Surprise & Suspense

Among the many podcasts that I have time to listen to during my 70 minute(!) commute is Freakonomics and this Freakonomics episode from the summer entitled How to Create Suspense inspired me to think about how I structure my lessons. In the podcast the hosts interview novelist Harlan Coben about how he uses suspense in his novels to keep readers engaged. Coben states that:

..if you know where your last destination is, I can lead you astray in a lot of different ways and still, at least myself, keep my eye on the prize.

This reminded me of a backward by design approach. Essentially an author knows how the story ends, and can take you straight there, boring book, or via a series of other, more exciting destinations if the book is to be an engaging best seller.

This got me thinking about how my classroom lessons are structured. Obviously I know the final destination, and I reveal that to the students at the start of a unit. I’ve always aimed to start my lessons with an engaging hook but since listening to the podcast I wondered ifI shouldn’t always ‘reveal my hand’ so soon. If students know what to expect from a lesson, where’s the suspense, the surprise, the reason to stay interested? If the hook is the most interesting or important part of the lesson perhaps it should be revealed at varied times during lessons.

Of course I shared my thoughts about using suspense and surprise in a classroom with my PLN and the awesome Jo Bailey (you are following her aren’t you?) suggested that I read the book Made to Stick by  Chip and Dan Heath. The book continues the idea of “stickiness” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, seeking to explain what makes an idea or concept memorable or interesting. Jo’s recommendation was spot on. It’s one of those books that you want to read with a highlighter, making notes of all of the great advice that you can use in your teaching. Incidentally, both of those titles were mentioned by my PLN when I asked for recommendations of great books for teachers to read.

I’ve had many great ideas to implement this year into my teaching, but one that continues to stay in the back of my mind as I aim to make my lessons engaging and memorable is the trifecta of surprise, suspense, and stickiness.

Here are this week’s slowchathealth questions:

Q1 What methods do you use to keep students engaged in class? #slowchathealth

Q2 Have you ever considered using suspense or surprise to engage students in class? #slowchathealth

Q3 How has your teaching changed over time in terms of engaging students? #slowchathealth

Q4 How many of these 10 engaging ideas have you used this week? #slowchathealth

Q5 Who in your PLN is ‘an ideas person’ and worth following for their sharing of ideas? #slowchathealth

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