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A Sure-Fire Way to Increase Student Engagement in Your Classroom

NOTE: The following story is based on a TRUE story, without any embellishment or dramatization:

When I was 13 years old, I was walking through a local cemetery near my house, at night, with a bunch of my friends. I felt something run by me behind my back, but when I turned around, no one was there and my friends were walking about ten paces up ahead of me. I felt this cold sensation around me even with the humid summer air in July. I don’t know why, but I became immediately frightened. Something just didn’t feel right.

I walked another hundred feet and by one of the major oak trees up ahead, I saw something running by across the grassy hill near a few tombstones . . . a blurry figure . . . something that looked like a wolf on two legs. My heart starting racing and I yelled out to my friends, “Did you see that?” They laughed at me and had no idea what I was talking about. “See what?” they asked. I gasped for air and couldn’t answer them.

Almost nearing the cemetery exit pathway which was the last steps on our cemetery short cut home, I know what I saw at that very last moment of my final steps there: a werewolf man! Running away from me to the left of the grassy hill up ahead, a tall furry creature on hind legs looked at me and took off into the bushes that covered a chain link fence. I will never know what that beast truly was, but I know that I experienced something that was not a hallucination, not a dream, and 100% real. I believe there are werewolf creatures with human characteristics. While the Loch Ness Monster may or may not be real, I know what I saw that day and my kids have been told about this werewolf man legend.

So, why am I telling you this story? And, what does this have to do with raising student engagement in your classroom? As I grow each day as a teacher, educator, and school leader, there is one major thing that my students absolutely loved about my classes and leadership in the past: STORIES and the art of STORYTELLING go a long way with them!

One of the greatest ways to engage students, still to this day, has to do with the art of storytelling. My students almost demanded that I tell a story each and every day as a classroom anticipatory set, ice breaker activity, or entry in to our daily objectives because it was a way for them to be entertained and gain entry into powerful learning topics. Below, I have outlined 3 major characteristics of creating a good story which will captivate your students and get them highly engaged in your lessons using the acronym, E.A.R.. Here they are:

  1. E = Exciting: When you share a story with your students, make sure that it is exciting. Sometimes, the weirder, the better. I never told my students boring stories. They deserve better than slides about my family trip or boring content that they will not find amusing. Be bold. Use humor. Keep them in suspense.

  2. A = Authentic: Your stories need to be REAL and authentic. Students know when we make stuff up.They are incredibly in-tune with lies and real-life stories.The more we share with them about our experiences, our wisdom that has been gained, or things that were either funny or strange, the more our students see us as human beings with hearts and authentic life experiences.

  3. R = Relevant: Our stories should relate to our lesson content. If you were to think about my werewolf-man story that I shared with you earlier in this article, consider it as an introduction to reading Frankenstein or other novels that elicit “creatures or beings” on a certain level of defining the themes about humanity or altering human spirit. Stories should not be time wasters, but directly related to the content that you are teaching.

I remember telling stories throughout my entire educational career. Storytelling can make meaning and bridge life experiences. Storytelling is a tool that is often underrated. Try one tomorrow. Then build up your story-telling cache until it becomes second nature. I’ll bet that once you get going, your students will ask you, “Can you tell us a story today?”

And THAT is student engagement at its best!

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