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February 22, 2010 Anticipatory Sets: Meeting Students Where They're At By Justin Lim

    There's a famous maxim that goes, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." The problem with this statement is that it's just not true. The fact of the matter is that you can feed a horse salt so that it becomes thirsty. What approach do you take when it comes to your students? Are you feeding them salt or waiting around for them to drink on their own?

    As teachers become more and more pressured to stick to rigid pacing plans and prepare students for standardized tests, it seems that the anticipatory set is becoming a lost art. What is an anticipatory set? It's what should come at the beginning of each lesson in order to pique the interest of your students. It's the short clip from a scary movie that you might show before teaching a lesson about Edgar Allan Poe. It's using a popular song to introduce figurative language. It's the class debate that comes before a persuasive writing assignment. In sum, it's the salt for our kids.

    If you feel that there's no time to fit an anticipatory set into your already packed pacing plan, I can't blame you. Consider though, a five to ten minute high-interest introduction to a lesson can build student engagement, cut down on classroom management issues, increase achievement, and just make class more fun!

    Here are some tips on how you can jump start your lessons:

    1. Media - With the prevalence of the internet, it's easy to find videos, sound bites, and pictures related to almost any content that you might be teaching. I often use short movie clips combined with a structured class discussion to build student interest. Especially for your EL students, media can prove invaluable, as it provides a context for understanding the content.

    2. Relevant Content - As of late, I've been assigning my 10th grade students loads of essays in preparation of the high school exit exam that they'll be taking in March. While essays are normally not the most popular of assignments, I've been getting great enthusiasm because my kids have been sincerely interested in the topics. Their last three essays have been about whether or not schools should hold kids accountable for inappropriate postings on social networking sites, whether juveniles should be tried in adult courts for violent crimes, and what skills teenagers need to have in order to get jobs. Sometimes, finding good essay topics is as easy as perusing and checking the current events section.

    3. Be Enthusiastic - Last week my class read Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Cask of Amontillado. To start off, I showed a short clip about Poe's life and then went on to lead a discussion about the thrill of reading a gripping horror story. The story is a good one, but I'll be honest, it's not quite the same the sixth or seventh time you read it. For my kids though, it was their first, and so I built it up as though reading that story was going to be the highlight of their week. Did it work? You bet. The kids absolutely loved the story, despite the fact that it was probably the most difficult piece that they've read all year.

    4. Content vs Skills - Remember that to your kids, the appeal of a lesson is the content and not the skill or standard. For instance, last week my goal was to teach my students how to identify an unreliable narrator. If you ask any of them though, we were learning about an insane killer in The Cask of Amontillado. That's not to say that the standard should not be made explicit (it should be) or emphasized, but simply that we need to be aware that our content is the vehicle to take our kids where we want them to be at.

    What are some ways that you set up your lessons?

    Warm regards,

    Justin Lim

    Rosemead High School

    El Monte Union High School District


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