Sunday, 29 June 2014

How to Engage Students Using the Arts

Let's be honest.

Many students are *over* learning by the time they reach our classrooms.  In my experience, the older they are, the more likely they are to be disengaged.

As educators how can we overcome this?

In the "Long Live the Arts" chapter of his book, Teach Like A Pirate, Dave Burgess discusses using the arts as powerful hooks to engage students and transform our lessons.

#1. The Picasso Hook

Could your students create visuals to depict an event or concept?  Activities do not have to restricted to the bounds of your imagination.  Have your students generate ideas collaboratively and seek your approval.

I was once required to teach a Primary 2 Class (6 year olds) about forces using the book, "The Lighthouse Keepers Lunch" as a context for learning.  Reading the forward plans made me realise that the topic was even duller than it sounds.

I taught the required learning intentions but not using the lessons plans I was given.  Instead, I had my students work collaboratively in groups of four to create stop frame animations.  They LOVED it!  We hosted a popcorn afternoon and invited parents to watch the finished animations.

Free reign to be creative can be a powerful engagement hook.

#2. The Mozart Hook

Music can instantly transform the atmosphere of your class and can be used effectively for lessons openings, transitions, discussions etc.

Can you find music relevant to the mood of your lesson?  Are there songs out there with lyrics relevant to what your students are learning?

I love Dave's suggestion of having students change the lyrics of popular songs to reflect what they have been learning in class.  Without even trying out this idea I know it would be a successful and engaging lesson.

#3. The Dance and Drama Hook

This is fantastic way to bring a kinesthetic dimension to your lessons.

Can your students perform a relevant dance?  Recreate an historical event?  Create a video?

I saw a fabulous example of this at university which was a video clip of a primary school class using classical music and dance to demonstrate their understanding of weather systems.  Each group was assigned a different type of weather (e.g. a hurricane) and had to create a dance to illustrate their interpretation of that weather in time with a relevant piece of classical music.

#4. The Craft Store Hook

Is there something your students can make that is relevant to your lesson?  Can you use craft supplies to challenge students to an open-ended creative project?

Dave's lesson on Lindbergh's flight which involves creating flight googles using craft supplies sounds like it would be a great hit with students.


I hope you find these insights as inspiring as I did.

Please let me know if you try out any of those techniques and don't forget to check out Dave's book, "Teach Like A Pirate".

If you are interested in learning more about "Teach Like A Pirate" then please read Dilly Dabble's blog post on the next chapter of the book: "What's in it for me?"

Happy teaching!

DISCLAIMER:  The views expressed above are entirely my own.  I did NOT receive any financial compensation for writing this article. 

TITLE IMAGE CREDITS: image courtesy of, fonts by KG Fonts


  1. I've never heard of 'teach like a pirate!' Off to hunt it down, because it sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing :-)

    1. I HIGHLY recommend it - has given me some great ideas for my new class!

      Thanks for stopping by,


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  3. I met Dave Burgess and I was so inspired by his presentation. He was fabulous. I bought a couple of his books and even had them signed by him personally. I also wrote a blog post about my experience. You can check it out at 123kteach I would also love to join in on your collaborative boards when you get a chance. Please add me to I love Kindergarten and I love First Grade. I am a follower and I will pin several ideas first before paid products. If you are interested you can check out my boards as well and I will return the favor by adding you as a collaborator. My pinterest information is and my boards are Kindergarten Express and Primary Grades Fun and Learning.