Building Excitement Into a Classroom

By Brent Vasicek on August 25, 2010
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Week after week, millions of viewers are engaged for an hour as they await the news that comes during the last few moments of American Idol. As I was watching the show one day, I thought to myself, This is a simple 30 second announcement. Why must they take an hour to deliver the goods? The producers of A.I. seem to be the masters of building anticipation and excitement. Below you will find some inexpensive examples of how I work curiosity to my advantage with students.



The brain is a pattern seeking machine. It is constantly looking for connections between new information and what it already knows. This makes the brain naturally curious. I capitalize on this fact every day by creating situations where the students open the door to their minds by asking for more information. The open door method is much easier (and more fun) for a teacher than the cramming-the-information-through-the-keyhole method.

First Day of School Invites: Before school starts I send home a themed invitation to the first day of school. For example, this year’s invitation will be to the premiere episode of “My Ultimate Learning Adventure.”  I find this helps students look forward to the first day of school as opposed to dreading the end of summer. Plus that seed of teacher-student rapport is planted a few weeks early and has time to take root.

Science Missions: On days in which I have prepared a lab for Anticipation 08-25-10 003 the students, I put an envelope with the word “Mission” on the board. Within the envelope I write the science goal for the day in a Mission Impossible sort of style. I usually do science at the end of the day and simply having the mission envelope on the board creates excitement for the subject all day long. Be sure to download the Mission Impossible theme and play it just before the mission to really sell this lesson.

Treasure Chest: On the first day of school I have a treasure chest sitting out. Usually there is nothing in it, but the chest won’t be opened until the last week of school, so that is okay. All year long I elude to what the treasure may be.  During the last week of school we finally open the chest. Over the years I have placed many different items in the treasure chest, from gold medals and poems to starfish and rocks.  (As the end of the year approaches, I will elaborate here on metaphors that leave lasting impressions with students.)

Anticipation 08-25-10 004 Top Secret Sign

Some days I simply put a “Top Secret” poster on the door outside the classroom.  This energizes the students by encouraging them to make predictions about what surprise will be waiting on the other side.  It may be some new décor, a new seating arrangement, or a special guest. 

End of Day Teaser: At the end of the school day my students fill out their agendas.  As they look to the front board for what to write, I usually create a teaser that connects to the following day. For example, as part of our electricity unit I create a glowing pickle.  The teaser at the end of the day is, “Stay tuned until tomorrow when Mr. V. makes glow in the dark food.”

The Box: I like to have a couple fancy boxes (or gift Anticipation 08-25-10 002 bags) that I can put props into.  In the morning I will place the box on my desk where all can see.  Inevitably, all day long there is a buzz about what is in the box.  Sometimes I use the box to build excitement around a book. Two of my favorites are Hatchet and Holes, but you can use the BookAlike tool to find similar grade-level appropriate novels.

Mystery Phrase: One of the first phrases my students utter in the classroom is, “Before you cross the river, gather all you find.  Keep it in your pocket or save it in your mind.” They have no idea what this phrase means, but every few weeks I remind them of it.  During the last week of school I tell "The Gem Story."  I use the phrase from the first day of school in the story as I tell it. The beginning of the year magically is tied to the end of the year with this simple phrase. I will elaborate more on this as the end of the year approaches. In the meantime, you can read "The Gem Story" here (page 43).

And there you have it. A few easy, efficient, and inexpensive ways to get the students to open the doors to their minds. Stay tuned next week for more tips on a successful start to the year.

That's a wrap!

Director Vasicek


I'm very excited about using these ideas! I teach 4th-6th grades, and at this level, kids love a mystery or a surprise, so this is perfect! I'd like to read "The Gem Story", but the link appears to be not working. Where could I find this story? Thanks a lot!

