How to Get Students Excited About Learning

When I introduce students to the water cycle, I give them a bottle of water labeled “dinosaur pee.” I invite them to, “Drink up, me hearties!” I ask them if they believe me that there is dinosaur pee in the bottle. Some do, some don’t. I then explain that because the water cycle is a closed system, the same water that the dinosaurs drank and peed out is still here and may very well be in the bottle in their hand.

Believe me, they never forget that the water cycle is a closed system. Never.

Why You Should Take Time to Get Students Excited About Learning

There’s a lesson we can learn from video game designers. They deliberately make even complicated games easy to engage in. This is called onboarding. They recognize that the most important time in any activity is the very beginning if your goal is to promote engagement.

We know this from parties, too. Think about it: how do you feel about getting a half-hearted invitation [think Facebook invite] to something versus a carefully delivered, sincere invitation? The more care spent in inviting you, the more you are likely to feel that it is worth attending, that your presence really is desired and valuable.

Teachers should spend quality time preparing how to get learners ready  [and excited] to learn. It’s one of the core responsibilities we have.

The poet William Wordsworth said, “What we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Unfortunately, we can’t use the same strategy every lesson or every unit. We have to vary the methods for how we onboard students to our lessons.

How You Get Students Excited About Learning

In pedagogy (the science of teaching), this is called an “anticipatory set.”

It’s the part that builds anticipation, and, thus, interest.

Virtually anything can be used as an anticipatory set. Keep your eyes open for things that you see in your everyday life that can be adapted for class.

You must make sure that the connection to the topic is clear. It should feel smooth, not disjointed. Having a list of ideas in your toolbox is helpful because you aren’t trying to come up with something out of the clear blue sky. You can simply scan your list and choose something that will work.

You may wish to create digital files or paper files for ideas you come across, so you have a place to save that cool picture or object for the perfect lesson.

Ideas for Getting Students Excited About Learning

  • Play a short version of a game like charades, PasswordTabooPictionary, etc.
  • Show a piece of art or architecture and make a comparison or observation
  • Have a guest share a story (or lead any one of these ideas)
  • Display a powerful quote, with or without an accompanying image
  • Use senses of smell or sound
  • Show a clip of a video
  • Tell a story (make sure to disclose if it is fiction)
  • Share an item from a news story
  • Have a mystery box or item or sound
  • Use an object or prop
  • Draw a picture or have class members draw a picture
  • Ask class members to agree or disagree with a series of statements
  • Do a simple magic trick
  • Show a comic
  • Play a reveal game, slowly uncovering sections of a quote or image
  • Show a picture and have the class think of captions
  • Do a scavenger hunt (“Find a word in the text that is a synonym for …” or “What is the third word in the first sentence of the ….”)
  • Tell a riddle or a joke
  • Give a case study and have the class share suggestions
  • Have class complete a short, small task or questionnaire/survey
  • Dress up/come in character (I’ve done this as Shakespeare’s granddaughter!)
  • Delve into a vocabulary word from the lesson
  • Share statistics or have students make predictions

Final Thoughts on Getting Students Excited About Learning

Remember: classes are like mirrors. They reflect the teacher’s attitude and energy. Give to them what you would like from them. If you have a high energy lesson, give a high energy anticipatory set. If you have a more mellow lesson, have a more mellow anticipatory set.

Have ideas that work well for you? Please share!

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P.S. I originally wrote a version of this for a church website I have for my volunteer position in my church.

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