Classroom Management Activities

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Managing a modern classroom full of distracted (and distracting) students is not quite as easy as it was in “days of yore,” when the teacher lectured (wooden stick in hand) and demanded (and got) attention. With students accustomed to being entertained by interactive video games, today’s teacher must manage the classroom by devising activities that will engage the students, restore order and meet learning objectives.

1 Activities to Wake Them Up

For those “after lunch” hours when students’ energy levels are drooping and your classroom appears to have been invaded by zombies, surprise them with an energizer. Here are two for you to try:

Charades: Yes, good old charades, the same game played in family rooms for hundreds of years. Only this time, the players will act out events/processes based on what they have been studying (the signing of the Declaration of Independence, for example, or the process of dissecting a frog). Otherwise, the rules are still the same: Divide the class into two teams and give each team a topic to act out. Allow two minutes or so for each team to devise its pantomime (no talking allowed). Ask the first team to begin, while the second team tries to guess what the topic is. Repeat with each team alternating turns.

Jigsaw agenda: Why just tell your students what you have planned for their lesson today? Why not let them figure it out? Get a large sheet of paper (or poster board). Print (in large block letters) the topics to be discussed in today’s class. Then cut the paper up into odd-shaped pieces (like jigsaw puzzle pieces).

Ask the students to come forward and each pick one piece of the puzzle, then (as a team) cooperate to assemble the pieces in the puzzle. Depending on the size of your class, you could also devise more than one puzzle, using different colors of paper.

2 Activities to Calm Them Down

When your students are too full of energy to pay attention to the lesson, the worst thing you can do is lecture to them. Instead, try using some kind of concentration activity to engage their minds and focus their thoughts. Here are two activities that promote quiet introspection:

Crossword puzzles: You can create your own crossword puzzles by downloading a crossword creation program from the internet (just search for “create crossword puzzle” and many sites will pop up). A crossword puzzle is a fun way to prep for an upcoming test or review a past lesson. For example, if your students have been studying “Europe,” create a crossword puzzle with clues such as “The longest river in Europe,” or “The capital of Denmark.”

Who I Am: Here is a productive (and calming) activity ideally suited for an English class: Ask each student to write a poem with the title “Who I Am.” The only rule is that each line of the poem must start with the phrase, “I am .. .” After 10 or 15 minutes, ask for volunteers to read their poems out loud.

3 Activities for Self-Management

Here are two activities to encourage students to collaborate patiently with each other:

Blind Square: You'll need one length of rope 50 to 100 feet long (depending on how much space you have and how many students); blindfolds for all participants. Tie the ends of the rope and place it on the floor in a big circle. Tell the students to stand outside the rope, put on their blindfolds, and then attempt to form the rope into a square. Variation: Ask half the class to shape the rope while blindfolded. Ask the other half of the class to debrief the process.

Don’t Break that Egg: The object is to create a device that will allow the group to drop a raw egg from a certain height (say 6 feet, from a chair or step ladder) without breaking. Give each group the following materials: one raw egg, 15 plastic straws, two paper clips, one sheet of notebook paper, two rubber bands, 20 inches of masking tape or Scotch tape, and 20 inches of string. Then give them 15 to 20 minutes to plan and design their egg protector. Award a prize to the winning team.

Ellen Dowling, Ph.D., is a communication skills trainer and consultant based near Albuquerque, N.M. She has published many articles on training and development, and was formerly a writer for the Motley Fool. She is also a visiting professor at the University of Beijing, China, where she teaches business communication courses to international MBA students and Chinese business and government leaders.