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Teachers who have been trained in formal lesson planning are probably familiar with this term. An anticipatory set is a very quick prelude to a lesson — not the part where you’re listing the objectives, but before that. It’s 2 to 5 minutes of drama, where the teacher does something to get students interested in the lesson. And I’ll admit it’s one of the first things I stopped adding to my lessons when time got short and I just needed to plan the main stuff, because it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
BUT — on the days when you want to add a little something extra to a lesson, this would be a great option. A well-crafted anticipatory set will not only get your students focused and curious, but there’s research that says they’ll learn better when your lesson includes one.
Here are some ideas for things you can use as an anticipatory set. With any of these examples, the main criteria is that they should connect to the content of the day’s lesson in some way.
- A question: This can be a “what if” question, some kind of moral dilemma, a “Would you rather” question, or even something as simple as a show of hands, like “How many of you have ever —?”
- An image, video, or audio clip: The internet is loaded with all kinds of media that can get students thinking.
- A quote or passage: Give students a few minutes to think about, discuss, or even write a response to a quote or passage.
- A story: Tell a real or fictional story that illustrates a principle you’ll be covering that day.
- A costume: Show up in an unusual hat, wig, or costume that relates to the day’s content.
- A demonstration: Especially good for STEM topics, you can demonstrate an example of some kind of phenomenon that will ultimately be explained in the lesson.
Once the anticipatory set is done, you would then transition into the lesson objectives and move into the first activity of the day. If you’re thinking you don’t have time to write full, formal plans that include this step, you’re probably right. But you don’t actually have to write it down; you could probably come up with a decent anticipatory set in the car on the way to school. The idea is to just add in something right before the lesson to get students’ attention. And it’s really not a have to, but you might just find that it’s one of those little things that can bring you some of the satisfaction that comes from crafting a really good lesson plan.
I think of teaching as an art and a science, and it’s stuff like this that falls into the “art” category. If anticipatory sets are not something you use regularly, give one a try this week and see what happens.
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