Teaching From Behind a Mask or Screen

Teaching From Behind a Mask or Screen

Soon, we will know whether we are all returning to campus-based, virtual, or hybrid schooling. Regardless of what happens, we will likely be interacting professionally from behind masks to reduce the accidental transmission of the COVID-19 virus. On some level, we will also continue to interact virtually to limit gatherings or hybridize instruction.

I am not here to debate the mask issue. Required or not, I am “all in” on wearing them. Even if it only reduces the spread by a fraction of a percent, I feel that I have the moral obligation to wear one. So, instead of trying to argue my way out of it, I am proactively planning ahead to limit the impact of masks and the limitations of the virtual world. Let’s get productive!

We can put our minds to some very productive things, like figuring out how to interact with others when some of their most critical non-verbal cues are behind a mask. In turn, how can we assist our listeners with other signals besides those our full-faces typically provide?

There may likely be a virtual component to our teaching and administrative practices when we return. Whether you are involved in a hybrid model, part online instruction, or an entirely virtual model, there are some tips included here that apply to the virtual world. They may be able to see your face, but they lose some of your personality and full-body language. I note these below as well.

Building and Maintaining Rapport

Building relationships is one of the most critical factors for maximizing the effectiveness of teaching practices. So, I will discuss building rapport. I make an argument for being creative and theatrical in your teaching practices. Then, I share a series of random ideas. Perhaps something will inspire you!

  • Consider making a video or voice-over slide show that tells your students (or staff) about who you are. What are your hobbies? Do you have an interesting family history? What are you passionate about? Play it in class or virtually. This idea addresses the mask issue, as you can use images of you without you wearing your mask.
  • Watch this video on how to read another person’s emotions when they are wearing a mask by recognizing their micro-expressions. Now, get in front of a mirror and practice making your facial expressions more evident while wearing a mask.
  • Externalize the checking-in process. Try not to make assumptions when you see an individual who may be upset, sad, frustrated, or angry. Agree as a class (or staff) on how to check-in. For example, you could teach them that when you say, “How can I help?” you mean that you have seen that they might be upset or frustrated, and you are ready to problem-solve with them.
  • When in a virtual world, teach your students and staff how to send you private messages during class or a meeting. Encourage them to convey concerns, frustrations, and such in this manner to keep information flowing for the rest of the group. Just be sure to monitor that outlet!

Be Creative and Theatrical

Think about all the ways actors portray emotions and meaning when wearing a mask (body language, over-emphasized movements, voice tone, and props are an excellent place to start.

Here is just one example of tying non-verbals in with theatrical motivators:

  • Before making a critical point that ties in with the lesson objective directly, put your hands in the air and call out, “As you can see…” in an easily discernible way.
  • After you make the point or convey the skill, take a bow. Better yet, create a signature bow to inject some fun.
  • The bow signals the students to respond in-line with how confident they feel about their understanding of what they heard or saw during the instruction. 
    • Hands over eyes = I understand so well that I could teach it with my eyes closed
    • Snapping fingers = I kind of understand; could you review/do another example?
    • Clapping = I am pretty sure I understand; might need some practice

Random Ideas

  • Teach your students or staff ways to give you feedback on their understanding from a distance using signals, signs, or technology. Perhaps they can hold up a question mark sign if what you just said confused them. Maybe a stop sign if they need you to repeat what you just said. The Fist of Five strategy is an excellent and adaptable formative assessment you can do on the fly, even virtually.
  • Be prepared to face boredom and sleepiness. Get them moving now and again; even it is chair aerobics.
  • Make videos of yourself mask-free (record in a safe environment!) for use throughout the week. This video could be an opening message, it could be information they use for a homework assignment, a science demonstration, or it could be you making letter sounds so younger students can see the shape of your mouth.
  • Give homework assignments with the option to video record themselves (while mask-free). This option teaches public speaking and allows them to express themselves to their peers with their whole face in view.
  • Consider adding features to your lesson that are quality edutainment
Ending the School Year Virtually

Ending the School Year Virtually

Over the next few weeks, teachers across the nation are wrapping up their instruction for the school year and preparing for what is sure to be a non-traditional summer in uncertain times. 

I have a great deal of anxiety around how the 2020-2021 school year could look. How do we prepare for the “new normal” that we cannot even define yet?

