Monday, September 5, 2011

The Substitute Teacher's Infamous Bag of Tricks – Part 1

As I prepare for my first days of substitute teaching, I must face the inevitable Substitute Teacher's “Bag of Tricks.” What are your tricks, you say, and why do you put them in a bag? Well, what will you do if:
  • the teacher didn't provide any plans?
  • the lesson ends with 20 minutes of class left?
  • you are subbing in for the AP chemistry teacher's 3rd consecutive absence and the kids are so totally lost they can't do the work?
  • The lesson plan is so awful the kids won't stay on task?
That's where the Bag of Tricks comes in. This is a two part series. Today we will look at the bag itself and one of the ideas to put in it. Tomorrow, we'll continue with more ideas to fill it up.

What goes into the bag?
So its not literally a bag. I mean I guess it could be. But more importantly its a source of tools. Some of them are in my brain, some are in a folder, some are in my pocket. The fact is, you have to have something.

The web provides a host of recommendations: Nerf balls, crossword puzzles, games, magazines, etc. While these work great for elementary grades, I'm a little timid of trying to play “Heads Up Seven Up” with High School kids. After much searching, I'm left to my own imagination and strategies. And so far, here's what I've got planned for those days when I'm alone with 30 or so teenagers and nothing but my own tact to get me through the next 50 minutes.

News and Current Events
There's an extra 15 minutes at the end of class, and despite your pleas, students are still noisy and off-task. Fuel their fire - build a discussion around something engaging and exciting.
  • Relevancy – students get involved in class discussions if it has to do with their lives. While I personally could talk for hours about classic Cinelli bicycles, I don't think high schoolers would really care.
  • Passion – you have to be knowledgeable and interested in the subject as well. Don't start up a discussion about the high school football team if you've no idea about their rankings or who their competition is.
  • Timelessness – yes, we're talking about “news,” but be on the lookout for articles or data that can be used for months, rather than days. This will make it more convenient to put in your bag.
A tip on finding good content. Blogs are an excellent way to find really cool, new, and interesting items to share with the class. Take some time to find ones that interest you personally. Use an RSS reader to stay up to date. Here's some of my favorite blogs that I take snippets from to put in my bag:
Recently I just read an intriguing post on the Freakonomics blog that suggests colonial Americans were more literate than today's population. Ok, so maybe it sounds boring. But I can just imagine it taking off in a history or literature class: making it relevant to their lives by discussing their literacy and culture, sharing Payne's verbose and archaic prose, and probing students to think of factors that may skew the data.

Remember – the idea is to find the right content for your teaching style!

Tomorrow we will continue with the Bag of Tricks, and take a look at other possible methods I'm considering to fill it up for empty days.

Q. How do you promote class discussions in your teaching?

I invite you to contribute by sending in questions, personal stories, thoughts, and articles about substitute teaching. Thanks for stopping by.

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