I find that many of my students don't like English simply because they see "English" as a boring subject. On the first day of school I tell my students that even though it says English on the schedule, we are going to approach the class as a Communications course. Almost immediately the walls students have built up begin to come down just by framing the course as something different. I then explain how English is about communicating messages, making sure they are precise, correct, and easily understandable. I then use this as a spring board for discussion throughout the semester. When we read we are reading to figure out what the author is trying to communicate to the audience and what makes his or her communication effective or ineffective. When the students write, I have them think about what they are trying to communicate and what will make that message the strongest.
I'm not sure how your classes are structured but I break my year into themes- one for each grading period. In each quarter I pair a major work, nonfiction articles, art, and music together to unpack the theme and related standards.
I teach freshmen so I break my themes down like this:
Quarter 1: Survival (Lord of the Flies)
Quarter 2: Journeys & Destinations (The Odyssey)
Quarter 3: Similarities & Differences (To Kill A Mockingbird)
Quarter 4: Love & Loss (Romeo & Juliet)
During each theme I invite students to go on a scavenger hunt and bring in anything that relates to our theme and they pin it to a specific bulletin board in the room. Throughout the unit when I'm looking for new ideas I go to the board of things they have found and incorporate them into my lessons. It keeps me from doing the same thing the same way over and over and it also makes them feel more invested in their learning.
Every now and then for grammar purposes, as a warm-up I will display a facebook/twitter post with errors and have the students correct it. It is a great discussion starter as they usually "cant' believe someone would write like that." It's a great platform to bring in the importance of grammar in their own writing.
Also, a few things I do that aren't specifically related to content:
1) I have a board in my room called "What's Good?" Any time something good happens to/for a student or myself, we take a post-it note, describe what happened, and stick it on the board. Then, if something doesn't go quite right on a particular day or if I or one of my students is in a mood, we just look at all of the good things that are happening in our class and it lightens the mood. The kids like it because it is interactive for them.
2) I don't know if technology resources in your school will allow this but when we do our weekly vocabulary, instead of using regular pictures on the PowerPoint slides, I find .gif images (moving pictures), usually from well-known movies/shows or just funny ones to include. It lightens the note-taking mood just a little and brings in a few laughs.
I hope this helps in some way. If you have any more specific content areas you want some ideas for I would be more than happy to share. I know some of these ideas were very general.
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