Trusting that we are providing sufficient content, we can turn our focus towards the joyful ignition of our students’ curiosity. We can explore ways to engage both their hearts and minds. How do we catch our students’ attention, building interest in the learning adventure we are about to set in motion?
We can begin by appealing to their senses. We can introduce a subject of inquiry through videos, songs, manipulative materials, or the use of a story or monologue that we read aloud. We can add a costume piece and turn it into a dramatic enactment. Even if we are not actors, our students are likely to be an enthusiastic audience anyway!
When I was teaching about the crossing of the Oregon Trail. I found a first person account from a woman who had kept a diary as she undertook that journey. I wore a long dress, found a bonnet, and told “my” story to the students. The account covered topics such as preparation for the journey, what we were allowed to take with us and what had to be left behind, and hardships that we faced along the way. When I gave the students an opportunity to ask questions, it was clear that their curiosity had been piqued!
We can extend the understanding of the content by connecting it to other subject areas. In the Oregon Trail example, we could ask the students to measure out an area representing the small space I had to fit in the few objects I was able to bring with me. We could ask the students to guess how many items could fit into that space Then we could place items into that space to determine how close their guess was to the number of items that actually fit.
We could connect the material to the students’ lives by discussing the times that they have moved or changed from one school to another. We could ask them to consider what they would choose to take with them if they were to cross the Oregon Trail. We could also ask the students to share the immigration stories of their families.
After we have their attention, we can inspire our students to connect further with the material. We can ask them to choose and research an area of specific interest to them. In the Oregon Trail lesson, for example, you could offer options such as the kinds of food that were eaten during the journey; the construction of the wagon trains; the kind of terrain that was covered; the animals they were likely to encounter, or the kind of clothing that was worn.
As students do their research, you could lead them to resources and act as a resource yourself. You could provide specific parameters to ensure that they are collecting data, ask questions to extend their interest, and guide their work, inspiring further inquiry. You can also embed other objectives in their project, such as using certain vocabulary words or reading a certain amount of material.
You can determine the context in which they work. For example, you could give them the option of working in pairs or small groups if they have similar interests. Or you could group them as “families who are going to make the crossing” and are doing research
together before they embark on their journeys. Additionally, you could choose to make this work a one-time assignment or an ongoing project.
After giving students parameters such as making sure that they are communicating clearly and using data to support their findings, you can offer them choices of ways in which they can share what they have learned. The expressive arts offer many opportunities to effectively experience, share, and retain content. For example, students can actively engage with and share the material they have discovered with a role-play; story; song; rap; map; painting, or poster. In the Oregon Trail example, they could even construct a covered wagon, sing songs, cook a meal or make clothing typical of the era.
In addition to supporting students’ connection with the material, sharing content in this way offers other benefits. Multiple intelligences can be supported, a wide range of content can be covered, and students can feel a sense of expertise as they “teach” their fellow students. Students’ findings can be displayed as well, fostering pride and ongoing connection with the material.