By Teachers, For Teachers
How many times have you heard students ask why they have to learn what you were teaching them? For many of us, this is a standard question that usually gets a standard response of, “You will need to know this for your future.” However, maybe this is a question that should be looked upon a little more thoughtfully. If students are constantly questioning why they need to learn this information, then maybe they need to feel that what we are teaching them has some kind of purpose in their lives. In order to fulfill this need in our students, we have to show them how what they are learning is relevant and meaningful. Studies show that meaningful classroom activities help students emotionally connect to things that they are already know. These connections then help them build even more connections that they can store in their brain. Looking back at your own childhood, can you remember thinking why you had to learn algebra, for instance? It probably wasn’t until you started thinking about a career did you understand that doctors, engineers, architects, and teachers need to know algebra for their jobs. Maybe if your teacher had tried to make a real-world connection back then, you would have put in a little more effort. To ensure that your students are provided with the opportunity to relate what they learn with the world around them, try the following classroom activities.
When you sit down to plan your lessons, before you even begin, think about what real world problem is going on right now, and how you can incorporate it into a lesson. For example, the presidential debate was a huge topic in the news that everyone was talking about for a long time. Find a way to use that topic, or how the world is reacting to that topic, in your lesson. You can have your own political debate and have students discuss the issues that they feel are important to them. As long as you start with a real-world problem in mind, then you can incorporate that problem and make it into a lesson that is meaningful and relevant to the students.
One of the most effective ways to make learning relevant is to take your students on a field trip. The key to making this a meaningful and relevant trip is to cross-connect what the students are currently learning in the classroom, to where the field trip will take place. A great example of this is when a 5th grade teacher took her students on a field trip to the local grocery store. The students were learning about nutrition in science class, how to manage money in math class, and about civic and economic awareness in social studies class, so a trip to the local grocery would help students connect to all these topics that they are currently learning.
Many of you have probably heard of the popular graphic organizer called the KWL chart. This is a tool that teachers use to find out what students already (K) Know, (W) Want to know, and then what they have (L) Learned. Teachers find this strategy effective because before they even begin their lesson, they get to find out what students already know about the topic and what they want to know about the topic. This information then helps guide the teacher to create goals and points of interest throughout the lesson. By building relatedness, you can help deter students from asking the question, “Why do we have to learn this?” Students can then see that what they currently are learning relates to something that they already know or have experienced.
If you were teaching a lesson on the holocaust, you can show them pictures, but it probably wouldn’t get them to emotionally connect to that time period. Instead, you can have them read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” where they can get a firsthand look at what actually happened during that time. Using primary resources can help enlighten students and really get a feel for the living conditions during that time.
A great way to teach students that what they are learning in the classroom is relevant outside of the classroom is to bring in a guest speaker. Guest speakers help children understand that someone from the real-world is in fact utilizing the knowledge that they have from school and using it in their own profession. It’s also a great way to show students a different point of view, other than your own.
Without relevance, our students may not understand how important the concepts they are learning in the classroom really are. By making learning more relevant and meaningful, we are therefore connecting what students are currently learning inside of the classroom to what is outside in the world.
How do you make learning relevant in your classroom? Do you have any classroom activities that work well for your students? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts.
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.