Attention can be won or lost in the first ten minutes of class. It is important to engage the students and grab their attention as soon as class starts; it will be easier to keep their attention and keep them focused on the topics in class.
To begin lay out the expectations for collaboration and discussion early on in the course. Set the rules and structure of the class early in the semester. Let students know what you expect of them, and what they can expect of you when they come to class. State to students that are participating in class discussion relies on their understanding of the assigned readings or the completion of some review questions. This request lets students know, don’t be late and be prepared because we ARE going to get started as soon as class begins.
Begin with an activity to engage them as soon as class begins. This activity can be a review question, a discussion question, a review task, etc.
Some strategies and ideas to grab student attention or to jump-start your course.
1. State the day’s topic to the students. Write on the board three quotations that don’t seem to be related to one another and ask not just how they are related to each other, but how they are related to the days topic. This activity gets students to think analytically and critically.
2. Put 3 questions on the board for students to answer. Have students choose to answer one of the three questions. The questions should not be too difficult, yet challenging enough that the keener in the class doesn’t shout out the answer. Ask the students to introduce themselves to 3 new people and ask them what they think the answer to their chosen question is. Students may have to answer the same question 3 times, or have to formulate an answer for 2 or 3 different questions. Have the students write down each student's name and the answer they received. Also, have them write down their own name and an answer to the question. Then have the students rate each student's answer on a scale of five, where 1 means not accurate, and 5 means accurate. Have the students submit the assignment. You don’t have to mark the assignment, but it is a great way for you as a teacher to evaluate what level of understanding your students have regarding your course. It helps instructors learn names of students, and helps students build peer relations in the course.
3. Towards the end of class, put up a cartoon or photo related to the topic you are going to cover in the next class. Ask students to create captions that help to explain what the next classes topic will be. Post the cartoon in the LMS as well within a discussion forum. Let students submit their captions to the discussion forum. Students can then comment on other captions. Be sure to state or post the rules of discussion to the students. This helps build up peer relations as well as allows students to learn the proper way to provide peer feedback.
4. Ask students to submit five online resources that can help research topics related to the content of your course. Make sure the students are ready to explain why they chose the resources they did. Discuss as a group why or why not each resource is appropriate. This helps students learn to critically evaluate resources, and provides them with a list of learning resources.
5. Create a short presentation(no more than 10 minutes) for the first day of class in which you provide students with some false facts. Continue with the presentation until a student stops you to ask if those facts are indeed correct. If no one stops you, finish the presentation. If the students are frantically taking notes, let them continue. If they ask you to skip back a slide so they can write something down, accommodate them. Once you are done, if no students have stopped you, ask them to then identify everything that was a myth or misconstrued fact in your presentation. Complete this portion as a group. If a student does stop you and question you, have a small prize or reward ready for them. They are being rewarded for stopping to think critically about the knowledge that is being given to them.
Some examples of activities that could engage students in the first ten minutes are:
- An intriguing question that gets students to review their knowledge from assigned readings or to reflect on the lessons learned from the previous class.
- Ask the students to write down an explanation to a question you pose about that day’s lesson. The question can act as a launching point for the lesson and discussion around the lesson. By getting students to immediately right down their answers, they can refer to their answer and see how it changes with what they learn about the topic.
- If there are current news stories related to the lesson that day, ask students to discuss the topic. Ask them why this story is relevant to what they are studying? This provides students with an authentic example that provides them an opportunity to see how the knowledge and skills they acquire in class can be applied.
- Try using an audience response system(ARS) to ask students their opinion. The ARS allows students to answer anonymously; however, the results can be aggregated and shown to the class in real time. By showing the results, you can engage students by showing them how their thinking compares to their peers. A definite 2 or 3-way split can often create great opportunities for discussion. Students feel that they need to defend their opinion but no longer feel isolated as the only student in the room that has that opinion. They gain some confidence and become more willing to engage in discussion.
Engage students in a way that is meaningful and authentic. Made up questions that don’t have application in the real world may seem like a rote exercise to students. Effective learners will take responsibility for their own learning, and if they feel that the activity does not affect them, or the world around them in anyway, they may be less inclined to engage in the topic.
We often forget that learning takes place in more ways than between the student and the course content. They learn by interacting with their peers in class, by engaging and interacting with the larger community around them, and they learn in social and collaborative environments, not just in a limited environment between them and the course readings. Incorporate activities that allow this social learning to occur. Feedback, changing opinions, and newly learned facts can all play a role in how student engage and learn concepts.