Every lesson plan begins with a beginning. Unfortunately, in all too many classrooms this beginning sounds something like this: ”Now class, turn to page 428 of your textbook.” There’s nothing there to grab students (quite the reverse: many kids will disengage from the class at that point). Every teacher needs to have a kit bag full of tools and tricks for starting a lesson. Many years ago, the educator Madeline Hunter called this creating the ”anticipatory set”: providing a way to begin a lesson that serves to intrigue, baffle, enliven, or otherwise engage students in what is to follow for the rest of the class. I’ve found Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences helpful for generating and organizing many of these ”introductions” whether you’re teaching math, history, literature, science, or any other subject in school. Here are eight ways to begin any lesson plan:
- Word Smart – put an unusual word on the board for all to see (e.g. in algebra, it might be ”agnostophobia” which means ”fear of the unknown.” This could serve as an intro for studying the meaning of ”x” as an unknown).
- Number/Logic Smart – put an interesting number or statistic on the board (e.g. for American history, put ”620,000” and ask students what they think it represents [number of soldiers killed on both sides in the Civil War”)
- Picture Smart – show a funny cartoon (e.g. for science, Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons work very well – for example, one cartoon shows a scientist talking to a colleague in a very messy lab saying ”cleaning goes against entropy and the natural order” – this could serve to introduce the concept of ”entropy” – and also be a subtle reminder for students to clean up after themselves!).
- Music Smart – play an appropriate selection of music – (e.g. to begin a unit on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, play a selection from the choral symphony Roméo et Juliette by French composer Hector Berlioz).
- Body Smart – put on a little skit for the students (e.g. in the movie ”Stand and Deliver” Jamie Escalante (played by Edward James Olmos) begins a lesson dressed in a chef’s cap and slices an apple with a sharp knife to teach fractions; in the film ”Dead Poet’s Society,” Robin Williams stands on his desk and declaims Shakespeare).
- People Smart – to start the class, ask students a question and then have them turn to a fellow student and formulate a response (e.g. in civics class, where the focus is on checks and balances, ask: ”which of the three branches of government do you feel is the most powerful?”).
- Self Smart – begin the class by asking students a question related to their own lives that also relates to the topic at hand (e.g. in history class, where students are about to begin a unit on the American Revolution, ask them to ”think of a time in your life when you felt like revolting against authority” – this works really well in middle school!).
- Nature Smart – show an animal video that you can tie into the day’s lesson (e.g. in psychology class, show a popular You Tube video of a dog dancing the salsa [youtube.com/watch?v=rRaPVTetseI] and ask the students: ”Do you think animals have consciousness?”).
These are just a few examples. Use your own creativity to come up with other novel and interesting ways to begin your classes. Not only will it prove to be engaging to your students (which will increase their chances of attending to the rest of the lesson), but it will also be a lot of fun for you as a teacher (and teachers certainly need to have more fun these days!).
For more ideas on creating lesson plans, units, and learning strategies based on Gardner’s eight intelligences model, see my book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 4th Edition.
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