Top 10 Ways to Wake-up Students in Class
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Top 10 Ways to Wake-up Students in Class

Written by 23 September 2011

The following is a guest post from Michelle Doman, a 7th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher at Brandon Middle School in Wisconsin.

Top 10 Ways to Wake up Students in Class

Top 10 Ways to Wake-up Students in Class

Many people get a little squeamish, wiggly, and offer a scrunched expression when I respond to the question, “What grades do you teach?”  I teach middle school, and with heart and honesty, I find great joys (and challenges) in teaching the group referred to as “tweens” and adolescents.

So, I invite you into the quirky world of middle school. Do not fear…you will become comfortable in a beanbag, find a new young-at-heart-love-for reading air, and (at times chuckle) as I give you a sneak-peek into the crevices (oh, look out for that dirty sock) of the teenage minds.

Here are the Top 10 Ways to Wake-up Students in Class... ((And while you're at it, check out the follow-up post: 10 MORE Ways to Wake-up Students in Class).

10. As you are teaching, you notice many blank stares, open-mouths, and droopy heads. (Either A. Your lesson has fallen into the rabbit hole, or B. You have lost them.) Quick, have them stand up and give you ten jumping jacks or push-ups.

9. Require students to give answers in their best British accent. (Ok, we have heard enough about the Royal Wedding, but the students love it!)

8. When responding to a writing prompt, have the students drop their pencils on the ground when they have completed the task. You won’t believe how MANY giggles and guilty looks you will get.

7. Have Chuck Norris randomly appear in one of your Power Points roundhouse kicking a wolf. For some reason, students are obsessed with him. See, it got your attention, didn’t it?

6. Play a sound clip of the Mission Impossible theme, have them act as 007 until the music stops. Then, whoever they end up next to, that is their partner for the activity, or that is the person that they share their Think-pair-share answer with.

5. Place random discussion or reading comprehension questions on sticky notes underneath a handful of desks. When you are ready to ask questions, ask them to peek and read-aloud the questions. This works really well for introverted or shy students. Plus, they LOVE secret note passing.

4. Gift of a lifetime. On a large piece of tag board, find a snappy, powerful verb and write it down. Wrap it like a present. Set it in the middle of the room, and ask the students if they know what it is all about. Tell them that it is a gift-of-a-lifetime, a powerful verb they can add to their vocabularies. Give them twenty questions to figure it out. (I cannot take credit for this activity. I learned it at a seminar for Interactive Writing Lessons to Teach With the Smart Board.)

3. Have each student call on the next student to answer your lesson questions. This motivates them to stay focused, and they enjoy calling on others! (Inspired by my student teacher)

2. At the beginning of class on Mondays, ask if anyone has any crazy stories to share from the weekend. Explain that these are important narratives that need to be told!

1. Paste Calvin and Hobbs comics on tests or quizzes. Even though they are ridiculous, students look forward to, and sometimes ask, for them.

If anyone has more ideas to capture the wondering, daydreaming, (hormonal) minds of middle school students, I would love to read about them.

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10 MORE Ways to Wake-up Students in Class

About the Author
Michelle Doman is a 7th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher at Brandon Middle School in Wisconsin's Rosendale-Brandon School District.  She is currently studying at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh to obtain a Master's in the Reading Specialist program.  You can connect with Michelle by visiting her blog, Save the Drama for your...Middle School Teacher?!

P.S. Want to have your blog post featured by SimpleK12 like Michelle's? Click here to find out how you can be a SimpleK12 Guest Blogger too.

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Top 10 Ways to Wake up Students in Class


  • Rachel said:

    This is AWESOME. My middle school students would love each and every one of these options!
    Rachel recently posted..Trying to Find my VoiceMy Profile

    Grace Reply:

    Thanks Rachel! Michelle had a lot of really cute and fun ideas. Do you have any other ones to add to the list?

  • bindy said:

    These are fun and engaging. Thanks so much for sharing them. When I need my students attention and can’t seem to get it with a simple, “I’m going to show how this works” sentence. I yell “NINJA”, all the students are taught to yell back, “HA!” and flash a karate move with their arms. I usually have to do it twice, and then I say “Sensai”, and they clap their hands together and are quiet (hopefully, but at least I have their attention.) ID tech camps taught us that one. If you work with little kids they also like “Pirate”, answering with a hearty “ARRRRR”, ending with a “Captain” which is a silent salute. I thought it sounded kinda cheesy, but I get at least 90% of my class engaged and slamming ninja moves when I do it. I reward the students who show enthusiasm in their move with verbal praise and more and more with participate.