I am nervous for the new teachers just graduating college. Some of them didn’t get to complete their student-teaching practicums. Many of them were hired through online interviews, so they didn’t get to visit the school to see whether they felt like the school’s environment and culture is a ‘good fit’ for them.

We have to be creative when ending the school year to make it enjoyable and healthy for our students, teachers, and future colleagues:

  • Have a virtual End of Year Celebration
  • Have each of your school’s teachers and staff members send in a brief phone video introducing themselves and giving a positive statement about their experience in the school family. Turn that into a video and share it with new-hires for the next year.
  • Complete a closing virtual parent conference with each family. Take notes on important struggles and learning a-ha’s their child had while schooling at home and share them with the next teacher to have the student.
  • Call each child on the phone or virtually meet with them individually to give them a positive send-off.

As I meet with all of the teachers I have supported this year, several questions keep coming up. I have made each of these questions into active links so you can jump right to the ones that are swimming in your head as you read this.

Last week, I promised an article on differentiation by content, process, product, and affect/environment for this week. I have embedded it here while focusing on questions that are extremely pertinent now. Putting a positive spin on an old idiom: I am feeding two birds with one scone. In the event that we return to traditional schooling for the next year, here is a quick-read on content-process-product-affect/environment differentiation from that perspective.

Preparing to Start a New School Year Virtually

Use Your Freetime Wisely and Be Ready When the Year Begins

  • Become Familiar with High-quality Edutainment
  • Use Online Training and How-to Videos to Improve Your Virtual Practices
  • Increase your Understanding of Online Teaching Strategies
  • Build some high-impact virtual lessons to start school just in case. If you make videos about your online/hybrid behavior expectations in a way that they can be used during in-person lessons, too, it is win-win. Digital Citizenship, active listening, self-regulation, and asking quality questions are some examples of mini-lessons you could create now and use both online and face-to-face.

Watch Out for Seductive Details as You Build Resources

In order to make educational materials such as textbooks, slideshows, and virtual lessons more engaging, the creator may choose to add elements such as photos, videos, music, cartoons, and text such as quotes. The catch, however, is that some of these could be what is called seductive details

By definition, seductive details are:

  1. Interesting to the learner, but
  2. Not aligned with the learning objectives/goals

Research has shown that these unaligned features may lead to poor information retention for the lesson overall and difficulties in transferring (applying and generalizing) the actual content of the lesson. This is referred to as the seductive details effect.

Critics of this claim might argue that seductive details may increase learner engagement, especially when presenting “dry” content or content which does not intrinsically motivate the learner. 

Some examples of seductive details:

  • During an earth science lesson on the causes of extreme weather patterns, such as lightning, the teacher includes a video clip of a woman walking her child in a stroller as lightning suddenly strikes less than three feet away
  • An algebra textbook includes photos and illustrations around the theme of a beach to make the pages more visually appealing (even if the application story problems include the same theme)
  • A technology lesson on the use of email etiquette for business communication includes a slide discussing the evolution of written communication includes a picture of a famous actor dressed as a postman from one of their recent movies

If you include seductive details, be very clear with yourself on why you are including them. For example, if you include a cartoon for the purposes of building rapport and unity with your learners through inducing laughter or to give comic relief during a lecture on a stress-inducing concept, recognize that you will need to intentionally redirect your learners back to the goals and objectives of the lesson. 

Instead of seductive details, see if you can provide elements that are actually aligned with the content and learning expectations. Going back to the examples of seductive details above, here are some elements they could have used instead to avoid using those that were not aligned:

  • In the lesson on lightening, the video could have shown examples of the three types of lightning: cloud-to-ground (the most commonly known type), cloud-to-air, and cloud-to-cloud
  • An algebra text could use visuals that model a strategy for solving the application problems with base ten blocks in lieu of including palm trees for visual interest
  • The technology lesson on email etiquette could use a colorful timeline modeling the evolution of written business communication

A Mix of Online and In-Person Instruction

While blended learning focuses on the combination of offline and online instruction, hybrid learning seeks to find a balance that promotes the best experience for individual students. 

Blended learning combines in-classroom instruction with asynchronous exercises and content that are consumed outside the classroom. Hybrid learning, on the other hand, is the method of teaching remote and in-person students at the same time via virtual instruction solutions.

