Sick of Tech? 10 Ways to Engage 21st Century Students Without It

Sick of Tech? 10 Ways to Engage 21st Century Students Without It

 Sick of Tech? 10 Ways to Engage 21st Century Students Without It

Author Image_Bored TeachersKim Larson is an artsy-craftsy hippie at heart and a focused overachiever at work. She teaches French and English in sunny Florida and is a proud new mom of two. After years of teaching other people’s children, she’s excited to start the journey with her own. Find her many teaching goodies on Teachers Pay Teachers.

 Do you and your students need to disconnect from all that clicking and swiping and scrolling? We educators are forever being encouraged to incorporate the use of technology into our lessons to stimulate 21st century learners, but it seems that in our effort to modernize and innovate, we sometimes forget how to engage with one another. Our students need to learn this skill just as much as they need to learn how to interact with tech, if not more. The next time you sit down to write your lesson plans, think about designing a lesson using alternatives to electronics, like the ones listed below.

1. Who says technology has to be electronic?

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Plenty of technologies exist. Many of them may be entirely foreign to your students. Bring them into the light with these electronic-free technologies.

  • Teach math? Introduce your kids to an abacus, a protractor, or a slide rule.
  • Art? How about a spirograph or a potter’s wheel?
  • Language Arts or Writing teachers, try a letter-writing exercise using a traditional pen and ink set, a set of calligraphy pens, or even a typewriter.
  • Social Studies or Geography? How about using a compass to find your bearings in your school or bringing in a sextant or sundial to show your students how our ancestors used tools?
  • Science? A glass barometer or scale or mercury thermometer can show kids different ways to measure.
  • Music? How about a metronome or a tuning fork?
  • World Language? Use or show off specific technologies to highlight your target culture – a crepe or Madeleine pan, a tortilla press, or a dumpling maker, for example.

2. Good old poster paper and markers.

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Post big paper and colorful markers around the room, and your kids will willingly participate in any discussion questions you give them! Put them in groups and they’ll like it even more. It’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s engaging, and it can suit many kinds of lessons. For example, a history teacher could post specific events around the room and ask students to list the details. An English teacher could post story elements like characters, setting, theme, figurative language, etc. Use it for a science class debate to list pro/con ideas about a controversial issue like genetic engineering or stem cell research. Who doesn’t love to write large on the wall with pretty colors?

3. Call students up to the white board.

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Sure, it sounds old school, but your students just may love the opportunity to get out of their seats and show you their stuff. To make this less intimidating, allow several kids to approach the board together to solve a problem (or multiple problems) at the same time, taking the pressure off students to perform in front of their peers. You could also distribute small white boards to individual students or groups and allow them to use them from their seats. This technique would work great for math problems, verb tenses, fixing grammatical errors, or making scientific calculations.

4. Create a sculpture!

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Collect some found objects from your classroom or supply closet, such as paper cups, paper clips, pens, erasers, rubber bands. Anything goes. Group your students and instruct them to create a sculpture that represents the concepts discussed in class. For example, a social studies lesson on Westward Expansion may inspire a sculpture that starts as a large mass but migrates and disperses in one direction. This activity is a great way to get young minds thinking critically and abstractly, and is a lesson in teamwork as well. Ask them to present their sculpture to the class and explain its significance to the lesson when they’re all done.


5. Get Physical.

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Total Physical Response, abbreviated TPR, is a technique that boosts the connections the brain makes when learning new or foreign material. Using TPR means involving the body in the lesson as well, not just the brain. Matching actions with concepts or words can help a student assimilate new ideas. This strategy works well for teaching foreign languages or vocabulary. Think “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in French, whole-body actions for learning new verbs, or big alligator chomps for learning about less than/greater than. TPR can also be used as a call-and-response technique, where the teacher calls out certain terms or questions, and the class responds with an appropriate physical gesture.

6. Let’s play.

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Is it time to review for that unit test? Sick of Kahoots and Quizlets? Try a tried-and-true game like Hangman, Win, Lose, or Draw, or Charades. Preparation is usually minimal, you can involve your whole class, and many concepts can be covered in a game session.

7. Go outside.

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If you want to shake things up a bit, or you just want to revel in some sunshine on a nice spring day, take your class outside. You can accomplish a host of different activities outside of your classroom. Language Arts teachers can have kids observe what they see and write about it. Science teachers can use the space for collecting specimens or launching rockets. Math teachers can have students calculate distance or area. Any teacher can simply have students bring their supplies outside and read, write, or discuss.

8. Host a scavenger hunt.

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Send your kids roaming about the school, the library, or your classroom in the name of learning! Granted, this may take a bit of work on your part, but creating a lesson where students’ knowledge actually pays off in the form of progress toward a tangible goal can really stick with a student. Write a classic scavenger hunt in a foreign language and have students find each clue hidden around the school. Have students solve math problems to find the next clue (the solution is the room number where they should go next, for example). Teach them the Dewey Decimal system by giving them certain books to find. Even a scavenger hunt through a textbook can be fun and effective. I always give my students a hunt in the beginning of the year when I pass out textbooks. That way, they can learn all of the features of their textbook all at once. “Wow, who knew there was a glossary of all the important vocab at the back of the book!?”

9. Create a bulletin board.

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How about getting your students in on decorating your room? One of my most vivid school memories is from the 3rd grade when my class read The Secret Garden. My amazing teacher, Mrs. Swanson, let us decorate her entire classroom as if it were, indeed, that secret English garden. If you can’t decorate the whole room for your lesson, how about a bulletin board or your classroom door? Students can create decorations that embody whatever unit they are studying. Not feeling artsy? That’s okay. Your bulletin board can be wordy too. Have students create short poems about their lesson and post them on the board. Ask them to research an influential figure and write a mini-biography to post. A bulletin board is also a great way to focus on character-building and citizenship in your classroom and letting students get involved gets them engaged.

10. Solve a mystery.

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Escape rooms and murder mystery parties and crime dramas have made us all wannabe sleuths. Put those skills to test in your classroom. Ask students to work together to solve a complex problem that relates to your lesson. In one of my favorite lessons on deductive reasoning, I staged my own murder. From the floor of my classroom, I watched excited students work through the clues that I carefully planted around the room, trying to find my “killer.” Why not create your own classroom mystery that only a hardworking group of students can solve?


21st century knowledge is imperative in our ever-evolving modern, technological society, but our students need to know how to connect with one another in other situations as well. Offer them these activities, or those of your own design, when you feel like unplugging for a little while.


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