Mr. V! You truly changed my daughter's life and your committment to classroom community, character building and living at 112 degrees continue to impact her to this day! I have never met a teacher like you! It is my hope that your this comment will help you remember why you decided to teach. Please continue to cultivate, inspire and motivate others to lead by example. Some of my daughter's favorite at Studio 21 were "Kiss the Moose," "The Star," "Spongebob" and their unpresidented debute on Discovery! I hope the kids get the message about "Serious Tie Day," and treasure the time (you have carefully facilitated in their classroom community) - BEFORE the year ends and if they don' year's end and into the future, they will learn to treasure the "gems" that lay now in their hands. Remember....true leadership results in inspiring others to lead. You undoubtedly do this... May your years be filled with the love of learning, the laughter of children and Boston nights!

as a future educator i have been reading your tips, and I really like your creativity and ideas. I plan to implement many of them in my furture classroom. thanks

Mona, Thank you for reading. I appreciate it. Good luck in your future classroom. Brent

Thanks Brent! I teach in Minerva, Ohio. It's in Northeast Ohio!

I am really into brain-based education, as you can tell by my John Medina reference. So, I'm really looking forward to reading some of your posts on that subject throughout the year. By the way, our district read a book called "The Art of Changing the Brain" by James E. Zull. It's a fantastic resource.

I will definitely have to check that book out! Thank YOU! Brent

Brent - I enjoyed reading your fun and exciting ideas in this blog. Thank you for sharing the information and resources about brain based learning... coincidentally, I recently discovered the Whole Brain Teaching website and attended one of their conferences. I can't wait to put all these new ideas to work in my classroom! I look forward to your future posts.

Leslie, I will sprinkle as many brain facts in as I can throughout the year. Thanks for the comment.


Wow! These are great ideas! I will definitely be implementing a few of them this school-year. I especially love the "Mission" envelopes. Thanks for sharing!

Double Wow to you Amanda! I just checked out your website. You had me at "John Medina." Very well organized. Where do you teach? Brent

Thank you for sharing your ideas. I plan to try Mission, Top Secret, and The Box, although they all sound great!

Have a fun school year! Brent

I love the treasure chest idea. I'm going to adapt to use it for my second graders. Maybe every month, I will put something special in there.

Nancy Jang

It should be fun. Let me know how it goes! Director V.

I am excited for the first day after reading your blog. You must have very enthusiastic students in your class. I can't wait to see what you have coming up next!

Allie, I must admit it is fun to create the excitement. Sometimes it can be difficult depending on the crowd. The hardest part is focusing that excitement in a positive and educational way. It is like riding a good wave while surf boarding. It takes balance and one small step can cause chaos. And that is why I love teaching. ~Catch a Wave, Brent

These ideas are so much fun! I can't wait to try the Mystery Phrase. I've highlighted this entry on my blog, I hope you don't mind. Looking forward to reading more!

Of course, I don't mind! Thanks for reading. Brent

I'm downloading the Mission Impossible theme song right now!

Watch out because it may self destruct after. :) Brent

Brent, I so want to be in your classroom! What fun approaches to building excitement and interest. What is also clear is how much thought and effort YOU put in--no just showing up and going through the motions for the Vasicek classroom! No doubt that the kids feed off of your energy. Can this tech guy show up some day as one of your special guests with some tech fun?

Roger, Thank you for the compliments. I am sure you have plenty of cool technology ideas that would be applicable to the students in Studio 24. Marinate on some ideas and we can come up with something. Thanks for reading! Brent

Brent, You must be thinking constantly. This theme works well with establishing suspense in writing. Ellen potter, author of Spilling Ink, does a fabulous doing this in her writing toolbox workshop. She starts out with teaching suspense. I can't reveal her secret presentation secret here, but I will e-mail it if interested. I am definitely going to integrate some of these ideas.

Mary, Right back at you. You can take anything I throw out there and apply it to your middle school program. I admire how adaptable you are. I would like to hear the presentation secret. Definitely email me. Stay tuned ... I will soon be introducing one of the best books to start off the year with. Director Vasicek

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