Using real-world examples and tackling real-world problems in the classroom can make learning more meaningful to students. And it can help spark excitement in gaining knowledge about important issues.
There is research to support the value of authenticity when teachers use real-world problems and scenarios. Not only does it make the lesson more meaningful for students but they become properly engaged. They also become more aware of the choices they could make in society.
Here are a few teaching strategies to bring the real world into your classroom.
Look to the News
The first place that you can look is in the news. There will always be something in the news that you can find to connect to what you are teaching about in the classroom.
If you’re learning about the weather and storms like hurricanes and tornados, then talk about Hurricane Katrina or tornados in Oklahoma. If you are learning about racism, then talk about the police killings that are happening in the news or the infamous George Floyd incident.
Reading about the stories of real-life storms or situations that actually occurred can help students connect better to what they are learning in the classroom. This helps students recognize that these are issues that really happen outside of the classroom, and that they are not just stories in a textbook.
Invite Guest Speakers to the Classroom
One of the best ways that you can connect the students to real-world experiences is to invite a guest speaker into the classroom. Guest speakers have a wealth of knowledge and give students a real insight into a specific topic better than any textbook or article can.
Teachers are constantly getting asked why they have to learn this or why they have to lean that. A guest speaker, like an electrician, is the perfect person to show students why they have to learn math. A politician is a perfect example of why it’s important to learn how to write persuasive essays. Students can learn a lot about real life from someone who is actually in it.
A guest speaker can also be a model for student success. Getting to know someone who has succeeded in some aspect of life can readily inspire. Students may feel that they might be able to follow a similar path.
Take a Class Field Trip
Allow students to experience and observe the world around them by taking them outside of the classroom. This can be through technology, such as a virtual field trip — where students can get an inside look at something like the White House or a spacecraft through digital media. Physically taking students outside of the classroom helps them learn to observe the world through their own eyes.
Simulate a Real-Life Experience
If you can’t get a guest speaker to come to your classroom, or get your students to go outside of the classroom, then your next best option is to simulate a real-world experience in the classroom. This can be an extremely effective way to show children how something might play out in real life.
If you are reading a non-fiction book about an important trial, for instance, then have students simulate the trial by dressing up and taking on the roles of the involved parties. This will give students an inside look into what it felt like to actually be in the courtroom during this time that they read about. And by taking on the roles of the characters, students will get a sense of what the person went through while they were there.
Give Students a Real, Tangible Problem to Solve
Give students the opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge to a real-world problem. There are many ways that you can do this.
First, look at your local environment and government and dive into any problems that you see there. Students can take a crack at evaluating local issues like pollution and poverty.
Another way students can do practical problem solving is by looking inside their school or classroom to see what real problems lie there. They can look into the problems with cafeteria food (healthy vs. unhealthy) or having soda machines in the school. Students can figure out how to solve the problem with homework on weekends or the bus route that takes so long to come to and from school. By taking a closer look at these issues, students are being engaged in topics that affect, and matter to them.
Bringing real-world experiences into the classroom is a great way to give students a memorable experience that they can always take with them. Whichever approach you choose to try, remember that your goal is to create an authentic experience that will help students engage in their learning more.
How do you bring real-world experiences into your classroom? Do you have any tips that you would like to share? Please feel free to leave your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear what you have to say.
Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master’s of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo.