I’ve tried a lot of sophisticated tricks to engage high school students and manage my classroom over the years. I’ve used videos, technology, humor—everything I could imagine. For a long time, I stayed away from activities that might make the students feel childish. I didn’t want to insult their intelligence by being too cheesy.
However, my thought process changed when I showed this video to teach students the Spanish alphabet. They begged me to play it over and over again. At first I thought they were being sarcastic, but I soon realized that even high school students like to have childish fun.
So one day I decided to give it my all. I came into class with a rap and reggaeton beat. By the end of the class, the students were all standing on their desks rapping with me. They were laughing, learning and embracing the cheese! Over a year later, those students still beg for the rap.
As a result of that experiment, I have adjusted my teaching methods and have found that the same methods I would use with elementary-age students are also effective tricks to engage high school students. Here are my top 10:
1. Put candy on the line.
The only way I can get my students to speak Spanish for an entire class is if candy is on the line. I pass out a small piece candy at the beginning of class. If they speak in English, they have to give back their candy. Since I started that method, I haven’t had a problem with English in the classroom.
2. Command silence.
When the class needs to calm down, I yell “Heads down!” and everyone puts their heads on their desks. You can hear a pin drop.
3. Encourage cheesy music.
Ever since the rap experiment, I have used more raps and songs for memorizing charts and conjugations. I’ll even catch the students singing conjugation songs in the hallways! Even if you’re not musical, there are many YouTube videos available to help you out.
4. Try crisscross applesauce.
After sitting at a desk all day, students need to shake things up. Try having your class sit crisscross applesauce on the floor. They will love it.
5. Give high fives and fist pumps.
They may roll their eyes at first, but giving high fives to your students as they enter the classroom will get their energy up immediately.
6. Go on a quick hike.
Your students have probably been stuck in a chair most of the day. Lead them on a short walk outside. It will help them clear their minds and focus better for the rest of class.
7. Play a game.
High school students tend to be competitive. Play a game in your classroom, even if it is as simple as throwing a wad of paper into the trashcan.
8. Try a chant.
High school students still respond to chants. When I hear side conversations happening in the class I hold up one finger in the air and yell, “One conversation!” and my students scream it back. When someone gets an answer right, we yell “So-and-so is on fire!” It just works.
9. Break out the crayons.
Having trouble getting your students to take notes? Give them an unlined piece of paper and a box of crayons or coloring pencils. I bet they will start writing things down. This worked particularly well with my older students.
10. Add a joke of the day.
I like to start my class with smiles, so I open with a joke. My students even get in on the action and offer jokes of their own. It puts everyone in a positive mood.
To figure out the best tricks to engage high school students, you have to experiment. Try one of the 10 ideas listed above or invent your own methods. Just know that even teenagers still love to have fun, be silly and embrace the cheese.