With middle school students, the saying "you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" is right on. Dragging kids through school days with rigid instruction can be rough going, but if you sweeten the pot a little with some fun activities thrown in, it's possible to spur on your students' motivation.
The possibilities for contests, which can be great fun, are endless and adaptable for any subject area. For learning to estimate in math class, fill jars with water, marbles, erasers or other items and give kids a few days to come up with how much or how many. When studying a short story, read kids the first paragraph and then have them compete by writing a couple of sentences telling what they think will happen at the end of the story. Hang numbered pictures of insects around the science classroom and announce a contest to see who can be first to identify all of them in writing.
Turn reviewing for test in any subject into a Jeopardy-like game where students first write the questions and then use the answers, divided into categories, to quiz their classmates; this works well with social studies and science material. Give kids the opportunity to create board games reinforcing information from a particular unit---for example, learning the names of the state capitals. Play relay games in which teams have to accomplish tasks like putting historical events in order.
Food is always a great motivator and there are many curriculum-connected opportunities to indulge in some fun food activities. In social studies class, give students the opportunity to taste foods from the various cultures or countries they are studying. In science, kids can mix up edible experiments like making crystal rock candy or discussing, while eating, the process that makes popcorn. Foods mentioned in literature or foods that kids in the eras in which stories are set ate make for interesting breaks in the reading. Practice fraction problems first on cardboard pizzas and then on actual pizzas ordered for the classroom.
Give students the opportunity to turn anything and everything into a skit or TV show. Provide groups with lists of terms or concepts you want to get across in a particular unit, and let their imagination run wild. Suggestions for those who need them might include a talk show with interviews, a game show, a soap opera, a music video or a newscast. Kids can present dramatic adaptations of chapters in the book they are reading.
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