Switching it up on the spot

Today, I came to work a little unprepared in terms of the direction I wanted to take with an ongoing persuasive writing unit that is underway in my classroom.


Okay, I’ll admit it – I didn’t have a “lesson plan” for my Language class today.


Now, before all those “holier than thou,” type-A personality, educators burn me at the stake, let me make my defense. I’ve taught this unit for 5 years in a row now. I have a firm grasp on what needs to be taught, where we are currently, and have roughly mapped out how long it is going to take for my students to arrive at a well-polished culminating essay once we have learned all the things that I feel they need to learn. So, in somewhat of a morning scramble, I decided to show them a PowerPoint I had made a few years back describing the different types of persuasive techniques advertisers use. The slideshow included persuasive techniques such as “appeals to authority”, “testimonials”, “the fear factor”, and “hyperboles”. Alongside a brief description of each technique were a few ads that served as examples. We had fun as a class as we talked about how the ads for Corn Pops and Lucky Charms persuaded people to buy them by “elaborating” on their health factors. We took a brief tangent when we talked about those few Corn Pops that always seem to be hard on the inside and hurt your teeth when you bite in. For a first period lesson, the students were engaged. I was ready to connect it to the small writing activity they had started a few days ago.

But then a thought crossed my mind. I hadn’t really touched on much of the Media Literacy curriculum in the last few weeks. Perhaps this would be a good hook to get some cross-curricular activity that tied in some of that curriculum with some Art. The Language assignment could wait until tomorrow.

After the PowerPoint, I told my students that we would be starting a Media Literacy task in which students had to create an advertisement for either a healthy food product or a new fashion line. This wasn’t exactly off the top of my head; I had done a similar activity with my class a few years ago. The students quickly grasped onto the novel challenge, we co-created some preliminary success criteria, and they jumped right into the work.

As I sat back to catch my breath, I observed students first form groups, then brainstorm ideas for products, and then begin to decide on the types of “persuasive techniques” they would utilize for their ad. Smooth flowing for a Tuesday morning wing-job.

I am reluctant to use the common term “wing it” as it is applied to teaching. The term tends to imply a nonchalant, noncommittal attitude to teaching and learning. This is not what I did today. I did not halfheartedly slap together something from my teaching reserves and expect students to dive right in. I had a plan (albeit, a very loose one) at the beginning of the class and throughout the lesson I actively engaged my learners’ interests. I “felt” that the supplementary activity would work because of the vibe that my students were giving me throughout the slideshow. And then I decided to dive in and go for it. My students followed.

I didn’t wing this morning’s lesson. For lack of a better term, I switched up on the spot. There are two things that make a classroom dynamic consistently vibrant from September to June: engagement and flexibility. The ability to read engagement and then be flexible enough to adapt is crucial to teaching. It speaks to the ability to understand your students, have confidence in your expertise of the craft, and be humble enough to acknowledge that sometimes your students will lead the direction of their learning and not you.

My students came back from rotary and pressed me to continue working on their newly-minted Media Literacy assignment. At this point, I had the rest of my day planned out. But who was I to deny them their ability to change the course of their learning when I initiated it first thing in the morning. We will get to the other stuff tomorrow. Today was a productive day of learning.


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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