Five Ways To Spice Up Your Teaching With Almost Zero Effort!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Today's Question of the Day comes from Mildred Plotkins, an imaginary teacher from Waynesboro, Virginia.  Mildred asks:

Dear Teach, 
I am midway through my first year of teaching, and my students are all bored and throw things at me.  At first it was just paper, but now they've moved to firecrackers and other explosives. What can I do to make my teaching more interesting and stop me from getting my head blown off? Also I'm poor so I can't buy anything and I have no free time.

First of all, Mildred, I'm sorry to hear about your situation.  Although none of my students have thrown anything at my head, a few years ago one of mine did say he was so bored he was going to set me on fire. 

I have compiled a list for Mildred and others going through a similar mid-year situation of ways to revamp your teaching game without breaking the bank or turning you into a person who stays at school until 9:00 PM.

I give you:

Five Ways To Spice Up Your Teaching With Almost Zero Effort!

1) Teach a five-minute segment in a British accent, or whatever accent in which you are even reasonably proficient besides your own

When I’m teaching and see a big percentage of my class slowly lower their heads down to their desk, I often rev up my English accent and they all pop up again.  What is it about accents that are so fun?  Make sure that you use this for short segments only or for relatively unimportant directions, because some kids get so excited about your accent that they’ll stop listening altogether.

 Also, this next part isn’t important but I’m going to tell you anyway. I’ve always been proud of my British accent, and when I lived in England (which was for about ten seconds), I once read a paragraph out of a book in my best accent to my English friends.  When I looked up from reading, they were all doubled over in their chairs with silent laughter. 

“What?” I said. “I don’t sound English?”
“You do,” one of them replied. “But maybe an English person who has brain damage, or has half their face paralyzed.”

So there’s that. But my students think my accent is flawless, and that’s all that matters.

If you're not good at accents you can talk like a robot or a whale.

2) Trick your students into thinking they have power with the “Raise the Roof” game

Here’s the rules for Raise the Roof.

Rule #1: Everyone does the “raise the roof” motion without smiling. (Click here  for an extremely helpful instructional video on raising the roof from Howcast.)

Rule #2: Anyone who smiles sits down.

Rule #3: The last person not smiling wins.

I do this when we’re about to do something I know they hate, like a timed write.  Let’s say I really want them to have 10 minutes to do it.  But I don't tell that to the kids.

Instead, I tell them that we're about to play Raise the Roof, and if I win, they only have five minutes to write; if they win, they have 10 minutes.  Then I always lose because I can never raise the roof with a straight face.

I get my ten-minute timed write.
They get the illusion of having defeated me.

3) Trashketball

This game I stole from a teacher I had in high school. Thanks, NR!

Divide the class into two teams. Have each team send a representative to the front of the room.  You ask a review question.  The first team representative to ding a bell (or, if your students are like mine and have broken three of your bells, a Post-It note that one student can be in charge of making go “ERRRR!!” when buzzed) gets to answer the question for their team for three points.  If the answer is incorrect, the other team gets a chance to answer for three points.

Then, whichever representative answers correctly gets a chance to shoot the trashketball (i.e. a special ball of trash) across the room into a trash can for an additional two points. I make the question worth more than the trash so that nobody gets harassed if they miss. Also, be sure to check the trash can ahead of time for things like used Kleenex or the cheese from your Lean Pocket.

My teacher’s trashketball in high school was a foam human head decorated to look like him.  I used to have one but it was destroyed very quickly, so this is a picture of my current trashketball.

Also, there’s this weird phenomenon that happens in Trashketball.  The kids who are the star athletes and talk a huge game usually miss when they throw it, and the quietest, least athletic kids are often the ones who make the insane, across-the-room shots for 50 kazillion points.  Just play it; you’ll see what I mean.

4) Play a short, random YouTube video at the beginning of class that relates to your lesson plan minimally or not at all

Even if you can’t find a way to relate them to your lesson, they might make your students like you more and thus make them pay attention. Here is a list of my favorites. 

Cat Sail. Just thinking about this video makes me giggle. 

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.  There’s nothing I can really say about this one.  But your kids will be quoting it for the rest of the year.

Zombie kid likes turtles. I used this one to introduce a lesson on staying on topic. 

How Animals Eat Their Food. I'm pretty sure this video would work for kindergartners all the way up to high school seniors.

Goats yelling likehumans.  The second clip destroys me every time.

I just realized that all these videos are about animals. Huh.

5) Review Musical Chairs

Okay, this is seriously the best.  The only thing you really have to prepare is moving all desks out of the way and creating a review.  Chances are you had to create a review anyway, so really the only thing to do is move desks which you can make your students do.

Basically, it’s like regular musical chairs, except the person who is “out” at the end gets to challenge someone who is sitting for their seat. The two students, the challenger and the challengee "face off" with a review question. When I play, I make all my students answer the question (even if they’re not one of the two students in the showdown for a chair) and turn in their review at the end of class.

Warning: this can get violent. And really, really hilarious. I’ve laughed myself to tears/stomach cramps/near death on multiple occasions.

Wishing Mildred and anyone else who is hating February the best,



6 easy steps to keep yourself from lighting the world on fire

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I was in a meeting today that upset me, and by that I mean that it made me want to hire a rickshaw to run me around the whole world while I sit in the back with a giant blowtorch, setting everything that comes in my path ablaze. 

I have noticed that on Bad Meeting Morning days, I tend to be really grouchy with my students.  This is unfair because I believe that no one should see my wrath unless they’ve really earned it.  So, I have created a routine for myself to transition back to normalcy after I am frustrated, and I would like to share that routine with you now.  

1) Cover your eyes and take 15 deep breaths.

This makes me think I’m back in the womb, where I had time to take deep breaths and it was dark.

2) Listen to nature sounds.  

How can you be mad at anything when you’re hiking* through a rainforest or near a babbling brook?  If you are a teacher, put nature sounds on while your students are doing anything. If you’re not a teacher, just put a pair of noise cancelling headphones on and tell people you’re sorry, you can’t remove them because you’re having your ears dilated.

Here is a link to my nature playlist.  I used it today with my students and it was like they'd been drugged.

If this joyful baby donkey doesn't make you smile, you should probably gather your things and call it a day.

4) Eat some peanut butter filled pretzel nuggets.

 Imagine them as the heads of the people who are annoying you.  Tip: ration yourself so that you don’t accidentally eat half of a family-sized large plastic barrel in one sitting. 

5) Think about the adults who are annoying you as mermaids (or mermen) who have been banished to an aquarium at a local restaurant and must perform for their food. If this is too weird for you, think of them as taxidermy, mounted to the wall of a place you never visit.  If this is too weird for you, think of them as baby versions of themselves.

6) Smell something nice.  

If I was rich I would keep a bottle of lavender essential oil in my desk, but since I am poor I spray some purple Febreze, which is also lovely. Side note: once I saw an episode of a show where a woman was addicted to smelling the head of a baby doll. You may do this if it pleases you.

I hope that you remember this the next time you have a Bad Morning Meeting, or whatever in your career or life makes you want to go on an international blowtorching rickshaw excursion.



*I almost spelling this "haiking"!  What a day.