Every person’s set of life experiences are very different. Recognizing this in our daily interactions with kids can really go a long way in making us better teachers. One might think that celebrating these differences is about relationship building through empathy and compassion. While that is definitely true, personal experiences serve an even more important function in the learning process.

There isn’t a doubt that the world has become more connected, but that doesn’t necessarily mean our students have built the experiences needed to learn something new. Each student starts the learning journey from a different place because they have been exposed to different experiences. Truly deep learning occurs when students are able to make a personal connection based on what they already know about the world.

Reaching every student in this manner for every new concept might seem like an impossibility, and maybe that’s true. Each student, ultimately, has to make those connections himself, but as teachers, we can make sure that we are creating lessons that contain opportunities that force students to wrestle with concepts and discover how it fits in with their current view of the world. Providing opportunities for learners to make connections to themselves, others and the global community will help to provide context for their learning.

3 Keys to creating lessons that will get students making connections 

Make it relevant.

Learning something just for the sake of learning doesn’t really make sense for anyone. Kids are exposed to an unbelievable amount of communication in a single day. Unfortunately, if the information you are providing as a teacher doesn’t seem relevant it is quickly discarded. If we truly believe a student should be learning the material we are delivering, it is worth the effort to start designing a lesson by asking yourself how it will be viewed by your students.

Show examples of new material in a way that might affect students NOW. Resist the urge to show examples of how they might use something when they get into college or the “real world.” Most of the time they simply won’t care. Is there a current event that demonstrates your point? Music, media, and entertainment are always good places to start but don’t think students won’t identify with news and politics. If the example affects them in some way, personally, it can be a great way to make new learning relevant. If you are still struggling to find relevance, don’t be afraid to ask a few students their thoughts.

Use narrative.

Everyone loves a good story. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that humans can really only make sense of the world in a narrative way. Try using this to your advantage when designing your next lesson. Is there a way that your content can be delivered in a story?  New concepts can often serve as solutions to problems. Students love to solve problems when they are presented in a way where they can see themselves as the hero. Especially when it is relevant. Try following a narrative pattern in a lesson by introducing some material, creating conflict, and then having the students help resolve it. They will need to be resourceful and connect the material to things they already know.

Ask the right questions.

Some would argue that the real value of the material you are delivering in your daily lesson is more about how that student interacts with the concept than the concept itself. After all, they could probably just look up that material on the web and gain a lot of knowledge. However, you have the opportunity to engage them by asking provocative questions. A really good question makes each student pause and think about the concept. Good questions make students say, “How does that affect me? I’m not really sure I have ever thought about that before.” In order to answer, they have to make connections.