Lesson Intro Dos and Don’ts (Part One)

As a child, I competed in countless swim meets. In every race, there was one swimmer who dove into the water before the gun was fired. After a tongue lashing from the coach and jeers from teammates, the swimmer flung himself onto the side of the pool and climbed onto the diving block, only to be told that he had been disqualified for a “false start.”

False Starts in the Classroom

The instructional equivalent occurs when a teacher dives right into the lesson without delivering an effective introduction–that is, without capturing students’ interest, activating their prior knowledge, explaining how their prior knowledge relates to the topic of the lesson, and explaining why that topic is worth their time and attention.

Unfortunately, these false-start intros can have several unintended consequences, including curbing students’ interest in the lesson, limiting their learning potential, and discouraging them from engaging actively in the lesson. And, as someone who knows teachers and believes in their genuine desire to help students, I am certain that no teacher would ever do such things intentionally.

If you’re not sure what a false-start intro looks like, take a look at the following scenario.

As students enter the classroom, the teacher reminds them to get started on the bell work. A minute or two later, the teacher calls on 2-3 students to share their answers. Then, without even a soupcon of transition, the teacher dives right into the lesson: “Today, we’re going to learn about the causes of WWI. You should take notes because this information will be on the test.”

The Trouble with False Starts

Unless students are passionate about the topic or incredibly driven, they are unlikely to engage their hearts and minds in learning about it. After all, there are lots of interesting ways to pass the time:   daydream, doze off, annoy the teacher, or talk to a classmate.

If the teacher doesn’t intentionally grab students’ attention, activate their prior knowledge, explain how that knowledge relates to the content, and make clear why the topic is worthy of attention, students just might find another way to occupy themselves.

Thus, no matter how you argue it, an effective intro will always beat a false start.

Starting Points for Effective Intros

Not sure how to develop an effective intro? No worries! Take a look at the following posts: (1)Lesson Intros: An Indispensable Formula, which includes a user-friendly formula intros, and (2) Lesson Intros: Exemplar #1, which includes the very first exemplar (i.e. model intro) I ever created for use in my teaching methods course.

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