It is important to understand the different types of blended learning.

Consider The Flipped-Classroom Approach

What if you had more time to do application activities and project-based learning? With a flipped-classroom approach, you can. 

In traditional schooling, students receive content during class and complete problems or application activities at home. In a flipped classroom, the students receive content while at home through videos, readings, etc. Then, they come to class to apply the content as the teacher facilitates application activities, reteaches, corrects misunderstandings, and differentiates.

If you are considering a flipped classroom, do your research into common mistakes that others have made and how to avoid them

One strategy that is power-packed for use in a flipped classroom is the Catch and Release strategy.

Anticipate Preparing Space in Your Home for Virtual Teaching

Whether we return to campuses or not, you have now seen the power of being able to use technology for teaching. Having space in your home pre-prepared for virtual instruction can reduce stress as we approach the new school year not knowing what it might look like. Even if all schooling takes place in the classroom, you can use instructional mini-videos make at home to enrich, reteach, and differentiate your instruction.

  • Putting videos on YouTube and linking them in your virtual learning environment takes up less space on your computer and decreases lagging. Create backdrops for your YouTube videos.
  • Rearrange your furniture to create a front of class look or themed space.

Differentiating Online Learning

There are four primary focuses for differentiation of assignments and assessments regardless of whether the instruction is virtual or in-person: Content, process, product, and affect/environment.

Content Differentiation

Content is the knowledge, understanding, and skills we expect the students to demonstrate mastery of during and after instruction. KUD, or Know-Understand-Do, is an easy to remember acronym that captures the essence well. 

It is important to note that when we plan for differentiated instruction, we must be careful to not accidentally modify the content. The same expectation of mastery and performance is maintained for all of the students unless they have an IEP or 504 plan that calls for modifications. 

Online Content Differentiation Examples

  • Provide supplemental guided notes that can be used while watching an instructional video
  • Meet separately with students to re-teach (virtually, with an individual or small group)
  • Provide alternate texts (ex. No Fear Shakespeare)
  • Make videos available in addition to the text-based material
  • Offer personalized instruction videos

Process Differentiation

The ways in which a student engages with the content of a lesson is the core of process differentiation. The students all receive the same content, but the process by which they make sense of the content and skills can vary.

Online Process Differentiation Examples

  • Provide online math manipulatives along with videos on how to use them to solve a specific type of math problem
  • If the class is creating an outline for writing a comparison essay, give a student a Venn diagram for them to use as they brainstorm how two concepts or things compare so they can better organize their outline
  • Provide Tiered Activities wherein, for example, different groups work with the same content but have different processes:

Group 1- Struggling Students:

  • Requires less difficult independent reading.
  • Has materials based on the average reading level of the participants, which is usually below grade-level
  • Has spare text and lots of graphic aids.
  • Has a low level of abstraction (i.e., is as concrete as possible).
  • Requires fewer steps to complete the assignment
  • Requires only knowledge and comprehension levels of thinking for independent work.
  • Includes supportive strategies, such as graphic organizers or teacher prompting to help students infer and draw conclusions. (i.e., use higher-level thinking skills)

Group 2 – Average Learners:

  • Includes independent reading materials from the textbook or other on-grade level sources.
  • Uses concrete concepts to help students transition to more abstract concepts.
  • Includes questions or problems that are a mix of open-ended and “right answers.”
  • Can have more steps.
  • Expects students to infer and draw conclusions with less teacher support. Teacher should count on being on hand if necessary to prompt students in this area.
  • Ensures that students can be successful with knowledge, comprehension, and application on their own, and that with help they can address some of the high levels of thinking

Group 3 – Advanced Learners:

  • Includes reading materials from sources more complex than the textbook, if possible.
  • Requires more lengthy sources because students can read faster than lower or average students.
  • Focuses on abstract concepts as much as possible and uses open-ended questions exclusively.
  • Requires students to infer and evaluate.
  • Assumes students have knowledge, comprehension, and application abilities, and that they will be challenged only if you ask them to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate.

Sourced from IRIS Differentiation Module

Product Differentiation

The product is the outcome of an assigned task that is used to measure mastery of the learning goals.

