Momentum is important when it comes to teaching. It’s especially key in keeping students motivated in their studies. With so many distractions from friends, homelife, social media, sports, clubs and activities, students are constantly looking towards the next thing and are not necessarily completely present in the moment.
So how does a teacher capitalize on momentum, particularly when it’s time to start a new unit of study?
English teachers especially need to capture the awe and attention of their students before heading into a new novel unit. Engaging students in reading has been a challenge for generations, and it only continues to become harder.
Novels, however, offer something special at their core that makes for ample self-generated enthusiasm. They are stories. And students, like all human beings, are drawn to a good story.
Of course, not all novels are modern young adult fare that clearly speak to students of today. Some of the novels were written hundreds of years ago; the language is denser and the context not as familiar on first sight.
This is where teachers need to create excitement. They need to tease their students with the content they’re about to consume.
Teachers often teach the importance of a hook in an opening paragraph to spark the reader’s enthusiasm. When presenting a new unit of study, teachers should think about a teaser to draw students in, giving just enough information to tantalize expectations.
Start Beyond the Book
If the book has historical context, craft a unit that explores the time period. Let this lead into the introduction of the book. For example, Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible,” takes place in colonial times and deals with the hysteria over witches. Here, a lesson about witches can offer a spooky take, hooking reluctant readers from the start.
Whether it’s video, audio, or images, find examples that illuminate the subject matter in an exciting way. If you’re teaching “The Crucible,” you can show videos about witches and play spooky music to set the mood. Lean into the elements of the novel, play, or story that give you the most spectacle. Find a film clip that allows you to introduce the setting of the unit to help students create a visual and emotional context for the world they are about to enter.
If there is a popular song that has a similar theme to the unit of study, play that song, explore those themes, and then use that as your entry into the new text.
Prewriting and Exploration
Ask students to reflect on themes or story elements and make connections with their own lives as you present various elements of the new unit of study. If you are teaching To Kill a Mockingbird, you may want them to write about important lessons they learned when they were younger children, or examples of prejudice they have witnessed in life or the media. Share students’ work or bring their words to life by acting out their examples in front of the class. These activities create physical and emotional engagement before they’ve even opened the first page.
Your role when presenting the next unit of study in an English class is also that of a marketer. You need to hook your students’ interest and show how the text, no matter when it was written or where it takes place, will be an exciting literary journey for all.
Engaged, excited readers will be successful learners!