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Teaching Strategies that Utilize Student Interests

Janelle Cox

In recent years, teachers have moved toward incorporating student interests into their lessons, versus just going by their teacher manuals. Educators and researchers have been investigating how student interest can transform teaching strategies and lessons, and how we as teachers can cultivate an interest that will help our students understand information more deeply for some time now. However, as much as we differentiate our lessons and teaching strategies and try to give individualized support to students, some educators are still making assumptions on what intrigues our students. Just because something is popular to the norm doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the students will connect with it. A great example of this comes from a 5th grade classroom where the teacher was excited to incorporate Pokémon into her lesson. She heard some of her students talking about trading the cards and playing the app, so she decided that it would be a great idea to incorporate the concept it into her math lesson. What she failed to realize is that not all of her students were into Pokémon, actually it was only five students out of 25 that even had any interest Pokémon. Just because a popular phenomenon may be happening in the world, or with a few of your students, it doesn’t mean that it is happening in your classroom or with all of your students.

Teaching Strategies that Tap into the Power of Interest

Student interest is more than just what the “Norm” of the age group that you are teaching is into at the time. It’s about what pulls the student from not wanting anything to do with a lesson, to being so intrigued that they are captivated and enthralled in it. Think about it this way. When you are interested in something, you give it your full attention, which therefore makes you process the information more effectively. Now imagine if you could tap into your students’ individual interests. Think about the kind of connections (new and old) that they would be able to make. They would want to pay closer attention and want to work harder because they are engaged.

How to Promote Student Interest

You may be thinking that differentiating instruction and tailoring to each student’s needs seems a bit overwhelming. However, you will find that many students will have the same interests as many of their peers. The example about Pokémon just happened to be a flop for all of the students in the class. But five of those students were extremely captivated by the card game. All the teacher would have to do next is find out a few more concepts that would enthrall the other students and she would be all set.

The key is to catch your students’ interest and capture it long enough that they will want to learn more about the topic. An easy way to do this is to expose your students to a variety of topics. Each student will find topics that will either interest them or not. The goal is to find something that will resonate with them. Hopefully, you will find a topic that will do this for many of your students, which will make creating the lessons much easier for you.

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Ask Questions

One way educators can promote student interest is to ask questions. The more questions that you ask, the mores curious your students may find that they are about a topic. Sometimes, you will find that students didn’t even know they were interested in a concept until you asked a question.

Write Down Interests

An easy and fun activity to do with your students is to have them write down their interests onto a sticky note. Give each student a notepad and challenge them to write down as many topics as they can (one on each sticky note) within three minutes. Then have students take turns posting their notes on the wall. After each student has posted their notes, ask for volunteers to see if they found a trend or pattern. Then, one student writes down all of the topics on the front board that the majority of the students wrote down on their sticky notes. For example, six sticky notes said they like sports (especially baseball), while 20 sticky notes said they like pets (especially dogs), and so on. These notes can help you create lessons and activities based upon student interest.

By infusing any subject with student interest, you are almost guaranteed to get your students’ attention. Many teachers have found success when they talked to their students and really got to know them as people. This, coupled with asking questions and brainstorming exciting topics, all help lead students into finding a deeper connection and understanding of subject matter.

How do you use student interest to transform your teaching strategies and lessons? Do you have any tips or suggestions? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your input.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Skyword. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.