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Five ways to make work relevant to your students

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Students respond most positively in lessons when tasks and challenges are connected to what they know in the real world. We have to introduce new topics and information to them in a way that is relevant to them if we want them to be interested.

Here are 5 easy ways to make any topic relevant to the students in your class:

1. Link to current real-world problems

The integration of the current social context into a subject encourages students to move away from seeing the learning as far removed from their lives. Could you start the lesson by talking about a recent news item (and showing them the story in a newspaper) or a relevant current real-life issue that this particular age group are interested in or affected by?

2. Link to their environment

By taking the curriculum out into the real world and showing how knowledge can be used in their own environment we give the learning immediate relevance. Could you start the lesson by linking content to a photograph of their town centre, a newspaper article about their neighbourhood, a news video about a local event or even by taking them out into the community?

3. Link to their interests

In Chapter 5 on building relationships, we looked at the importance of discovering and getting to know your students’ interests and hobbies. Linking content to young people’s interests is one of the best ways for them to see the importance of a topic, but even in the absence of detailed personal information about each student there are common areas which will be of interest to most – for example, sport, fashion, celebrities, music, gore/horror, any current Xbox/PS4 game, recent blockbuster films and popular TV shows or a place they all congregate at night (local park/mall).

4. Link to age-appropriate real-life issues

Adolescence can be a very troubling time, with most teenagers encountering issues that they find confusing and difficult. When learning is linked to topics which the students may be experiencing first hand, such as gangs/gang culture, drugs/alcohol, self-confidence, and low self-esteem, they are more likely to empathise and therefore more able to see the relevance of what is being presented.

5. Use metaphors and analogies

Metaphors and analogies are one of the very best ways of making new concepts relevant to students because they draw parallels between the new information and previously known, commonplace or everyday objects, happenings or actions. I use metaphors and analogies a lot in my teaching to describe processes, actions, and concepts – virtually anything, in fact – because they give students an easy way to grasp and understand new material. You could say it’s like turning a light on for them or providing them with a map. Get it?

There is an easy way to come up with a metaphor for virtually anything you’re teaching. Just ask yourself a simple question, ‘What is it like?’ and pick the answer which you feel would be most relevant to your students. For exam- ple, diffusion (the spread of particles from regions of higher concentration to regions of lower concentration) is a difficult concept to explain to students, so let’s ask the question:‘What is it like?’

  1. It’s like watching people travelling down a tightly packed escalator and then all spreading out in different directions when they get to the bottom.
  2. It’s like watching the smoke from a bonfire spread out.
  3. It’s like hearing a student breaking wind at the back of the class and then watching the succession of other class members clutching their noses as the chemical weapon spreads through the room.

Any one of those analogies could be used to describe the process of diffusion in a way that students who had no concept of the process could relate to; but for some reason, most of my students find analogy (3) easiest to understand.

Want to learn more Classroom Management strategies?

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Take Control of the Noisy Class

Motivate the Unmotivated

Attention-Grabbing Starters & Plenaries

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Connect With Your Students

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