Teenager with headphones listening to music

4 ways I make learning fun in the classroom

From playing games to giving choices, this middle school teacher shares how she engages her students

As a middle school Spanish teacher, my #1 goal is to have my students fall in love with learning a language the way I did in middle school. When learning a second language, it’s important to teach reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Even though many of the ideas in this article have been created for a language classroom, most of them will work for any subject or grade level.

1. Play games

We play games in my classroom just about every day. Sometimes the games involve the use of technology. Sometimes they are interactive. And sometimes they are cooperative activities that require the whole class to work together.

Games that require tech:

  • Kahoot! – an oldie but goodie. Students still love Kahoot! and even like making their own to use as study tools.
  • Quizlet Live – the best thing about this game is that it gets students out of their seats and working in random groups. It can be a quick activity, a Do Now at the beginning of class, or an Exit Ticket for the last few minutes.
  • Gimkit – this is a newer game that was created by a high school student! Students may play as individuals or in groups. My students love this game because it allows them to earn (fake) money.
  • Quizizz – I love this tool the best because it tests accuracy instead of speed.

Games that don’t require tech:

Cooperative activities:

2. Give students choice

I think that it’s important to give students choices for in-class activities and projects. When a student has choice, s/he can enjoy what they are working on more and take ownership over their work. Middle-school students are developing skills and interests for the future; giving them choices offers them the opportunity to discover what they are passionate about.

One of the best ways to give choices during a classroom activity is to create a Tic Tac Toe sheet or a Hyperdoc. With these organized lesson plans, the student can choose activities during a specific day during class. Some teachers use Tic Tac Toe sheets for weekly homework assignments. Here is an example of a sheet used in a 4th grade math class.

Whenever I assign a project, students get choices. Sometimes, they can choose to work alone or with a partner. They can do their project on an app of their choice or create something on a poster board. Their favorite projects are the ones where they choose the topic as well as the method of presentation. Because projects take time, I try to be as flexible as possible and use and more general grading rubric that would work with a variety of project outcomes.

3. Take Brain Breaks

After taking a few courses on mindfulness, I decided to add some Brain Breaks to my lesson plans whenever I can. Even though my primary job is to teach Spanish, I believe that teaching my students how to deal with stress and anxiety is important. Many of my students have multiple quizzes, tests, and projects each week. Taking a few moments out of class to breathe or do something fun are ways that I can help them to focus on themselves and relieve some of those stressors.

The most popular brain break in my classroom is music. I introduce my students to at least a dozen Spanish songs each year. Some are on the radio, some are decades old, and some are silly Spanish nursery rhymes or YouTube videos.

Another break from Spanish is current events. With so much going on in the world, it is simple to find an article and/or video of something important that is occurring in a Spanish-speaking country. Sometimes I will ask students to find articles to share with the class as well. Often, they can earn extra credit doing this.

Every couple of weeks we practice mindfulness. We breathe, listen to sounds we hear in the room, and talk about what gratitude means to us. There are so many mindfulness activities you can do in any classroom. Mindful Schools and MindUp are great tools; both have been instrumental in teaching me how to work with middle school students and mindfulness specifically.

Related: 8 ways I practiced mindfulness this year

4. Give rewards

Twenty years ago, I observed one of my professors teaching and it had a major impact on the way I decided to set up my classroom. She handed out paper microfonos (microphones) to each student every time they participated in class. It was a way for students to earn extra credit points on tests and quizzes and encouraged them to participate as much as possible. I loved this method and applied it to my classroom in the form of Boca Cards. Students earn 1 extra credit point for every 5 Boca Cards they turn in on test day.


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