How to make learning relevant for your class

Victoria Crossan
23rd June 2016 at 11:22

Subject Genius, Victoria Crossan, How to make learning relevant for your class

At one point or another we’ve all heard from a child “When will I ever use this?” or “Why do we need to learn this?” – pretty fair questions, if I’m honest. Children are more alert and aware than we give them credit for, and in my experience, questions like that are not asked to be cheeky or disruptive, but are instead asked in a search for relevance.

Relevance is subjective – the degree to which a child finds something “interesting” or “relevant” depends entirely on their engagement, their willingness to learn, and their personal hobbies and interests. As teachers, we know it can be difficult to teach the curriculum in a way that enlightens and inspires our classes, and deliver lessons in a way that helps children see why their learning is of importance to their daily lives, goals, and the world around them. They have to care about what’s being taught and that can, admittedly, be a tricky feat.


Know your class inside and out

For me, learning as much as I can about the children I teach is so important. It allows me to get to know them on a more personal level, know what their interests are, know what makes them happy, and what gets them excited.

“Getting to know you” activities at the beginning of the year are a perfect way to gain a deeper insight into what your class are into, what their hobbies are, and if you’re lucky, what might switch the proverbial “light bulb” on. Instead of this being a more child-focused activity, use the results of these activities to inform your planning. For example, if many children responded with things like “Minecraft”, or “building”, or “drawing” as an activity they like, or a hobby they have, jot that down.

Allowing children the opportunity at the beginning of the year to complete a “How I Learn” quiz (which many children find fun in itself) gives you a rough picture of how your class learn, and on a deeper level, which types of activities they might engage most with.


Provide as many “real world” opportunities as possible

When starting a new topic or project, I ask my class what they already know. Using a graphic organiser, we make some notes about what they know and what they’d like to learn about a new topic, which helps to create learning goals. Then I move on to how we can share our learning. After explaining what the task is and what learning we will need to accomplish, it’s interesting to hear their versions of how to best present their findings. When you allow children to be involved in the decisions and let them take control of their learning, they end up having a better grasp of the lesson and become more attached to the outcome.


Putting it into practice

Another small thing I like to do before my class delves into an investigation or project is to set the task up to mimic the parameters found in the real world. Below are some ways to thread some practical examples of “real life” application into your lessons:


1. Ask children some of these questions before they get to work:
“What kind of person might be interested in this type of project?”
“What job might this investigation be useful for?”
“Do any of your mums/dads/caregivers use “x” (powerpoint, charts, collages, video conferences, iPad apps, etc) in their work?”


2. Give children opportunities to apply the skills they learn in class to a variety of settings – this can be in halls, outside, other classes, on school trips, etc. Let children know where the materials they might need are located and have a discussion about how to use them properly, safely, and in a mindful way.


3. Have the children “get into the mindset” of a person who might be interested in that particular type of work by modelling out loud the questions that type of person might be asking themselves.

  • For example, if children are creating a fact file or report about a famous historical figure, ask children to get into the mindset of a museum curator. They might ask themselves;
    “How can I present the life of Queen Victoria in a fun and engaging way for children who visit the museum? What would I need to consider?”


4. Boost you class’s desire to treat a project more seriously by tweaking the names of your projects with official names such as “Engineer’s Booklet”, “Geography Survey Book”, “Artist’s Workbook” – sometimes sneaking in a professional title or swapping the wording of your activities can bolster a level of creativity you’ve never seen before.


5. Have a continuous dialogue flowing where you act as a facilitator – don’t fall in love with the sound of your own voice. The more children discover on their own, and the more surprised you are at their revelations, the higher the chances that they’ll go above and beyond the basic requirements and really amaze you with their skills and their desire to produce a polished and intricate piece of work that will impress.


While there may be some children that take more time to adjust to the concept of linking school and the “real world”, the benefits of making that connection with your class, and the subsequent mindset that follows can be a real eye-opener for children and teachers alike. I hope this has given you an insight into how powerful these links can be for your class, as well as some ideas to try out in your own rooms!


Victoria Crossan is a primary school teacher in Essex.