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In their book Inspiring Active Learning , Merrill Harmon and Melanie Toth present a ladder that describes four levels of student motivation. They call students at Level 4, the lowest level, the work avoiders, and on level 3 are the halfhearted workers. Near the top are responsible students, and, finally, come the fully active learners. As a teacher and a project-learning consultant, I've always paid close attention to these levels of student engagement. I've discovered that it's difficult to keep students focused when the lesson comes from the teacher.

But it can be equally difficult when they are engaged as project-learning teams, especially when the independence demanded by project learning is new to them. Sometimes it's an individual on the team who can't seem to get involved; other times it's the entire group. Over the years, I've come up with a range of strategies to eliminate dead time and move students up the active-learning ladder.

Eliminating dead time starts with creating an arsenal of routines and activities. They can be general-purpose activities that apply to various subject areas or styles of teaching, or specific content-oriented activities that allow your students to learn by tapping into multiple intelligences beyond the usual listening and recalling. Some are physical activities that help kids unleash pent-up energy, while others create private thinking time that encourages reflection.

Or they can be well-managed student-to-student communication to guarantee that they are all thinking about the work. Developing these activities initially takes time, but the payoff -- in terms of classroom management and overall learning -- is more than worth the effort. By building a storehouse of activities to draw on, I'm rarely at a loss to implement one of them to get kids back on track. Not surprisingly, too, students get to know these strategies and look forward to them.

I find they work at the beginning of class to calm kids down or any time they need an energizing way to refocus.

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A classic warm-up is to ask students to find the mistakes planted in material written on the board. You can use this idea in any subject area. But instead of asking them to work silently and alone, and then debrief in a classic question-and-answer session with one student at a time while many sit inattentively , use a mix of collaboration and competition to eliminate what could potentially become dead time.

Here's how: Organize teams of three students and ask them to work together quietly and raise their hands when they think they have found all the mistakes. After the first team signals it's done, give a bit more time and then have teams indicate with their fingers -- together on the count of three -- the number of mistakes they found in the work. The team that found the most describes its answers until another team disagrees politely or until they are finished.

Ask all students to stand behind their desks and join in simple choreographed physical movement.

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Because most kids find it invigorating and it's easy to monitor full participation, it may become one of your favorite ways to get kids focused and kill dead time. Here's how, for the primary grades: Teach hand-clapping patterns to accompany a chanted verse or a set of math facts. Add foot stomping or hand clapping with a partner to create variety. Here's how, for the middle grades: Create a rhythm with finger snapping and hand clapping, which you model and they echo back.

Joint Productive Activity

Vary the rhythm and pattern in intervals of seconds to challenge them to pay attention and join in. Here's how, for any grade, including high school: Offer a seventh-inning stretch, or the cross crawl. To do the cross crawl, stand up and begin marching in place, raising the knees really high. As you raise the left knee, reach across your body with your right hand and touch the left knee.

Then do the same for the left hand on the right knee. Continue this pattern for a minute or more. You can also vary it by, say, having kids clap their hands over their heads between each set of knee touches. Doing project learning and other team-based work without prior training can lead to lots of dead time.

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You can nip much of it in the bud by teaching collaboration skills before projects get started. You don't need to use an activity related to your subject area to teach teamwork.

Here's how: One way is to give teams of students a pair of scissors, two sheets of paper, ten paper clips, and a inch piece of tape, and ask them to build the tallest free-standing tower in 20 minutes. Prior to the activity, create a teamwork rubric with students, which reviews descriptions of desired norms and behaviors. While half of the teams are building the towers, have the other half of the students stand around them in a circular "fishbowl" as silent observers.

Debrief afterward, and train the observers to give a positive comment before a critical one: "I liked that they [blank], and I wonder if they could have also [blank].

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  6. When interest is waning in your presentations, or you want to settle students down after a noisy teamwork activity, ask them to do a quickwrite, or short journal-writing assignment. Here's how, for primary-grade students: Ask, "What was most interesting about [blank]? Here's how, for intermediate-grade students and above: Try prompts such as the following, or develop your own: "Summarize what you have heard. Teachers often avoid giving this type of assignment because assessing them regularly can be overwhelming.

    Manage this load by having students use a green or other color pen to circle one entry from the week you guarantee you will read. Occasionally, have them write a few sentences next to their entry explaining why they want you to read that particular one.

    Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future - Joe Ruhl - TEDxLafayette

    Let them know that you will read the passages marked in green and that, time permitting, you might read the rest if you have time. Preventing dead time is especially important when giving instructions. There are a lot of great ways to ask for your students' attention, but many succeed or fail based on how demanding you are of the final outcome. Whichever method you use, before you begin speaking, it is critical to require 1 total silence, 2 complete attention, and 3 all five eyeballs on you two eyes on their face, two eyes on their knees, and the eyeball on their heart.

    I've done this approach with every class I've ever taught, and it makes a big difference.

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    Here's how: When you introduce this routine to students, do it five times in a row: Announce that in a moment, you will briefly let them talk among themselves, and then you'll give them a signal you can count out loud from one to three, ring a bell, and so on and wait until they are perfectly ready for you to speak. In the first two weeks after starting this routine, remind students often what's expected. To hold everyone accountable for listening the entire time, make it clear that you will never repeat your instructions after you have finished going over them. The more you can manage your classroom to be a supportive environment, where students are encouraged to take risks without fear of being put down or teased, the easier it will be to use your fairness cup regularly, without feeling that you are setting students up for failure.

    Here's how: Write each student's name on a Popsicle stick and put the sticks in a cup.

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    While the process of seeking purpose in your life may not seem as universal or consequential as Einstein's, it is crucial to find how to learn in a way that works for you, which can lead to greater self-awareness and wisdom—not to mention a new job, better pay, a new hobby, or simply knowledge for knowledge's sake—whatever is important to you as an end goal.

    This brand of introspection and knowledge is not necessarily acquired through traditional means, and the learning techniques that work best may differ from one person to the next. In fact, some of these tips may surprise you. Imagine all of the ways you may have been perfecting how to learn to find your smartest self for years without even knowing it! This is only a partial list of sources, focusing primarily on online resources.

    Many of the ideas presented above come from experts with experience, with information gleaned from dozens of books, tapes, and websites focused on learning methods and techniques.