The Engagement Zone - Amblu Kai - “Fire Mountain”

We are now at the steepest part of the climb.  This is where all our past efforts have brought us, and we must rely on all our Knowledge of ourselves & our students, as well as our Heart and Inspiration.  We have entered: The Engagement Zone!

Engagement is vital to any successful classroom.  We must move beyond mere compliance from students, and into a realm where students crave the learning process and experiences.  It is a place where school becomes fun again; where playfulness and joy are embedded with every lesson. This is where you hook the students into the lesson, and bring about an explosion of excitement, energy, and learning.  It’s almost like awakening a volcano. It’s for that reason that this week’s post is titled Amblu Kai, which is the name native tribes gave to Lassen Peak in California, meaning “Fire Mountain.”

If you’ve ever read Teach Like a Pirate, (and I highly recommend it!) then you know how critical hooks are to bringing students into the lesson.  Dave Burgess has a TON of them in his book and every teacher can find at least one that will help them bring kids into the learning for the day. Using your Knowledge of yourself, you can find which one(s) will work for you and your students.  But make no mistake, you have to hook them in order to engage them. Engagement is part of that creative process and once you have found that Inspiration for what your class will be, Engagement becomes the art of how students will see and interact with that vision.  One of the other great sources for ideas for engagement is Wade and Hope King’s book The Wild Card. In this book, this husband and wife pairing provide a guidebook for what they call “Setting the Stage to Engage.” Your style should be unique, but there are a lot of great ideas in this book, from room transformations, to costumes, to mystery boxes, to almost anything!  Anything can be a hook if you sell it right. Remember, there is always some showmanship to teaching. You need to provide a compelling reason for those students to buy in to your pitch, and it can’t be “Because they just need to learn this!” Kids need a better reason than that. Connect to their lives, especially once you’ve learned about them because you started this journey with Heart.  Find current events that relate to what you are talking about. Bring in candy to act as manipulatives in math. Create a digital breakout to teach grammar by having them correct sentences to uncover clues. Build some excitement into your show and the kids will keep coming back.


For me, I built a Google Sites website to house my resources but used the images in the background and links to other pages and Google Slides/Docs/Forms to create an immersive experience of traveling into the past.  Students in my class are on a journey to uncover the “untold” stories of the past and act as historians along the way. That’s my hook. The mystery, the adventure of traveling through time. And everyday I have to sell it to them.  Combine that with my Indiana Jones persona and our preservation of the natural and historic sites, and now we have a costume hook and a connection to the real world and current events. Be a teacher of kids first, get inspired, know yourself and your students, and then put all of that together with some creativity and you’ll have, as Dave Burgess says, kids beating down the door to come back to your class.

Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out three Summit Seekers who truly can hook kids into any lesson, Wade & Hope King, and Dan Ferguson. Wade and Hope teach at the Ron Clark Academy in Georgia and their book The Wild Card lays out everything you need to engage students in learning.  Their passion for teaching is evident and they bring in music, creativity, room transformation, and so many other hooks that I want to be a student in their classes!  You can follow Wade and Hope on Twitter @WadeKing7 and @hopekingteach. Dan is a middle school social studies teacher in Kansas City who I’ve worked with for a number of years.  His lessons are truly amazing! From using a zombie apocalypse to teach geography and resources, to a simulation of the Oregon Trail, Dan finds new ways to engage kids in learning both history and geography.  I’ve enjoyed observing his classes many times and you won’t find many social studies teachers better at hooking kids into lessons than him. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DanFerguson13.