The Chalk Blog

What Teachers Can Learn from Reality TV!

Using real-life experiences to increase student engagement

mentorThe Bachelor, Survivor, American Idol, Real World, Deadliest Catch, Shark Tank, Duck Dynasty…the list goes on and on. While these shows often seem like just a teacher’s guilty pleasure, thego beyond encouraging procrastination and providing a reason to eat an entire bag of popcorn in one sitting. These shows are based on reality, and they typically suck us right in!  

What does reality have to do with these shows? Very little when you actually pay attention to the “stars” and the plots clearly sketched out by writers and producers. That being said, reality does have an impact when we are working to engage learners in the classroom. We could take a cue from how these engaging shows are structured. Real-world learning increases engagement, creates opportunities for students to make connections and develops student skills that will be used in adulthood. This authentic learning provides a reason to the student who is always asking, “Why do I even need to know this?” Real world learning activities often allow students to make an impact on a larger scale. And, if this type of learning is done well, it will suck your students in too! 

Here are six methods for bringing the real world into your teaching: 

1) The Interview: Assigning an interview ensures a student will be exposed to someone with first-hand knowledge on a topic. Finding a subject, developing questions and completing the interview pushes most students outside of their comfort zone…such a great place for learning! Interviews increase the chance a learner will develop a better understanding of the information, connect the experience to information they have learned in class or in their own life and develop their individual perspective based on their experience. Best of all, the student is practicing social skills based on a real-life situation while also completing an academic requirement. Does it get any better? 

2) The Mentor: Providing students with a mentor creates an automatic bridge between the classroom and real life. Mentors can be chosen specifically based on the academic goal in mindselected for an area of student interest or recruited for more general purposes to provide a strong adult role model for a learner. There is significant research on mentorship and positive impacts for students as well. Why wouldn’t you do this? Watch this great example of mentoring from our sister company, Teaching Channel:  

3) The Role PlayWhen we provide students the opportunity to role play, we give them a chance to see a new perspective, build empathy and provide context for them to reflect on their own beliefs and assumptions. Role playing moves learning beyond paper, pencil and book to preparing and thinking in response to a “real” situation. Plus, it’s fun! 

4) The Simulation: While a simulation is similar to a role play, the activity is based on a scenario. Students might have roles to play, however, this is not always the case. A simulation allows students to use the skills they are learning and developing in a real-world situation. These activities increase engagement, academic conversations, transfer of knowledge/skills, metacognition and social skills. Watch Mr. King make learning a “whole different world” using simulation: 

5) The Competition: Want to see your students rise to the occasion? Produce better products and projects? Feel an urgency to do their best? An academic competition might be the ticket. This real-world learning experience allows students to put their best foot forward at a local, state or even national level, but teachers can also create a similar atmosphere in their own classroom by holding a history fair cribbage tournament or Shark Tank pitch. Move academics outside the confines of the classroom through this authentic learning opportunity! 

6) The Exhibit: Have students create a museum and put them in charge of the artifacts, displays and explanations to expand their learning. Individual projects brought together to form a whole can increase collaboration and ownership in learning outcomes. Take a look as these students earn their place as respected contributing members of the art community: 

So, it doesn’t matter if your guilty pleasure is Top Chef or Married at First Sight, reality TV can provide some insights into how to provide real-world experiences to your students and increase the authentic learning in your classroom…even after the final rose! 


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