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Ideas for Adding a Little Spark to Your Class

It's not uncommon for the energy and enthusiasm of students (and instructors!) to lag during a semester, especially in second half of the term. As an antidote to distraction, disengagement or disconnection, we offer these bite-size, easily implemented ideas to reconnect and recharge. Included are some examples of playful learning activities and assignments, quick community-building activities, assignments that help students unplug from their devices, and just-for-fun and self-care ideas that you can use with your classes. 

Most of these ideas were originally curated for a week that we declared Spark-It-Week in Fall of 2020 (that notorious fall semester with too much Zoom and no breaks — see Daily Spark email messages from that week in the panel to the right), but they could be used to add spark to your class any time you need it, whether your class is online or in person. 

Try an Inspiring or Playful Learning Activity or Assignment

  • Share a quote, a video, a story, or a poem each day related to something you want your students to think about. Or have different students nominate them, and explain why they selected them.
  • 6-Word Essay. Instead a traditional essay, minute paper, blog/discussion board post, or reflection, have students write a 6-word essay, story, or memoir.
  • Amnesty Day. Schedule an Amnesty Day on which students are encouraged turn in an assignment or two that their missed or want to redo. Or make it an Amnesty Week.
  • Virtual Arts and Culture. Have students do a virtual museum tour or another interactive experience using one of the world arts and culture resources available at Google arts and culture. Or do it together with screen share.
  • Scavenger Hunt. Have students search for examples or content (online, or in the physical world) relevant to a course theme. This could be combined with the virtual arts and culture resources above. Use their “collections” to inform your next in-class discussion about the relevance of the topic to their worlds.
  • Connect with the Spencer Art Museum. The Museum offers numerous options for classes across all fields of study to engage in a variety of learning opportunities and maintains a public, searchable curricular resources database for instructors.
  • Games. Turn a review of course material into a quiz show competition (see  https://kahoot.com/schools-u/ for a free online platform)
  • Mystery Quote Contest. After students have learned about a topic, provide students a quote that they’ve never seen before. In groups or individually, students must figure out the point of view (or identity) of the person behind the quote.  
  • Puzzles. Create your own word search or a crossword puzzle on key course concepts

 Give Students a Chance to Unplug from their Computers

  • Sketch, Map, or Draw. Ask students to draw a concept map, diagram, or picture to represent a set of ideas, rather than writing about them. Students can upload images of their photos (perhaps even annotated with text or a video/audio comment), or share them in an in-person or live stream class session.
  • Finding Connections. Have students look for examples related to what they are learning in their natural environments or during their daily lives (e.g., in their neighborhood, on campus) and take photos or tweet or post in Teams chat about them. For example, consider this assignment (showcased in a podcast by Derek Bruff of Vanderbilt University) in which a professor asked students in her ornithology course to use Twitter to post about birds they saw in everyday life. 

Integrate community-building and fun into already-planned learning activities

  • Call on students or breakout groups/teams with the Wheel of Names. Simply paste in names, choose your sound and visual effects, share your screen, and spin away.
  • Liven up group role assignments by providing students with a question about themselves that everyone answers (e.g., have your reporter for your group be the student with the most pets, or the person who lives the farthest from the KU campus), a idea shared by 2020 Teaching Summit speakers Viji Sathy and Kelly Hogan. Have the reporter share their “winning” response before sharing the groups’ response to the learning activity.
  • Start a Class Question of the Week or Day (and keep it up). Choose something that everyone will be able to answer, either related to the class (e.g., share something you learned from someone else this week) or unrelated (e.g., what is your favorite place you have ever visited), a strategy shared by Laurie Hermann-Ginsburg in this CTE Podcast on engaging students.
  • Pep up Zoom/Teams Class Meetings!
    • Provide students with some fun virtual  backgrounds (e.g., see here and here for KU Zoom backgrounds)
    • Have students create bitmojis for their Zoom pictures
    • Announce a color day (where everyone wears a specific color), a hat day, a bring your pet to virtual class day, etc..  
    • Show up in costume, in formal wear, or wearing sunglasses three times the size of your face- pretend everything is normal.

Just for Fun and Self-Care

  • Celebrate or call attention to a goofy holiday. It turns out there are all sorts of holidays to celebrate each day (e.g., October 21 is both Count your Buttons Day and International Nacho Day!). See here for a list of October holidays. Here’s how Lisa Sharpe Elles from the KU Chemistry Department describes her approach to Mole Day: Chemistry nerd day! One mole is 6.022x10^23 items and we celebrate on October 23rd from 6:02 am to 6:02 pm. Lots of guacamole.
  • Send out or post a video of a catchy pop tune.
  • Check out animal live cams: https://explore.org/livecams
  • Ask students to share their favorite fall recipes (microwave recipes included!)
  • Ask students to contribute to a class playlist, like Carol Holstead (Journalism) did in an assignment she shared in our Engaging Ideas for Remote Teaching Newsletter
  • See this page for more ideas for self-care for students from Amy Leyerzapf (Leadership Studies). 
  • Share CTE's Covid Classifieds with your students. Here's a link

Want more inspiration? Check out this article in Faculty Focus: A Game a Day: Fun and Dynamic Synchronous Online Learning. 

Interested in learning more about how to promote productive rather than distractive student use of technology? See this literature review and recommended strategies.