    Michelle Doman Reply:

    This is a wonderful idea! I will add it to my list, and try it out this week. Thank you for the creative input.

    Courtney Reply:

    Using popular cartoons work too. The teacher can call out “sponge bob” and the students reply “square pants!”. It can work with multiple cartoons that the children are interested in.

    Michelle Doman Reply:

    I tried this with one of my more boisterous classes, and they absolutely loved it. It worked like a charm. Thanks!

    Nicki Reply:

    Love the Ninja suggestion and love seeing a fellow iDTech-er. I was a counselor a few years ago at stanford :)

  • Jenna said:

    One thing that I remember from my middle school days was a few of the creative things my history professor did to get us to pay attention in class. To this day, thanks to him, history is one of my passions and love learning about the past. When studying WWI and the trenches, he set up the desks as trenches and the class as they entered the room were divided between the two trenches. We listened to a lecture on WWI trench warfare, but every five minutes we would have a war with rolled out balls of paper. Answering questions earned extra ammo. When we studied the privateers, we had a game set up based on the reality of that era. The slave trade had a similar exercise (which I really was sad to hear was done a day I was sick, everyone was talking about it for a week after). For almost every new section in history, there was at least one creative thing he did for one class. I always looked forward to history because I never knew when a song would randomly start to play (as with the civil rights movement and “We shall overcome” or WWII with “boogie woogie bugle boy”) or some random game or demonstration would be part of his lecture. We also did a mock trial when studying the red scare and Julius and Ethel Rosenburg. The English, History, Math, and Science departments all put together a mock simulation one day through all the classes of the Cuban Missile Crisis, where we all had to take on a part of someone involved so we could better understand from our own experience what happened. I loved history because this teacher made history come alive and made it seem more tangible than just a few dates and stories about the past.

  • Lauren said:

    These are fantastic tips-I’ve used similar things with seniors as well as juniors, they love it! I try to do a silly “energizer” activity related to whatever topic we are doing-one day I had them marching around to my orders as army officers, another day they had to act like a crowd at the football. All students love this stuff (though the older ones pretend not to)!

    Thanks for the great activities!

  • hunter said:

    I teach high school English and still do the Calvin and Hobbes comics on tests. They love it. I have them stand up and do a few Ohms, like in yoga. They love making the noise and it’s a fun way to start off the class.

  • Lisa said:

    What a breath of fresh air. We don’t see enough of these ideas in action. 21 years of teaching and there is still waaaaay too many classrooms of rows and worksheets. Let’s keep ideas flowing in hopes of convincing everyone!

  • Laura said:

    What a wonderful page!!! This is an excellent resource for me as a student teacher! My lecturers aways use the hand in the air trick or count down from 3 as an example of getting students’ attention, and at first it was great and fun feeling like we were back in school, but it’s already starting to wear off.
    I think knowing a whole heap of different strategies to get student attention is a great idea! Hopefully this will help me on placements :D
    Thanks heaps!

    ps. This is probably something you’d usually do in the US too, but when I was in school I loved when the teachers would clap a beat and we’d have to copy it in unison. It always worked as far as I remember and we all enjoyed it.

    Paula Lee Bright Reply:

    I love these ideas. Yet I’m a teacher with a great deal of respect for my students, and vice versa. I fear that the person who dislikes them is possibly a person who has forgotten how very long a school day can seem.

    A little break in the midst of active learning is a GREAT thing. I’m so glad I found the page, and can’t wait to share it! Kudos to you for your teaching style. :)
    Paula Lee Bright recently posted..A Halloween Song from the Past | Great for Spelling [VIDEO]My Profile

  • Angela said:

    So this is where teachers come looking for ways to be cool. My advice: These are only stupid little tricks that might not even work. Instead learn to respect your students and treat them as equals. It is an unparalleled method and will have your students paying attention to you not because they’re waiting to see what silly little meme you got your hands on this week, but because they respect you. Having had many teachers myself, one stands out above the crowd and he never used things like this. He shook our hands at the door and treated us like adults. That’s the way to go.

