Dolph Petris | September 2018

Making Learning Fun: A Very Fine Line

Okay, so you’ve survived the first weeks of school and now would like to change things up bit.  You don’t want the student excitement of the new year to wear down.  What to do?  If you incorporate fun games or activities, you run the risk of diluting the importance of what you are trying to achieve with your students.  That is, if the ‘fun’ in fun has no connected academic value.

But this is where some of the fun actually resides.

Let’s Do Something Fun!

As the classroom teacher, you have full reign to author the day’s plans and actions for your students.  So if you find there have been slower periods of engagement with your students in the few short weeks of school, you decide to incorporate a fun and engaging activity.

“Let’s do something fun, boys and girls!”  Don’t say this.  The moment you do, you relegate everything else to date that you have said and done as not fun.  As educators, we want our students to think that everything they do with you in the classroom is fun and engaging.  Learning IS fun and engaging.

The Fine Line

The fine line we dance on a daily basis is how to manage the concept of fun with learning.  Let’s face it, not everything we do in the classroom is fun.  However, how information is conveyed can be fun.

Watch your students while they form, and stand in line.  They cannot stand still for very long at all. They are constantly moving!  Often, they are wiggling the latest quirky dance move and comparing notes with one another.  Here is the teacher’s easy entrance… movement and dance.

A few years ago, one of my 6th graders was singing a song while we entered the classroom. Almost immediately, others started joining in on the singing.  The song sounded so silly yet fun.  The students were getting goofy, having a blast as we walked in from lunch.  When I asked my students what they were singing, they told me that it was the opening theme song to SpongeBob SquarePants.  So I searched the internet and downloaded the song. Then I played it for the class.  Guess what? They LOVED it!  For me, it was such an eye opener as I became part of their childhood world and joined in on their playfulness.  My students thought it was hilarious that I was having as much fun as they were.

Meaningful Gestures

We all made hand and arm movements and gestures while in our primary years of schooling.  Why stop now?  Remember Y-M-C-A?  A little imagination will open doors for you and your students as you begin to connect components of your daily curriculum to simple movements and gestures.  Your students will want to join in and will definitely be engaged.

My students marvel when I will sometimes try to imitate some of their dance moves.  Suddenly, they become captivated with my attempt and want to help me ‘get it right’.  Sure they laugh, but it is a shared laughter that we enjoy together as we strengthen our teacher-student connection.

Yes, the classroom volume will increase, but student focus to get the right movement and gesture is immeasurable.

Where to start?

Movement, gesture, and dance can easily be incorporated in all areas of curriculum.  Start with yourself and make a connection to something, anything visual while you are teaching. Then, translate the visual into some type of movement.  The more you do this during instruction, the more you will find that your students are trying to do the same thing while they are learning.  I have even had students come show me some movement they envisioned while reading their own study novel.

A built in benefit to all of this is that you will find your students will begin to make connections to many aspects of their life, and the ‘real world’.  Students will also inherently begin to learn how think more abstractly, and at a deeper level.  Not only will this help them in their own social and academic development, it will help them to create an exciting new perspective in learning.

Who knows?! Before long you may find that your students will be making curriculum-related movements, gestures, and dance while standing in line.

About the Author

Dolph holds a Bachelors of Science, Product Design from Art Center College of Design and a Masters degree in Education. He has spent most of his teaching career as a 6th grade teacher in the elementary school setting with a focus on Gifted and Talented Education and is currently teaching a 5/6 combo in Fullerton, California. He and his wife have several four-legged kids: Bonnie and Clyde, Golden Retriever litter-mates, a street-rescued stray that looks like ‘Benji’ named Noel, Athena the cat, and two American Quarter horses.