a smile on their face and say how much they enjoyed History today. However, what gives me the most satisfaction is when they tell me as they are about to leave in Year 11 “Miss, do you remember when we ……..?”

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