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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Building Interest

When it comes to teaching~ often times~ I think we have it backwards.

We think that the students are expected to sit there and be interested in what we teach them. They are supposed to fall in love with our curriculum and become engaged.

I remember when teaching middle school~ how fellow teachers would complain about their kids not be interested (which naturally led to behavior problems and headaches). While still a novice to the profession~ I instinctively knew I had to do something different. The curriculum required students to master persuasive writing~ a skill that didnt particularly cause students to do backflips. So I looked for an angle~ a hook that would get them excited~ and I found it right in our school.

The kids were fired up about a proposal to require middle school students to wear uniforms. This was a big issue since uniforms had only been worn at the elementary level. My students~ accustomed to wearing shorts~ jeans~ and T-shirts~ were very concerned about trading in their duds for polo shirts and khakis.

I showed them the opinion page of the newspaper and told students they were going to write a letter to the editor. While struggling with the mechanics and techniques for a persuasive essay (which we covered each day~) these students had the fire in the belly. There was no need to force them to write. They wanted to write because I had tied the lesson to something they cared about~ a topic they were passionate about.

Currently~ I am working on a project with gifted first and second graders that involves helping the local animal shelter. After interviewing these children~ I discovered they loved animals as well as making a difference in their community (one of their gifted strengths)~ so I designed the unit around these goals.

So the winning formula is this:

Find what makes your students tick. Discover their interests~ their passions~ then build your curriculum around that. This approach requires getting to know your students~ listening to them~ and respecting their ideas and beliefs.

Here are some tips for building lessons around your students interests:


Use whatever tools at hand to learn about your students.I use a great program called Renzulli (designed for gifted students). It requires students to complete a detailed learning profile~ which provides me with their preferred learning style~ favorite subjects and interests and more.There are more informal ways of learning about your students as well. Listen to them when they are socializing at lunch or recess.Have classroom meetings.Ask their parents what they love to do at home.


How can you cover the curriculum and standards while gearing your lesson towards what your students love? It will require thinking out of the box. Maybe have your class write a newspaper and allow students to design the pages that interest them. For instance~ student athletes could be in charge of the sports section while the young artists could handle the photographs~ illustrations and comics.


When pop star Justin Bieber became all the rage and the thing to do was pretend you didnt like him~ I hung a picture of the artist on the white board and told my class that if they want to take it down~ they would have to do it piece by piece. In order to take a piece down~ the class has to average 90 or above on tests.The students naturally became motivated (because they were interested)~ and my test scores benefited.

Engaging students requires a new perspective. Rather than force students to love our lessons~ take what they love and design your lesson around that passion or interest. Your teaching days will be much smoother~ and your students will love your class.

To share your thoughts on this topic~ visit the Innovative Teaching group at http://community.educationworld.comcontent/building-interest-0?gid=NTEyMQ==