Online Product Differentiation Examples

  • While most students are writing research-based essay, this can be differentiated by having a student create a slideshow that demonstrates the key concepts they found in their research
  • If the class is taking an online math quiz and you notice that one student did them all wrong, have that student model doing a few difficult problems while thinking aloud as they record video of themselves. This can help you identify errors in thinking and give partial credit for the parts wherein they used correct logic
  • Provide product options in a choice board, such as Tic-Tac-Toe or a menu

Affect/Environment Differentiation

Differentiating student affect means modifying the learning environment to meet student emotional needs. This is more difficult to do in a virtual learning environment.

Online Affect/Environment Differentiation Examples

  • Ask a student who is struggling with anxiety during virtual class sessions what would be better for them. They may ask to answer questions asked during the virtual meeting in a document while staying muted and camera off. Then they turn in their notes.
  • If you have a student who is disrupting the online learning environment and agitating a student with sensory or attention issues, have a procedure for warning the acting-out student and mute their mic, if necessary.

In Summary…

I realize that this article is a bit all over the place. So is our knowledge of what we are heading into as we wrap up the school year and prepare for the next. Get comfortable with change and uncertainty.

Stay Strong. Stay Proactive!


D’Agustino, S. (2011). Adaptation, resistance and access to instructional technologies: Assessing future trends in education. Information Science Reference.

P.L.O.T. Your Lessons To Edutain

P.L.O.T. Your Lessons To Edutain

When you think of all the books, movies and television shows you watch, it can be very easy to identify the plot structure of the stories they tell. Most entertainment follows the same basic structure. It is a timeless formula of introduction, rising action, climax, and resolution. I challenge you to expand the concept of a plot into the planning of your lesson, not as the content but as the format of your presentation. To do this, consider overlaying the elements of a mastery teaching lesson onto a plot diagram.

As I searched for a visual of the standard plot, I came across a reimagined version of the plot diagram which much better fits the format of a mastery teaching lesson.

For the purposes of this article, I like how the resolution isn’t a falling action,
because we always want to maintain prior learning as we lead into the next lesson set.

How do the elements of the Mastery Teaching Model mesh with the diagram of a plot?

This format is based on the research-supported Mastery Teaching Model established by Madeline Hunter with some adjustments for contemporary best teaching practices.

Introduction (Exposition):

During the introduction of a story, the creator sets the scene and begins building the background. Major characters and situations are introduced. This is usually brief because when you tell a good story you should “show, not tell.”

The same is true for the introduction of a lesson. This is the point at which the teacher accesses prior knowledge, makes connections to earlier lessons, explores vocabulary the learners will need and sets up the purpose of the lesson.

  • Anticipatory Set: a short activity or experience that sets the stage for the lesson’s objective. It can be a visual, an example problem, or a simple question. During this anticipatory set, the teacher focuses the students’ attention, organizes a framework for the ideas, skills, and information that will follow and extends the thinking of the students through an example or conundrum.
  • Objective(s): establishes the objective(s) of the lesson. It makes evident what is to be learned, why it is important and establishes how mastery will be demonstrated.

Narrative Hook:

The narrative hook in a story is the point at which the introduction meets with the rising action and momentum in the story begins to take over. This is when the story gets interesting, and engagement with the narrative increases. It is when those being entertained begin to realize what the story is all about and why it is important.

  • Lesson Hook: technically part of the anticipatory set, for Edutainment purposes it warrants being highlighted. How will you get students to buy in and get excited about what they are going to learn? How can you appeal to their pathos (emotional appeals), logos (logical mind) and ethos (sense of right and wrong) in a way that makes the learners vest in what you are about to present to them?

Rising Action:

The rising action begins the process of sequencing events that lead from the discovery of a conflict or problem to the story’s climax and resolution. A well-written story builds steadily, but not necessarily smoothly as facts and experiences are introduced.

  • Input: here the teacher introduces vocabulary, skills and any other information the learners will need in order to make sense of the instruction. This can be done with interesting, multimedia lectures, video clips, visuals, and demonstrations.
  • Modeling (“I do”): the teacher commands most of the action in this part of the lesson. It is the point at which gradual release begins. Before releasing the responsibility of instruction more and more to the students, the teacher models the skills. Students typically take notes during this portion of instruction which will inform them as they move into guided practice.
  • Check for Understanding: This is done throughout the lesson, but is very important in determining when to move from modeling to guided practice. This can be done in a variety of ways from questioning to observing as students discuss or complete a short task that requires an understanding of the lesson objectives.
  • Guided Practice (“We Do”): at this point, the students begin to demonstrate the level at which they grasp the content or skill being taught. They participate in application activities which are directly supervised by the teacher. During this time, the teacher circulates and corrects errors and misunderstandings while reinforcing the right actions with specific praise and feedback.


