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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Manchester

3 Creative Ways to Introduce New Content

Getting students deeply engaged from the very start of a unit means that more learning will be happening all throughout the unit rather than just cramming at the end for a test. Here are three ways to get students deeply engaged while introducing new content.

Creative Expressions about Art Related to the Subject.

Imagine a middle school history class getting ready to learn about World War II and the nationalism that led to the Third Reich. On the first day of this unit, students listen to Haydn's Emperor Quartet and write or draw what they think the music is about. The teacher could encourage students to think of as creative answers as possible, perhaps even offering some kind of reward for the craziest answer and/or the answer that gets closest to the truth. Students share their ideas either in class or via a classroom sharing discussion board/page.

The most famous part of the Emperor Quartet, the second movement was originally written as a hymn for The emperor of Austria in the 1790s. Haydn essentially wrote it as an Austrian version of England's "God Save the Queen." It quickly become the de facto Austrian national anthem. Later, it became the national anthem for Germany under Hitler with the title: Germany, Germany, above all else. After the end of World War 2, the Austrians wanted to disavow most connections to Germany and chose a new national anthem.

So this piece can be "about" a lot of things and even the most wild responses that students give could be pulled around into a discussion of nationalism in music and the composer's intent versus how the piece might be used later.

This is a very specific example, but this approach could be used as a template at many levels and in many subject areas.

If a third grade class was going to be learning about a certain country or region the teacher could play a piece of music sung in the native language and have students draw what they think the words mean based on the tone of the music.

A high school language arts class could brainstorm about the "meaning" of a contemporary art piece as a preface to diving into writers contemporary to that style.

Student-Created Movie Trailers for Units.

Imagine a high school chemistry class started a unit on nuclear chemistry by creating short trailers previewing the topics that will be covered. The online video editor WeVideo includes a large selection of stock videos that students could edit and assemble with key phrases in motion graphics showing concepts in the unit.

Not only would this provide a creative start to the unit, but it is also a pre-assessment for the teacher to see how students are interpreting and understanding the terminology and basic concepts for the unit. Trailers could be reviewed at the end of the unit for accuracy and updated accordingly.

Again this approach will look different for different levels and subjects.

Second graders might draw ideas about what they think a certain book will be about that they will read. The teacher could assemble this into a simple trailer.

Middle school math students could create trailers by acting out the math concepts for the unit. This could mean creating visual examples or even creating small skits about when the math would be applied in real life.

Paper Snowball Fights after an Introductory Video.

Imagine fourth grade music students starting a unit by watching a short Chinese orchestra performance featuring the erhu. As students watch, they write down questions, thoughts, and impressions from the video. When the video is over, students wad up their papers (without their names on them), and throw them all over the room. Each student has to find a paper and then ask around the room to find who wrote the answer and why they wrote it.

When students are done talking to each other, the teacher calls on volunteers to share answers with the class. The teacher guides these questions, thoughts, and observations into an introductory lesson on traditional Chinese instruments.

In the high school history classroom, the video might be a political satire piece with references to the subject students will be learning about next.

In a middle school foreign language class, the video might be a scene that features vocabulary that students will be learning in the unit.

As students are beginning the second semester, now is the time to try a creative way to engage them from the beginning in the next unit.
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