Companies spend billions of dollars on packaging and marketing for their products. Why? Because it works. And, a similar approach to marketing can also work in the classroom to hook students.
I could go off on “kids these days,” but what it boils down to is that we need to teach the students in our classroom. And they are part of a media and marketing filled world. They are inundated with advertisements, clever packaging (like the eyes on cereal boxes that are actually designed to make eye contact with small children), and other marketing assaults.
And, because this is a language they are immersed in, as teachers, we can actually use that language to our advantage. Market our courses, our lessons, even the novel we’ve selected (or had selected for us) to a classroom fluent– and generally receptive– to marketing messages.
Consider the names of units. Can you spice it up? Instead of “Asteroids and Comets” start the lesson off with “Ways to Die Sent from Space!” Or instead of just teaching “A Christmas Carol” name the unit “Bah Humbug: Scrooge was Right.” Make a unit called “Killer English” with mystery or crime related readings and writings. Rename the “Roaring 20s” unit to “Criminals and Scandals of the 20s.”
Sell the lesson or novel. My students are, at best, reluctant readers (okay, so really, they stab me in my little English teacher heart as they brag about not reading…) But I still have to soldier on. One novel I use, in a rare opportunity when we had some money for novels, was “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler (one of my favorite authors.) It’s usually one of the first books we read and students are skeptical based on title and cover… so I sell the book and by the time I’m done with my spiel, they’re already reading.
My spiel: Okay, so, I have an alternative book if anyone has a problem reading a story that includes several murders, alcohol, smoking, nudity and drug use, please let me know…
(Note: the book is from the 1940s, so the references to inappropriate subjects are actually very tame. And it fit my students interests, once they were “sold” on the naughty parts.)
I had the fun, actually, of building my courses including an enticing name. My pride-and-joy was Movies vs. Books. I had parents and staff members who wanted to take my class, on title alone. Set the tone right from the start. And with this premise, I made my reluctant readers slog through Frankenstein so they could compare it to the movie and the cultural image. And they did slog all the way through it. The power of appeal.
What fun units or classes would you enjoy? How could you tweak your approach to have more marketing appeal?
Clair Dickson, high school English teacher, likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget. Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.