There are several different ways to describe what a story’s climax is, but in its essence, the climax is the moment of highest interest when the audience begins to realize how the conflict will resolve.

  • Independent Practice (“You do”): this is the pinnacle of gradual release, wherein the learners assume responsibility for their learning and the teacher acts as a facilitator. Also known as reinforcement practice, this cements the learning and allows students to experiment with their new knowledge.

Resolution (Denouement):

Imagine if a story simply stopped at the climax — how unrewarding! “Denouement” is a french word that translates as the untying of a knot, and it simply cannot be skipped if the story is to be complete.

  • Lesson Closure: often forgotten due to time demands, the lesson closure is one of the most important parts of the lesson. Make time for it, even if you need to use a timer to do so. During the closure, new content is cemented and understandings of the objective(s) of the lesson are measured in order to inform the next steps for the teacher.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” ~Accredited to Benjamin Franklin

Now, Let’s P.L.O.T. Your Lesson

Pick your focus content and methods of instruction. Research lessons other educators have created and see if you can embed their methods. What media can you use? You would be amazed at the WebQuests and videos others have already created around your content. Use this planning time to over-plan; you never know when students are going to take to new content and show mastery quickly. Also, research alternative ways to differentiate and scaffold the instruction.

Lesson Plan like you are creating a video or production. Make notes on what materials (props) you need for the presentation. Use the plot sequence above to design a lesson that includes the gradual release of responsibility from the teacher to the students. I have noticed a growing trend in depending upon packaged curricula to do the lesson planning for teachers. The authors of those programs don’t know your audience. Plan separately and cite the plan embedded within the curricula.

Observe the impact and outcomes of your lesson. What are the students responding to? How can you leverage their gifts and deficits to plan your next lesson? If you are fearful of asking your students for feedback on the lesson, you are missing a great opportunity. Find a way to be vulnerable and elicit direct feedback from your audience. It is an incredible way to adapt your style to meet the needs of a specific audience.

Take the data, feedback and personal reflections to make data-driven decisions for your future lessons. What parts of the lesson did the students connect with? Did anything fall flat? What was the spread of the data for objective mastery? Who needs more instruction and who needs extension activities? (Great information for planning your assignments at work stations (centers) if you use them.)

This all sounds like a lot, but when you get in your groove, PLOTting your lessons with the key characteristics of a plot diagram should improve your engagement and the students’ retention of the new learning. Now, get to PLOTing!


  1. “Rethinking the Plot Diagram.” The WriteAtHome Blog Rethinking the Plot Diagram, blog.writeathome.com/index.php/2012/10/rethinking-the-plot-diagram/.
  2. “Madeline Hunter Lesson Plan Model.” The Second Principle, thesecondprinciple.com/essential-teaching-skills/models-of-teaching/madeline-hunter-lesson-plan-model/.
Engaging Students through Edutainment

Engaging Students through Edutainment

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Buckminster Fuller

While watching an episode of Big Bang Theory, a humorous sitcom playing out the lives of a group of young, quirky scientists going through the mundane aspects of life, I was struck by a particular exchange between Sheldon Cooper and his ad hoc girlfriend, Amy Farrah Fowler.

Amy is a brain researcher and demonstrates a strong understanding of human nature. Sheldon is portrayed as a physicist who has many characteristics of an individual on the Autism spectrum, though this is not ever stated directly. One of his characteristics is his inability to recognize social cues and provide empathy in ways common to most of us. During a virtual conversation with Amy, Sheldon shares his confusion and frustration at the poor ratings one of his presentations has received.

As they discuss his failure at engaging his audience with the content he presents, it becomes abundantly clear that Sheldon cannot connect the content to the audience. After unsuccessfully working to lift his spirits, Amy says something very profound regarding the role of an educator when working to convey their content. After his protestations that it is the burden of the audience to engage with the information, Amy goes on to make a very compelling suggestion.

