How to Create a Challenging Classroom Environment

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  • 0:02 A Classroom Conducive…
  • 0:39 Critical & Creative Thinking
  • 2:19 Learning Styles
  • 3:16 Other Tips
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we'll develop strategies to create a challenging classroom environment. We'll identify techniques used to promote student learning and understand why these techniques are beneficial.

A Classroom Conducive to Learning

Let's say you've just been hired for your first teaching job. You're excited, and you immediately begin to think about your classroom and what it will look like. You begin thinking about how you will decorate it and how you'll manage your students. As you imagine teaching, you begin formulating ideas about how to promote students' learning. How will you motivate students to learn? How will you create a classroom conducive to learning?

Because every teacher is different and teaches differently, there is no magic formula. However, there are some general strategies that can be used to create a challenging classroom environment. Let's look at them!

Critical and Creative Thinking

Two essential approaches toward education to cultivate are critical thinking and creative thinking. These are foundational skills that can be applied in many ways.

Critical thinking is thinking logically about content and understanding cause and effect. Sometimes, it means thinking skeptically to understand how or why. Students who use critical thinking do more than just memorize terms: they understand the concepts behind the terms.

Say you're teaching about the American Revolution in a history class. If you help a student develop critical thinking skills, she'll be able to do more than tell you the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. She'll be able to explain how the French and Indian War helped lead to the American Revolution and trace the lines of cause and effect between the Stamp Act and the rebellion that followed.

Critical thinking involves developing one's own views and opinions on an issue. As you're teaching, be sure to encourage questioning, instead of only memorization. Encourage students to think about content and ask questions like:

  • How?
  • Why?
  • To what extent?
  • What caused this?
  • What is the impact or effect?

Creative thinking is also key. It involves thinking outside the box and developing new ways to communicate, complete a task, or solve a problem.

Let's say you're a science teacher, and you're teaching about the earth's crust. Instead of just teaching from the textbook, you could engage students in making a model of the earth with its layers. Other possible creative projects include:

  • Building Lego structures
  • Making art projects
  • Science experiments
  • Making poster-board displays

Learning Styles

Good teachers make use of a variety of learning styles. Kinesthetic learning is learning by doing. Many students learn best by actually engaging in an activity instead of just listening to an instructor. Learning through listening is called auditory learning. Visual learning involves learning by seeing. Photographs, videos, and other forms of visuals are excellent tools that help students learn.

Think about it: you might be great teacher, but it's hard to compete with a National Geographic video. Educational films are tremendous asset to teachers and are a favorite method of learning for many students. Just make sure you don't overdo it! Don't show a video every day. Mix it up so that each day is new, different, and exciting. Group discussions are another fun way to engage the entire class. Mock trials, in which students play the role of judge, attorney, defendant, etc., can also help bring content to life.

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