Short and simple: when you sense your lesson headed toward an eminent crash and burn - ABORT. Change things up or recreate your lesson on a fly but do NOT continue down that sad little destructive path.
Last Wednesday, I had what I thought was a well-planned, great lesson and I was going to provide loads of CI to my Spanish 1 students. But, for whatever reason, one particular group of students came to class and it felt as some unknown force had sucked out all of their energy on the way to my classroom, or maybe even in a previous class. Whatever caused it, was beyond my control. What happened in my class to turn that low energy into attentive and engaged students, was my task at hand.
Before I took my advice above, I trudged on, through a warm-up that was a bit too challenging, past the mini-lecture I gave to tell them about the power of a great education, and even a tried-and-true brain break that fell flat. I was minutes from a complete crash and burn.
Here I was, ready to go into the main part of the lesson, with a classroom of students running on "E" (empty). I was going to tell them a story about two friends that went to a horror movie, but in my mind's eye I didn't envision a good outcome.
Thankfully, I remembered what I've heard countless times at conferences and workshops and have told others many times: STUDENT ACTORS. Don't simply tell the story; have students act out the story. As (good) luck would have it, when I asked for actors, 5 students raised their hands, two of which can naturally draw and keep the attention of their classmates.
Within minutes of "hiring" the two actors and starting the storytelling process, the tide started to turn. The actors were funny but not distracting, I added movement (student actors "ran" around the room to arrive at the movie theater), I used props (Monopoly money and canisters for popcorn) plus a 3rd actor to sell the popcorn), and coached them to act scared, really scared, during the "horror movie".
My student actors were the difference between a ho-hum story and a funny, interactive story. The students' energy during the story as they watched the student actors and laughed with them, flowed over to the retell of the story and to the Write & Discuss. It allowed for loads of CI to receptive ears.
So, when you see the Crash and Burn nearing, abort. There's nothing wrong with that and everything wrong with ignoring the fact that something needs to change - immediately.
A few reminders when "hiring" student actors:
- be prepared to coach the students to bring out the best of them and the story
- don't accept mediocre
- if you need to "fire" student actors, do it swiftly, but gently
- thank the student actors for a job well done.