Someone recently reminded me in the context of another conversation how crucial the first ten minutes of a class are in getting students' attention and setting up expectations for the class. I think this applies particularly to what we do; because the students don't know us they have no idea what our expectations are or what they should expect from the session. So I decided to revamp my lessons this week and get them immediately into groups and actively working on an assignment at the beginning of class, before I do anything other than introduce myself. What I found is that nearly every student was actively engaged in what I asked them to do and the discussions we had as a group were lively and interesting. And that level of engagement kept up throughout the rest of the session, even when I went into the drier/lecture aspects of searching the databases. None of the students in these classes had their own topics picked out and yet they were actively doing searches when I asked them to. It was truly eye-opening. I made sure to include another activity at some point to keep their energy up, but I'm convinced that having them do something on their own, instead of just listening to me for the first 20 minutes, made an enormous difference in their interest and learning. AND it made it more enjoyable for me!
Here are the activities I used:
1. Compare journal & magazine - I asked them to pair up with someone and gave each pair a magazine and a journal and scrap paper. I didn't tell them anything about them, except to define a "periodical" as something that is published periodically. I told them to find as many differences as they can between the two. As their conversations started winding down (and they did this for a lot longer than I expected them to!), I wrote the titles of the two periodicals on the board and then asked them to share the differences they found, and listed them under each title. This led to a discussion of scholarly vs. popular and they were able to point out really precise details that would have been so boring if I tried to just talk about it.
2. Compare sources and select the best one - Each student took a book from my cart or a printed out article as they came into class. Before class, I had posted around the room signs with keywords on them, like "body image and media" or "technology and society". After introducing myself, I told them to look at the book/article they had and figure out which topic it was (I made this pretty easy) and go to that sign. This put them in groups of 3 or 4 with several different types of sources, and I handed out to the groups the extra books that hadn't been taken. I gave each group a sample research topic, like "How does the media affect women's body image?" and asked them to review all of their sources then decide which one would be best for researching their sample topic. When we came back as a group, they talked about why they picked a particular source. The best part was that almost every group picked a book as the best, so we were able to discuss why books make good sources, instead of me just trying to convince them of that fact.
3. In English II, I read aloud a micro-fiction story, then asked them to pair up and think of as many topics/issues that the reading raised that could be researched. They did awesome at this, because it mirrored what they've been doing in class during the semester. We listed them all on the board, then I told them to pick one of the topics and search the catalog for a book about it. This was a good review because I didn't need to walk them through the search, they were working independently, and I could help people who got stuck or weren't familiar with the catalog. They got really into this because we had such a great discussion about the story to start the class.
I want to challenge everyone to try letting the students do something active IN GROUPS at the very beginning of the class, because it gets them talking to each other and to you. If they are working silently, it sets a very somber mood. When they are discussing, it gets them energized. I'm telling you, this really works!!