The “Secrets” to Student Engagement
September 20, 2021
“What’s your favorite animal?”
My nephews stood around me in circle, looking up expectantly like a brood of hungry ducklings. It was a fairly innocuous question, but any query is also an opportunity to learn. So instead of answering I took a different approach.
“I could tell you…” I mused, “or you can try to guess in 20 questions!”
That set them off.
“Is it a reptile?”
“Does it eat fish?”
“Is it bigger than me?”
Just like that, I had tapped into their natural curiosity and got them engaged in a learning experience.
Asking the Right Questions
Curiosity is an intrinsic characteristic of humanity. It’s what propels babies to put everything in their mouths, and why we wrap presents. As we grow older, we trade in curiosity for comfort, opting to order our “regular” from the menu rather than trying something new. But if you want to be an extraordinary educator, you must tap back into your innate sense of curiosity and create mystery and intrigue in your classroom.
One way to do this is by framing your lesson as a secret. Secrets are like catnip for young minds. The mere hint of a secret unbridles curiosity, innately motivating them to learn. Start with a hook that draws them in – Can a cookbook save your life? Can students help create a class full of millionaires? Is Mars our only hope? etc. Make your content so tantalizing that they can taste it. Then make them work hard for the satisfaction of learning.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started with your own students:
- Science Hook: I know exactly how long it takes a pumpkin to decompose and what it looks like along the way. Want me to show you?
- Social Studies Hook: I know something about the Civil War that I bet no one else in this building knows. Do you want to know too?
- Math Hook: I know how many 5-card hands are possible in a 52-card deck. Do you?
- English Language Arts Hook: I’ve never told anyone the reason this is my favorite book. Can I tell you?
Knowing secrets makes us feel distinctive, exceptional, and clever. The resulting sense of self-worth also provides positive reinforcement for students who put in the work. So recast tomorrow’s lesson as a treasure hunt, a secret mission, or a beguiling mystery to capture your students’ curiosity.
Crack the Case
The best secrets are those that, once revealed, lead to more questions than answers. Let this drive your instruction, more than any scripted lesson plan. Trust your students with a piece of information that is known only to a select few. Then guide the questions toward your learning objectives, all the while feeding their curious mind.
*P.S. In case you were wondering, my favorite animal is the Giant Oceanic Manta Ray.