Amy: All right. Have you considered improving your socialization skills, thus allowing you to communicate more effectively with other people?

Sheldon: Isn’t that their burden? I’m the one with something interesting to say.

Amy: Fair enough, but in its essence, teaching is a performance art. In the classroom paradigm, the teacher has the responsibility to communicate, as well as entertain and engage.

Sheldon: I sense that you’re trying to slow-walk me to an epiphany. Would you mind very much jumping to it?

Amy: Perhaps you should consider taking acting lessons. (BOOM! Paradigm shift!)

Embrace Edutainment

I have processed this very concept with many teachers by suggesting they consider using props, jokes and other tools actors use to entertain their audience. It often comes as a surprise concept to them that effective teachers are entertainers as well as educators. “Am I supposed to put on clown outfits with makeup and perform for them?”

I contend that if what you have been doing to engage your students hasn’t been working, why not try performing for them and see what happens. The brave souls who heed the advice and venture into edutainment almost always follow up with me on the successes they have experienced.

Let’s face it, we are competing with the internet and television. All of the veteran educators reading this are probably recalling the millions of times they have used the phrase, “Put your phone away.” Every day our students are inundated with interesting posts and links that are designed to grab their attention and make them into consumers of products and entertainment. Why not tap into that power instead of fighting it?

The Five Characteristics of Edutainment

A professor at Boise state university, Lynette McDougal, identifies five facts about providing Edutainment during your instruction.

  1. It should be educational.
  2. It is important that it be entertaining.
  3. Along with being educational and entertaining, there should be an integrated activity.
  4. To accomplish this, the lesson presented should be adequately matched to the learners abilities.
  5. Lastly, she identifies the importance of understanding that learning occurs when students construct new understandings about their world through exploration, experimentation, discussion and reflection.

What about taking acting lessons?

When you take on the strategy of Edutainment to increase engagement and learning with your audience, it is important to remember the skills you should hone. Much like the example in the episode of Big Bang described above, you could even take acting classes. But short of enrolling at your local acting school, consider these skill sets actors are expected to develop.

Being an actor requires a range of skills, including:

  • Good stage, screen or vocal presence
  • The ability to enter into another character and engage with an audience
  • The ability to memorize lines
  • Good understanding of dramatic techniques
  • Having the confidence, energy and dedication to perform
  • Creative insight

Build an Authentic Educator Persona (Stage Presence)

Be intentional when choosing the version of yourself that you present to students. Your teaching persona should be authentic and tailored to the audience while also honoring who you are at your core. Consider what personality characteristics you can employ that build better connections with your students.

Remember to be genuine, we are not creating a fake character here. Students can smell a rat, so don’t lie. What you are doing is highlighting your behaviors, attitudes and energy that connects with your audience. Watch videos of successful educators and presenters. What aspects of their persona engage your attention? Select attributes you posses and can grow within your own presentation style. Humor, vulnerability (the good kind) and high energy are all a great place to start.

Use Dramatic Techniques

When designing your lesson, consider seeding it with proven dramatic techniques. Use them to build tension during your lesson and then relieve that tension in innovative and interesting ways.

Some examples of dramatic techniques easily used within lessons:

  • Foreshadowing: making reference to something that will be important later in the lesson can peak interest and engagement. Allude to it often and create a sense of mystery. This is best used when initially embedded within the lesson opener.
  • Plot Twists: As students participate in your lessons, having a point at which the information presented suddenly and unexpectedly changes or challenges the way they are thinking can have a profound impact on buy in.
  • The Ticking Clock: This one can be tricky and requires preplanning. The most simple form of the ticking clock I have used is the classroom game of ‘exploding mascot.’ First, you need a school or class mascot that you build concern for. At key intervals in the lesson, the teacher asks higher order questions about the content covered so far with the risk that only a well-thought out answer can help delay the mascot from exploding. Wrong or shallow answers advance an imaginary timer, keeping the class mascot in a high tension situation. If the unwitting character survives the lesson, celebrate with the students.
  • The Cliffhanger: Best used just before a temporary break in instruction (i.e. the end of class for the day or just before lunch), the cliffhanger leaves students wanting more.

