How to Introduce a Topic in the Classroom

Teacher talking in a classroom to students with their hands raised.
... Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Your topic introduction sets the tone for the rest of the lesson. Grabbing your students' attention with a creative kick-off can perk up a dull day. From imaginative approaches that preview material to more straight-forward strategies that tap into students' prior knowledge, introducing new material should engage the senses and minds.

1 Advertising the Topic

Take a tip from the movie marketers and introduce what's to come with an advertisement-style preview. Play up the new material with a commercial that you create. Film a brief video preview that you play for the class or make a print ad to hand out. Keep in mind that this is an attention-grabbing advertisement. Like marketers, you're trying to sell what you have to say. For example, instead of handing out a blank outline, prepare a page that looks like a magazine ad. Use a bold, colorful font and add pictures. Advertise a "special promotion" such as, "Memorize these 10 vocabulary words and get five extra credit points!"

2 Starting a Seed Discussion

Introducing a new topic is a growing process. Start this process with a seed. Not a real one, but the discussion variety. This strategy calls for your students to preview the new material and look for concepts that they already know or can relate to, explains teacher Cathy Allen Simon, who wrote about the strategy for the International Reading Association and National Council of Teachers of English's website. Give your students some time to read or discuss new content as you introduce it. Ask the students to list what they already know about the content. This may include vocabulary words, places, people or ideas. You can use the items on the list as seeds to start a discussion on the topic. End the discussion by asking the students what they have learned and what else they want to learn about the content.

3 Telling a Tale

Relating the new class content to a real-life situation can bring the material into focus for your students and help them make meaning of it. You can tell a story that comforts the students, relates to the content or highlights the value of the content. Use a story from your own life or someone else's. Another option is to read a true tale from a notable person's biography. For example, suppose you're introducing a unit on public speaking. Some of the students seem nervous about speaking in front of others or get tongue-tied easily. Tell them the story of Albert Einstein and how he was a slow speaker as a young child. This story comforts the students and helps them to understand that they aren't alone.

4 Using the Arts

Just because you're introducing math material doesn't mean that you can't go outside of the content area. The same goes for other aspects of your curriculum. For example, you can start a geometry lesson by looking at shape-based artwork by the sculptor Tony Smith or painter Piet Mondrian. Hang reproductions of the art around the room and ask the students what each picture has in common. You can use this strategy for other areas such as social studies, science and language arts. Show artworks from other cultures for a social studies introduction and landscapes for an environmental activity, or ask your students to create their own stories from a painting for a languages lesson.

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.