Younger children love the “make believe” of pretending to be grown up. Teens who are less interested in school may respond to a dose of “real life” reality. No matter how old your students are, here are a few ways to bring the real world into to your classroom this school year.
Invite Guest Speakers
Bring in a guest speaker who works in a field connected to what you’re studying. An English teacher may get new levels of effort if their students realize that writing essays can prepare them to be a journalist that reviews videos gamesor interviews famous people. And math teachers who constantly get asked, “Why do I need to know this?” may benefit from introducing an architect, computer programmer, or scientist who uses math on a regular basis.
Practice “Real World Research”
Adults do research all the time, though we may not call it that. When we want to take a vacation, throw a party, or make a major purchase, we research our options before making a decision. Use that same pattern of behavior with your students. If you’re teaching geography, have students plan a trip to the country you’re studying. They’ll want to know about the weather and the best historical sites to visit before they go. In math class, have students plan a fundraising event for a cause they believe in. They’ll have to make sure their expenses don’t surpass their income, and their math skills will play an important role.
Use Primary Source Documents
This term is familiar to social studies teachers; it means a document, photograph, etc., that was created at the time being studied. For example, the Declaration of Independence is a primary source document. Some primary source materials will be too difficult for younger children, but keep in mind that The Diary of Anne Frank and the Little House on the Prairie books are primary source materials, too. These documents can make history come alive!
Observe the World Around You
Teach your students how to conduct scientific observations by taking them out to the playground to observe the plants, birds overhead, or ants on the ground. Better yet, bring in a well-trained dog or cat and have students observe its behavior. The students will be thrilled to have an animal in the classroom and will be more attentive because of the novelty. If you teach English, use the same process but have students write a descriptive passage about what they observed – a great way to reinforce adjectives and adverbs.
Ask Older Students to “Be the Expert”
Have students evaluate something they read as if they were an expert in the field. For example, if they were psychiatrists, what would they say about Oedipus or Macbeth? Are they sane? If not, what kind of disorder or mental illness do they have? Provide students with real scientific information to help them “diagnose” the characters, and if possible, bring in a psychiatrist to talk about it. This exposes students to different career fields and areas of study and puts a unique spin on the old book report.
Re-Vamp Word Problems
Skip the “if Train A leaves at 9 a.m. …” problems and make your own. Bring in advertisements from the newspaper and tell students: “Joey gets $10 week for his allowance, and he really wants one of the newest video games. Pick out a game from the ads and figure out how many weeks Joey will have to save his allowance in order to pay for the game.” The same thing can be done with clothes, electronics, or anything else your students really want.
Use the News
Find ways to use news stories to make connections between your curriculum and the real world. For example, some news outlets have recently done follow-up stories on Hurricane Maria, which hit three years ago. Reading about the storm can make a great connection for younger students studying hurricanes or for older students who might be reading books that discuss issues of poverty, racism, etc. These stories can help students recognize that the concepts they learn about in the classroom really do affect the outside world. Culturally relevant lessons are a great way to engage students.
Make Assignments Look “Real World”
Instead of having students write the same type of essay or report every week, find some assignments that can use the formats and structures they might use in the adult world: a want ad, a memo, a business letter, etc. Even younger students can manage this if you give them a pre-formatted document and just have them fill in the blanks. Of course students still need to write essays, but it doesn’t hurt to vary it up once in a while, and it teaches students useful skills for later in life.
Show a Documentary
Of course, TVs should be used sparingly in the classroom, but sometimes the most effective way to bring in the real world is to show it, especially if you can show students something they couldn’t possibly see in your local community. Nature documentaries or historical footage are two perfect examples.
Simulate a Real-World Experience
Simulations require planning and preparation, but they can be extremely effective. After your students read Lord of the Flies, put the boys on trial for the death of Piggy. Ask students to serve as lawyers, jury, etc.; have them dress appropriately, provide evidence, give opening and closing arguments.
If they’re reading a mystery, have them recreate (within reason) the scene of the crime and conduct a physical investigation. Or have them start their own country in your social studies class. What laws would they create? How would they govern their country? Once they’ve made their decisions, compare their process to what actually happened when the U.S. was founded.
Bring in “Celebrity Judges” or “Celebrity Coaches”
Reality TV offers one useful idea for the classroom: celebrity judges. Bring in professionals to help students evaluate or revise their work on a major assignment or project. This will take some effort on your part to recruit enough “judges,” but it can have a tremendous payoff, especially with older students. When a student realizes their grammar mistakes might cost them a job or a math student understands their miscalculation could make a building collapse, they see their homework in a new light.
Publish Student Work for the Larger Community
Today, sharing your work with the world has never been easier. Choose a topic that will interest your community: for example, a collection of stories about local history or a research assignment on the prevalence of litter, graffiti, or another problem in your community. Have students do the research and write up their findings, then determine how to publish the information.
You might create a class blog or digital portfolio, which you control, for the community to read. You might have students work together to create a handout or flyer that can be distributed in the community. If you have sufficient room in your budget, you could even self-publish a book of your students’ work. Students should then have the opportunity to receive feedback from the community on their findings, whether informally as they pass out the flyers or through a formal feedback process that you control. If students know their work will be shared beyond the school’s borders, they have a new reason to work harder.
Whichever approach you try, incorporating the larger world into your classroom is guaranteed to be a memorable experience for you and your students.