Use Engaging Exemplars

Presenting exemplars when introducing a new concept or skill, is also a solid strategy to add to your teaching bag of tricks. Below is a Ted Talk by Nick Fuhrman, also known as Ranger Nick. It is an incredible exemplar of Edutainment. Check out his educator persona — how engaging!

There is science that supports the idea that having fun while learning promotes the acquisition and maintenance of new knowledge. Nick Fuhrman’s persona encourages having fun. How can you tweak your persona to increase how much fun your students are having while they learn?

How to Sell Your Content

While you are exploring how to edutain your students, consider another aspect of entertainment media: engaging advertising. Over the decades, marketing specialists have honed the craft of engaging audiences to buy into products and services using tools that access psychological principles. Why not leverage their research-evidenced practices within the context of getting students to buy into your class culture, content, and the skills you need them to master for success?

Common Advertising Techniques 

Emotional Appeal

Pathos, appealing to the emotions and sense of identity of the audience, is an intensely powerful advertising tool. We have all seen the commercials that use pictures of starving children in appalling conditions followed by appeals to donate money to feed the hungry, provide them with schooling opportunities and provide shoes for their feet. The language and images are used to evoke a deep sense of empathy toward those less fortunate than ourselves.

When you find lesson hooks and examples that appeal to the emotions of your students, engagement often increases. For example, while teaching a lesson on bias during a virtual lesson (eLearning is the norm in the days of COVID-19), you could appeal the student’s current feelings on emotionally charged topics that matter to them, such as social distancing to avoid the spread of illness versus their need for belonging and connection.

A strong lesson hook that uses emotional appeal can initiate student engagement that you can use as leverage throughout the lesson.

Note: It is important that you balance the use of emotional appeal with logical evidence and ethical standards in order to maintain credibility. For a deeper understanding of using rhetoric during instruction, I recommend researching three rhetorical appeals often used in crafting arguments: pathos, ethos, and logos. 


I distinctly recall the phone number for the leading accident and injury law firm that was operating in my area in the late 1980s. Why? Their commercials showed the number visually, played the voice of a woman singing the 10-digit telephone number to a catchy tune and repeated these throughout the entire commercial. The commercial itself was repeated across the course of the evening. 

By repeating and highlighting the core content and processes of your lesson in engaging ways, you can increase the students’ retention of the information. 

Promotions and Rewards

Embedding a system of promotions and rewards within your lessons can ignite engagement for students who are more extrinsically rewarded. Get creative, don’t spend a lot of money (or none at all). If you are presenting a unit across time, have the students earn badges as they master new skills. If you are teaching with a piece of literature that has a nifty element of reward within it, mimic that reward. For example, if teaching with “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl, you could build to an activity where the students earn small candy bars wherein some of them have a ticket under the wrapper that provides the bearer with a highly sought after privilege or reward. 


Give the students a reason to jump on board or not ‘miss out’ on what everyone else is doing. This builds momentum and appeals to their sense of belonging. Learning what your students are impassioned about may require a little research on your part. Consider the leaders in your classroom (particularly the ones who drive the classroom culture and climate) and find out what their interests are. Cite the students you know are deeply into the interest directly in your lesson opener and empower them to incite interest in their peers. 

For example, I had a student who was into video games. They seemed to be the only thing he thought about day and night. While teaching a lesson on the narrative plot, I used his current favorite video game as the example media to model the plot diagram. The game Halo, and the passion of one student, did more to drive engagement during that lesson than praise and redirection ever could.

In Summary…

Tying it all together, you as an educator have the privilege and responsibility to do whatever it takes, within reason, to entertain, engage and educate your students. Have fun with it. Experiment with advertising strategies and positive rhetoric. Some things you try may fall flat, but much like the growth mindset we ask our students to have, I challenge you to keep at it until you find the style of Edutainment that works for you. Now, go break a leg!

Other Resources:


  1. Big Bang Theory, Season 4, Episode 14
  2. “EdTech 597 Characteristics of Edutainment.” Lynette McDougal: EDTECH Learning Log, 12 May 2013, lynettemcdougal.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/edtech-597-characteristics-of-edutainment/.
  3. “The One Thing All Great Teachers Do.” Nick Fuhrman. TEDx, Posted to YouTube 11 April 2018, youtube.com/watch?v=WwTpfVQgkU0&feature=youtu.be.