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Student Motivation: Countering the Winter Blahs

No matter where you are in the country, the recent weather woes may have you and your students experiencing a bit of the winter blahs.

No matter where you are in the country, the recent weather woes may have you and your students experiencing a bit of the winter blahs. With motivating and engaging students presenting a challenge on any given day, adding weather induced lethargy to the mix can prove to be a tough hurdle to overcome. Having a few extra tricks up your sleeve can be a real lifesaver when you're trying to transform those winter blahs into a livewire of learning. While routines and warm-ups can get students focused and on track, adding some variety and spice can really re-spark those wires.

My mother always says to take a recipe and make it your own, and I think that's important with classroom activities too! Don't shy away from an activity just because it doesn't fit your current unit of study or subject area. Several years ago, a colleague sent me an article about Textploration1, and all the positive student feedback had me hooked. My personal spin had students focusing on plot, character, and setting to create gist statements about our upcoming novel. I compiled an '80s playlist as a setting clue and paused the music for station rotation. Textploration definitely offered a change in routine, let them explore new concepts in groups, and got classes that were able to handle it up and moving. If a class couldn't handle moving about the room, I had them pass small bins filled with the items, so the stations rotated rather than the students. Students begged to do this one whenever a new novel was introduced. Early elementary grades could adapt this by using multiple bins with the same items, so a whole class discussion could follow the study of each station. Again, make it your own to work for your crew.

I could see Textploration translating well to other curriculums too. A social studies class could have stations with objects representing people, time period, and events to compile some generalizations to test out as a unit is studied. A materials list for a lab would be a fun way for science classes to start thinking about what may be tested/studied using the items. Math classes could generate lists of operations and equations that could be used in real life scenarios, like home construction, vacation planning, or running for office, and see which group could come up with the most day-to-day applications of mathematical concepts. The possibilities are really endless, and students will be eager to work together and delve into the concepts being studied in a unique way.

Front-loading is a great tool and can motivate students at the beginning of a lesson/unit, but having some everyday strategies for your repertoire will help keep the blahs at bay. On edutopia.org there are some great ideas for spicing up your questioning strategies2. They also offer some ideas that come from actual students3. If you're within walking distance to a building housing other grade levels, a great motivator could be setting up buddies with a class that's 5-6 levels above or below your own. The buddy system can be a hit for many activities, and lower elementary teachers can take advantage of some extra hands for station activities, science labs, math drills, or reading. NAEYC shared information about Reading Buddies4 as a motivating strategy for pairings of elementary and pre-K students, but middle school/elementary or upper elementary/kindergarten would be great pairings too. This can be beneficial for both buddies and really offer some literacy enlightenment for the older child.

Motivating ourselves to add some variety and spice can bring a little sunshine back into the classroom. These strategies and activities may be just what students need to counter the winter blahs. Who knows, you may even create a few '80s music fans with the right playlist!

What lessons have you used lately to re-spark those livewires of learning? Please share any ideas or adaptations in the comments, and let's battle the blahs together!

Additional Resources & Works Cited

1. Textploration: Fun with Front Loading

2. Edutopia: Beyond Q+A: Six Strategies That Motivate ALL Students to Participate

3. Edutopia: Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement

4. NAEYC Reading Buddies

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