High energy students. You’ve known a few in your time. You’ve taught a few. You’re the parent to a few. It takes energy just to keep up with these kids, let alone to teach them. And with the pressures of standardized testing, with kindergarten being the new first grade, teaching high energy students can be challenging to say the least.
It’s easy to think that more time outside and more play is the solution, which it may be, but few schools and schedules allow for that. Instead, try these five simple tips for teaching high energy students that don’t involve more activity.
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In my first teaching placement, I was teaching fifth grade at a Title I and Reading First school. Due to grant money, and the nature of the school district administration, I had extremely strict protocol and pacing guides to follow. Literally, every single minute of my day was pre-scheduled for me. No centers were allowed, no play-based learning, and few hands-on learning strategies.
So in a district like that, where the only acceptable form of learning outcomes were measured by worksheets and high stakes tests, what on earth was I to do with my high energy kids who didn’t respond to pencil and paper work? How was I to reach them and keep them motivated and encouraged? I couldn’t deviate from the “research based” curriculum I was provided, so how was I to teach the children who simply could not sit in their desks for an entire 90 minute reading block?
I had to find a solution, and quick, because my high energy kids were draining me, and I was soon spending so much time reprimanding them for not sitting still that I was neglecting the rest of my class, and the content I was responsible for teaching. I had to do something different.
Five Tips for Teaching High Energy Students
It was hard, so hard…until I learned how to adapt my teaching to the needs of my high energy students.
With these five simple and easy to implement tips, you can masterfully teach high energy kids without losing all the energy you have for yourself.
1. Connect with the Student
Whether you are a teacher at a public school or a homeschooling mother, your students want your attention. They want to feel connected to you. Liked by you. They want to know you are thinking about them and that you know what makes them tick inside. Students want to know they have a special relationship with you and that they matter.
I know it’s difficult to connect with every student in your classroom when your time is mandated by someone else. But the simplest things can connect you. For example, learn about their culture and share your own stories, and equally as important, encourage your students to share their own experiences. Make eye contact and offer smiles and pats on the back. Ask questions about your students, and give genuine responses. Ask them to teach you about something they know and love, like wildfires, fairy princesses or Minecraft.
2. Do Hand Strengthening Activities
Hand strengthening activities are a quiet and subtle way to lower the energy level of children when you need them sitting and listening. Because in the real teaching world we do need kids to sit and listen on occasion. You would be amazed at how some silly putty, or a squishy ball will help a child focus. You can also try having the student roll a ball between their palms, or stretch an elastic headband between their hands.
One of my students responded really well to unifix cubes. I gave him a set of ten and while he listened he also lined them up and stacked them, only to take them apart and line them up again.
These are all great activities as long as they do not become a greater distraction. Before I introduce any of these to my students, I always show them my intention of how to use that material, and give specific and strict consequences if the use was mistreated.
3. Play to Direct the Energy
Ok, I know you’re probably wondering how I snuck this into my classroom during that first teaching placement when every minute of my day was outlined in detail what I was to do. What you do is create a little bit of friendly competition. In my experience, that most high energy students are also a little competitive. Use that to your advantage.
Songs and actions are also an excellent way to incorporate play.
Or, one of my favorite strategies, every time my students heard a specific vocabulary word, they gave an action for that word. For instance, when we learned the word “scientist”, they would use their hands to pretend to pour liquid from one beaker to another one.
You can also play Follow the Leader or Simon Says for three minutes or so when you feel like your students are getting wiggly. Throw in some vocabulary or math facts and you’re golden.
4. Include Sensory Input
Sometimes children who are extremely high energy are lacking in sensory input. Sensory bins and clam down jars are wonderful ways to bring sensory elements into your classroom.
You can put your content into a sensory bin or discovery bottle or, if you simply need the high energy student to be listening you can allow them to move their hands through a shallow bowl of rice or hold a glittery or weighted calm down bottle.
Remember there are many different kinds of sensory input. I currently have a preschooler who learns better while standing up, so when I want him to really focus, I’ll take his chair away. Suddenly, his attention is narrowed and focused on the task at hand.
5. Make Them Feel Good About Themselves
One of the difficulties in teaching high energy students is that if we insist on them behaving like their counterparts (which they simply cannot), they tend to get into a lot of trouble. It’s frustrating, and that frustration can lead to those students losing self esteem and feeling like they can’t do anything right because sometimes they really can’t help that their imagination runs wild and their feet constantly have to be moving.
So instead, we have to change our disciplining methods. We need to be sure is it positive, and offers a clear redirection.
For example, instead of telling a child to do x, y, and z, say, “Show me how you can x, y, and z.” Then tell the student you are confident in their abilities.
Take every opportunity to praise them and encourage them. Be patient with them. Children need adults to build them up, not tear them down for small misdeeds, and our high energy students needs that the most. They need us to be on their side.
I look back on my first teaching placement with fondness. It was difficult, but I learned a lot. My teaching changed drastically during those few short years, and for the better. Especially my teaching of high energy students. They challenged me to think up techniques I’d use the rest of my career.
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