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August 25, 2010 Building Excitement Into a Classroom By Brent Vasicek
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


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