  • Jaimee said:

    When i was in middle school there was a day that all the kids looked forward to throughout their stay. it was in eighth grade in may or june, towards the very end of the year, and it was called civil war day. you couldn’t participate if you were failing any classes. everyone was split into union and confederate by their history classes, often putting best friends against one another. we were taught how to march and an army officer taught us the basics of being a troop (we stuck in classes)

    That day was all about the civil war. we set up tents, wrote letters home to our parents (in the eyes of a soldier) and fought. the fighting was a game of capture the flag, one flag, two teams, one on defense one on offense. we each had 10 “flour bombs” ( a napkin filled with flour and tied with a rubber band – volunteers often students themselves along with their parents came in the night before to help put them together) which we used as our weapon. the flour bombs left imprints on our clothes so if we were hit we would have to go to the infirmary and sit out for ten seconds where they would “bandage” us – put a piece of orange tape around or arm signifying that we were hit- then we could go back in the field of battle.

    each history class got to be on offense and defense once. then we tallied up how many times each side (union/confederate) won or kept their flag, and that was the team who won.
    it was educational, as we had already learned about the Civil War and it gave us first hand knowledge of the competitiveness and loss of being pitted against friends and relatives, but it was also a lot of fun and something you could look forward to. almost a pre-graduation treat. only those who could graduate were allowed to participate

  • Bonnie said:

    I’m a third-year university student so I still remember the high school years well and every single one of theses options made me cringe; This is the teacher you hate. Just give more exercises that can be done in small groups and the kids will feel more comfortable. You can do things that make them compete with each other (trivia was the best) and they will love your class. But, your students are making fun of you behind your back if you pull these stunts, trust me.

    Josh Reply:

    That’s why they’ve been recommended for middle school, not high school. Ideas like this do often get them refocused and help more of them retain the lessons, so we don’t care if they make fun of us.

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  • BBakeca Milano said:

    Great tips! it would be great if the teachers would do this things!

  • Ameena said:

    Hi there,
    Thanks for your tips..l like the one after writing when you ask the students to drop their pencils..
    Here are my ideas:
    1_ when they got bored I say: I seeeeee! They respond: what do you see teacher? Then I start telling stories about them..they like it..
    2_ I tell a story using only my body language and they translate it into words.
    3_ I give some riddles about anything I am teaching that time.


  • Sharon said:

    I used to have fuzzy or smelly stickers that I would hand out for students when we had to get materials or turn to a specific page in the book. The students stopped dragging their feet to get their books to a certain page to earn a sticker. I had one group that proudly displayed all their fuzzy cow stickers on the front of their notebook and it was definitely a bragging right for the kids.

  • Erin said:

    I’m a folklorist, and it makes me so excited to see things like #2 on your list. The truth is, those narratives really DO matter! Those experiences, and telling and sharing the stories of those experiences shape who they are and how they see the world. Kudos to you for recognizing the importance of personal experience narratives and encouraging your students to share them!

  • Rebecca said:

    These ideas are great for middle school students! If you are a teacher you know how hard it is to get the student to stay focused at times. I recently learned, as a new teacher, that keeping the classroom active and moving is key to keeping everyone focused. I often start class with a ‘do now’ activity that asks the students a question. I then have them pair up with a partner that has the same answer as them or vise versa. I also clap a rhythm and have them clap it back to me or sing a short melody and have them sing it back to me. As a music teacher, this works out VERY well and I think could work well in other classes as well.

    Thanks for these tips, they’re great.

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  • Wolfie Rankin said:

    I was in a class with a teacher who was Japanese, and quite clever. I noticed that whenever the class (Shiatsu massage class) began to drift off, and several of them were nurses who were off shift, that our teacher would turn a corner and begin talking about sexual issues. Suddenly the class was wide awake again, as if by magic.

  • Cassy said:

    I am currently a senior in high school and find our teachers lacking in the ability to keep us all engaged, and while these activities may be fun and get students active they distract them from the current lesson that is being taught. I believe that if teachers used the Socrates method, students would be much more actively engaged in lessons.

    This is one experiment done that amazed me; it is where someone used the Socratic Method to teach third graders binary arithmetic. By the end of the lesson everything was so simply put that even I understood the basics of binary!

    Hope this helps.

  • Sally said:

    I love these! I know they’re aimed for middle schoolers, but I suspect my little second graders would love most of them! I particularly like the “drop the pencils” idea. That would certainly spark some giggles!


  • Alexis said:

    Aren’t we all lifetime learners. Thanks for these great ideas. Every summer I try to do something deliberate as a lifetime learner: one summer I rebuilt a carburetor, one summer I attempted to teach myself to juggle. While the carbureator hasn’t come in handy at school, the juggling has. Immediately grabs the attention of all in the room, especially with colored scarves. I also keep an emergency clown nose in the tool apron I wear on many days. Even the apron itself is an attention getter. The junior high students want to know what tricks I have in my pockets.

  • Selena Herranen said:

    I love these ideas. Most of them are easily adaptable to my first graders. I look forward to using them and watching their little faces light up in joy.