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New Year New You – Ways to Shake Up Your Classroom in 2024

Welcome to the new school year. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been teaching for years, here are some ideas to spice things up in the classroom.

There’s nothing quite like new things: a brand-new notebook, freshly laundered sheets, a pristine tub of butter with no crumbs… a bright and shiny new school year. Here are some ways you can extend the anticipation and excitement of the start of the year by shaking things up in your classroom.

Start off on the right foot

Whether you have had your students’ before or they’re complete unknowns, it’s best to make the best impression. For new children to the school, here are some tips to welcome them – and their family – while here are some wonderful ways to show all students that you care.

If you discover you have some shy children in your class, here are some approaches you can take, while these 20 conversation starters are a fantastic way to skip the boring ice-breakers and really get to know your students.

Themed weeks

Sometimes a school year can seem interminable, but consider breaking up the terms into themed chunks of one or two weeks. You can use the theme to direct learning, focus conversation, make connections and expand worlds – think diversity week, history week, innovation week, careers week, environment week, local heroes/history week, finance and money week and sports week.

Outsource

As well as incursions and excursions, another way to diversify learning and shake things up in the classroom is to invite guest speakers. They might be virtual or in person, but guest speakers can add colour and a depth of intimate learning that no book can ever hope to replicate. Consider calling on family members, local councillors/representatives, researchers from the nearest university, delegates from the Men’s Shed or Historical Society, local authors, poets or artists, charity workers or local business owners to come and speak with your class. Find out how to organise an author talk here.

Teach thyself

The old adage goes: see one, do one, teach one, so why not get the students to teach themselves? Get students to create quizzes for each other or set up teams to debate STEM topics. You can even assign students to research small components of a lesson and then get them to teach the class. The best way to determine if a student has understood a concept is if they can explain it to someone else, and – as a bonus – they’re getting public speaking experience as well.

Depending on the age of the students, you can also ask them to contribute ideas of what they want to see in their new and improved classroom. They will undoubtedly surprise you as well as giving them agency and making them feel connected.

Get physical

It’s good to start the year as you want to finish, so why not establish a routine of early morning meditation or chair yoga, brain breaks, dance breaks or Crunch and Sip from Day One. Staying active has a multitude of cognitive and physical benefits including improving self-regulation and increasing engagement.

Brain breaks are short, deliberate pauses in the school day that allow students to recharge and refocus. When students are waning after lunch, brief, high-energy games can get them back on track and fortify students with the energy they need to finish the day. Get the students to come up with a playlist of songs and play one every day after lunch to get the kids energised and back on track.

Give them incentives

Giving your class an incentive gives them something to work towards and look forward to. It might be a thinly disguised attempt at behaviour management or an endeavour to motivate them during a long term. Incentives can work to encourage participation, boost self-esteem and create connections within the classroom. And because handing out lollies is sadly frowned upon these days, here are 25 class rewards that aren’t full of sugar.

Mix it up

Sugar may be out but digital technologies are in in, so get online and take advantage of the wealth of resources available to enhance your teaching and learning. From apps to YouTube tutorials to AI, there are many opportunities to try something new. Consider allowing students to present their reports in different formats such as posters, podcasts or videos. Use online quizzes like Kahoot to teach lessons. Use listicles to break up the boredom.

Makeover your classroom

 A good place to start when changing things up is the space you live and work in. Depending on what resources you have available and the age of your students, consider flexible seating or making ‘rooms’ within the room. Ask students to bring in their favourite book (or get a list of titles and head to your local op-shop to source them) and create a special class library of kid-recommended books.  In the first week, ask students to make and agree on the rules and etiquette for the classroom. Bring in potplants and class pets and make your classroom green and sustainable.

Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and the author of "Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World", now available in all good bookstores.

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