Enter Dave Burgess.
This brilliant life-long educator has spent years coalescing his teaching strategy into a thematic set of concepts that any teacher can use. Read his book. Even if you take away only one idea for how to up your teaching game, your money will be well-spent. One of Dave's lessons has to do with the fact that creativity in lesson planning is not a gift from the muses to pre-designated teachers. Some teachers APPEAR more creative than others because they actually do a lot of work to make the creativity happen more regularly. I'm in that category. When I went to bed the night before "Preposition D-Day," I went to sleep with one question on my mind. How can I get my students out of the classroom for this lesson? I want them AWAKE on Friday afternoon, not dozing. This too, is one of Dave's tenets. Ask yourself the critical questions.
When I slammed my alarm clock off the next morning, I was six hours away from the first lesson, still trying to figure out a way to excite this topic. In the shower (A PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE) I had the magic moment, as I often do. What could the students do outside the classroom? Find prepositional phrases! Then, another one of Dave's precepts came to mind. Change your persona for the lesson. Can you dress-up somehow to teach the topic? Clearly I did not have time to come up with an elaborate costume. But I DID have time to gather a foam helmet and sunglasses to be the tour guide on a safari. The more I thought about the potential, the more excited I got. I had my lesson. My students would go on a Preposition Safari to search for the elusive "Preposition Animals" that hide in plain sight. I got to school early enough to find a fake ticket maker CLICK HERE, and a series of airline announcements CLICK HERE . I set the room with the desks crammed close together (they would take a commercial airline flight, after all) and handed each student a "Boarding Pass" (from the fake ticket maker) as he or she entered the room. I welcomed them aboard the flight and proceeded to congratulate them for winning this free trip to Nairobi. We listened to the security announcement (which I demonstrated as the flight attendants do...to loud guffaws), the pilot's message as we approached our destination, and I even served imaginary snacks, as well as attended to those pesky passengers who kept using their imaginary flight attendant call buttons. It was hilarious.
Once we landed, I suggested that the passengers fill out a "Lost Luggage Form" which was actually our list of 55+ prepositions. I then crept into the hallway with my helmet and sunglasses, asking them to be "vewy, vewy qwiuet" so as not to scare away the preposition animals. We then went on a tour of the "grasslands," (outside the building) "the Forest of Books" (the media center) where students had to be really careful because of the abundance of preposition animals present, the hallways, stairs, gym, and finally re-boarded our flight back home. Following our arrival, I informed our students that the luggage was indeed lost, and we would have to complete the Lost Luggage Form in its entirety. I awarded the students in each block with the highest number of Preposition Animal sightings a prize. I keep a container of inexpensive toys and other items to use throughout the year. The top number of phrases seen and/or identified was 76. These ranged from "in the hallway" to "of the school" to "concerning our lesson." Students were allowed to interact with other "tourists" as well as the "locals" and ask them to perform actions to generate prepositional phrases.
You might think that pre-teens would find this kind of activity childish and lame. No dubstep was involved. No One Direction or Justin Bieber in sight. You would be wrong. Because I stayed in character, and made the set-up of the flight such a big deal (I even closed the "jet-way" on one student, who then had to sit in the jump seat because she was late to class) they bought into the magical imaginary safari, hook, line and sinker. My final comment to each class was to be sure to keep the lesson a secret so that every class could experience it as the one before had. I was amazed at how many became theatre professionals as they tried to convince their peers that there was a 90-question pop quiz in Language Arts.
This kind of engagement pays off in too many ways to count. Not only have I created a buzz with the experience (students I had in prior years were miffed that they never got to go on the safari) but I have hooked my students. They went home and started a social media chain commenting on how great it was. You, too can make the classroom a place your students WANT to be, not a place they have to be. It takes effort and a significant amount of risk in looking silly. But I had fun, so did my students, and we were studying GRAMMAR! "Thrusters on full, Ensign. Engage!"