How To Introduce Units Of Study And Set Your Students On Fire For Learning

Smart Classroom Management: How To Inroduce Units Of Study And Set Your Students On Fire For LearningThere exists an amazing strategy that will dramatically increase student interest, motivation, and comprehension in virtually whatever you’re studying.

It’s so remarkable, in fact, that it will pull your students deeper into your topic than any other single strategy.

It will cause them to sit up bright and tall in their seats and capture everything you teach them—even the smallest details.

(Especially the smallest details.)

In just a half hour or less your students will learn more than they normally would in two weeks of following a paint-by-numbers curriculum, and it will prompt an enthusiastic desire to learn more and more and more.

The strategy is best employed at the beginning of a unit of study.

The way it works is that instead of giving your students a preview of what they’re about to learn, instead of reading an introduction or teaching a more traditional first lesson . . . you will tell a story.

From start to finish you will walk your students through the key moments, events, and history of your topic—or the history behind your topic—all in the form of a narrative.

It’s important to note that as you’re doing your prep work, you must look for the humanity in your topic—the characters, the dramatic tension, the obstacles, the setbacks and victories.

If it has been deemed important enough to be part of your curriculum, then in all likelihood it will contain these remarkable themes, as well as many others.

The best way to begin is to stand silently in front of your students.

Before saying a word, take a lengthy pause for effect, letting curiosity peak. Don’t write the name of the unit on an easel or whiteboard. Don’t show any videos or pictures or artifacts. Don’t even tell them what you’re about to do. Simply take a deep breath and begin.

There once was a man named Howard Carter who spent six years searching for the lost tomb of a boy king.”

Now, granted, few stories are as compelling as Tutankhamun, but I think you’ll discover that regardless of the topic, you’ll find more than enough drama and intrigue to enchant your students.

The discovery of King Tut’s tomb may only be one small part of your study of Ancient Egypt, for example, but the key is to weave the important background, vocabulary, history, and lifestyle of the people into the story. Everything has a story. Once you find it, you can increase learning in your classroom tenfold.

Here are a few more helpful hints:

Stay in storytelling mode.

Be careful not to get sidetracked writing out lists of facts or key points for your students. You can still include them, but make sure they’re within the context of the greater story. The idea is to entice your students to follow you deep into a new and wondrous world they may know little about.

Act it out.

Capture the drama of the story by mimicking character movements and impersonating voices and facial expressions. Acting out key scenes rather than just narrating them will immerse your students into your new unit of study. So much so that when you finish, they’ll be clamoring for more.

Be yourself.

Uncertainty over how you’ll do or how the story will turn out is normal. Just be yourself and focus on giving your students a great story, and you can’t mess it up. Once the room falls silent and you get into a flow, you’ll have just about the best time teaching you’ve ever had.

Be creative.

Some subjects and units of study may lend themselves to storytelling better than others, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t doable. In fact, telling a story about a famous writer, mathematician, or scientist can bring dry and dusty topics to life for your students.

Note: Not every story has to be true. “I bumped into Iron Man at the grocery store yesterday, and I asked him about gravity and how he was able to fly. So he showed me.”

Storytelling Fits Any Curriculum

Storytelling is the most flexible and dynamic medium available to teachers, and it will fit seamlessly into whatever standards or curriculum you’ve been asked to follow—Common Core or otherwise. Simply put, it’s a surefire way to get your students excited about whatever you’re learning.

It will deepen their understanding, provide a much needed and often-overlooked scaffold of big-picture context, and motivate them to want to learn and experience more about your topic. During your morning preview, you may even get a cheer when you mention the start of a new unit.

Storytelling will also add another layer to your goal of creating a classroom your students love being part of. And as you grow more comfortable using it to introduce units of study, you’ll notice them becoming so emotionally invested that subsequent lessons become much easier to deliver.

For the great, wide world of inspired learning has opened up and shown them what they’ve been missing.

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14 Responses to How To Introduce Units Of Study And Set Your Students On Fire For Learning

  1. Annie December 8, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    hi, I’m a new inexperienced volunteer teacher who hasn’t even been to college. i teach elementary english and really enjoy it…. but there are “problem” students who cause a lot of stress. in particular, one girl refuses to do any work. i try everything – persuasion, rewards, punishment – nothing works! do you have any advice for dealing with this kind of behavior.

    • Michael Linsin December 8, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

      Hi Annie,

      It’s on the list of future topics. Stay tuned!


  2. LJ December 14, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    I hadn’t really thought to use stories in every subject before but found one to introduce a maths lesson and the kids loved it! Thanks for the idea.

  3. pallavi January 12, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

    Hi Michael

    Thank you for all the interesting articles-really find them useful 🙂
    I had been instinctively using the storytelling method but post this article I think I am going to refine the same method for more effectiveness. I teach English so storytelling is naturally part of our classroom.
    Thank you and looking forward to more such insightful articles.

    • Michael Linsin January 12, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

      You’re welcome, Pallavi! I’m so glad to hear you’re using storytelling in your classroom. Bravo!


  4. Linda Wuertley March 21, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I love to share stories with my students, it helps establish a bond between students and teacher, plus there’s that added bonus: students are learning without having to prompt or coerce them. Learning should be fun, not tedious and boring. I share your thoughts and premise, just didn’t have the words to express what was happening–I call it buying into the subject matter–people do this in sales all the time, so thank you for putting it out there in a manner we can all understand.

    One of my favorite stories is my encounter with a mother bear and her two cubs in Yosemite–students always want to hear more as well as share their own adventures.

    Linda, Education Specialist

    • Michael Linsin March 21, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

      Hi Linda,

      I’m so glad to hear that you enjoy sharing stories with your students. I’ll bet they love them—and you because of it.


  5. ZEY November 10, 2015 at 11:09 pm #

    I’m just a newbie instructor in college. I just heard one of the old faculty in the univesity talking how har-headed and lazy students are at this generation.. so I decided to check out tips and I’m so glad I found this..
    Though college is different from highschool and elementary, but I know there’s a way I could make stories from my techncial topics…

    • Michael Linsin November 11, 2015 at 8:04 am #

      I’m glad you found us, Zey. Welcome! I definitely think there are ideas on this site you can use.


  6. Gail Erickson May 10, 2016 at 8:33 am #

    Hi Michael, I’m really loving your articles. this one, about storytelling-is there a resource you’d recommend for ideas for stories. I teach writing and the next unit is informational writing, hmmm. ??

    • Michael Linsin May 10, 2016 at 11:06 am #

      Hi Gail,

      No, I recommend stories that come from you, your life, experiences, and imagination. For more on this topic, please see the book Dream Class.


  7. Sandhya Thakur August 23, 2016 at 10:29 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    Story is liked by all in every age group. It works great in Classes of countries like India
    where classrooms are populated, traditional and with low technology.

    • Michael Linsin August 24, 2016 at 7:19 am #

      Excellent Sandhya, and good to know. Thanks for sharing.