Getting students’ attention and keeping it can be a real challenge for any teacher or catechist. Children are easily distracted and have a hard time sitting in desks and remaining focused. Throughout the school day, most teachers use the same teaching strategies (mostly lecture) again and again. Catechists are faced with the challenge of trying to make religious education different from just another school class. Religion teachers are charged with the need to make religion more than just another subject among many. Both would benefit greatly by using inductive teaching strategies.
How do we grab people’s attention? According to one of my favorite books, Made to Stick (Amazon associates link), we grab people’s attention by presenting the unexpected. We need to break the pattern. Surprise gets our attention. If we simply pose facts and present information in our lessons, we are bound to be lost among the many other presentations that students are exposed to in a given day.
Do you use the element of surprise in your lesson plans? Do you include mystery? Do you start with a question or start with the answers? Many examples of sticky ideas included in Made to Stick show that if you include an element of mystery and unexpectedness, you will grab attention and provide a memorable experience. This means creating a gap between what they know and what you want to teach.
Get Student’s Attention with Inductive Teaching
Rather than presenting the facts, first help students realize they need the facts. Get them motivated about learning what you will teach. This is called inductive teaching. Inductive teaching (or inquiry-based learning or discovery teaching) first exposes students to some phenomenon or experience and then leads them to understanding of concepts based on that experience. Given a concrete experience, complex ideas become more clear and the motivation for seeking understanding is already present before the facts are shown.
Science teachers use this approach often using simulations or experiments as the focus for discussion and teaching. Religion teachers do this too when they invite students into a prayer experience and then unpack the experience with them through a class discussion. In many ways these experiences illustrate what is known as mystagogical pedagogy.
Inductive Teaching Strategies that Use the Unexpected, Inductive Approach
- 20 Questions – A discovery teaching technique that starts with a statement, activity, image, video, or activity that students experience for the first time. Teachers give students the opportunity to ask twenty yes or no questions in an attempt to identify the purpose of the item in question.
- Inventory Questioning – This form of questioning activates students’ prior knowledge and helps them assess their own opinions or beliefs about certain topics prior to a lesson.
- Anticipation Guide – This reading strategy encourages students to self-assess their opinions about a text before (to activate prior knowledge and encourage interest) and after (to encourage critical thinking) reading it.
- Case Studies – Providing real-life situations to which students can apply knowledge is an excellent way to encourage critical thinking. Create relevant situations or pull from real life events to pose for students to consider, analyze, and discuss.
- Unknown Objects – Teachers display objects that are relatively foreign to the students and ask them to make educated guesses about what it is and what it does. They may ask yes or no questions or write a description that predicts what it is in their notes.
- Tell Stories – Using stories to captivate students’ attention is always an excellent use of inductive teaching. Stories are naturally memorable and the more detail, the better students will be able to relate to it as a concrete experience. Even if students forget a concept, refer them to the story to help jog their memories. This, of course, was one of Jesus’ most famous pedagogical techniques and one we can all learn from.
- Authentic Role-playing – To be honest, I cannot think of a better name for this kind of teaching. Essentially, I am referring to any role-playing experience that the teacher uses to create an authentic experience without the students realizing that the teacher is role-playing. The best example of this is the Brown Eyes and Blue Eyes lesson that was featured in the PBS Frontline special feature, “A Class Divided.” (I will write more about this soon.)
(These teaching strategies are just a few of the 250 teaching strategies contained in The Religion Teacher’s Guide to Lesson Planning.)