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An essential teaching technique and an excellent way to connect with your students, utilizing anticipatory sets can be invaluable to educators.

By filling in the blanks, providing insight, and engaging students from the off, it’s far more likely you’ll get more from them in school. An anticipatory set provides that primed and prepared atmosphere, using those first few minutes to impact the rest of the day. They say breakfast is one of the most critical parts of the day – but these anticipatory set ideas aren’t far behind.

Read on to be inspired by different anticipatory techniques you could be applying to your classroom to make the most out of your student’s minds:

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What are anticipatory sets?

An anticipatory set is an opening line or starting segment to a lesson designed to engage students, gain their attention, and prepare them for a day full of learning. Taking a few minutes can spark that joy of learning in your students – leaving them prepped to connect with your teaching instead of being left on the back foot. As the name suggests, the goal is to make your students anticipate what they will learn. There is a range of different techniques, approaches, and methods out there that use the anticipatory set, but they all have these features in common:

  • Providing a way for students to engage with and expect upcoming materials
  • Engaging background knowledge and information students already possess
  • Offering insight and information into what the day will bring

The ultimate goal of anticipatory techniques is to get students excited about what they will be doing that day instead of remaining disengaged and bored. Applying these techniques makes it possible to achieve more in the classroom and have students more active in their listening, questioning, and understanding of the materials at hand.

Anticipatory set ideas to try in your classroom

The radio presenter

We’ve all heard the techniques that presenters on the radio used to hook audiences in for later listening. Whether it’s ‘In twenty minutes we’ll be talking to… so stay tuned!’ or simply ‘Later today we’ll be taking a closer look at…’, the openers are designed to pique the interest of listeners and ensure they stay tuned in to know exactly what’s going to happen. This method is particularly useful in schools because it provides an excellent way to hint at what you’ll be doing later and allows your students to anticipate what is coming up for the rest of the day.

This technique can also be combined with multiple activities, such as ‘Soon we will be looking at…. But first, let’s have a go at….’. These statements not only provide information but allows students something to look forward to later on in the day – keeping those brains switched on and ready. Examples of the radio presenter technique that could be applied to the classroom include:

  • ’Later on today, we will take a closer look at…….’
  • What do ….. and …….. have in common? We’ll be discussing that later, but for now…..’
  • ’In fifteen minutes, we’ll be changing the topic to something brand new

These techniques can be highly effective if used properly, and they get students thinking in the right circumstances. Both asking questions and making statements encourage your students to seek that insight, leaving them anticipating learning later in the day instead of their enthusiasm waning.

The unanswerable question

There’s nothing that gets your student’s brains working quite like a puzzle they can’t solve. This anticipatory strategy is simple yet effective, and your students will soon have their minds working at full capacity. If you’re looking to make your class keen to know what happens next, there’s a no better option. This type of question works best for more scientific lesson plans, such as physics, where knowledge of specific rules and techniques is needed to join the dots.

One excellent example of this is the shipwreck puzzle. Five people are shipwrecked on a remote island, and the plane arrives at airdrop supplies. Where should the plane drop its cargo so it lands on the sand and not in the sea? Your students could puzzle over it for hours, but without that physics knowledge, they won’t be able to reach the answer. With your support later in the day, the riddle can be solved, and your students can go away with a lot more knowledge in their heads than they might otherwise.

Questions that can’t be answered not only tick that box for anticipation but also provide incentives through achievement. If you get something right after thinking about the solution for hours, it’s far more of a reward than being told then and there the rules of physics and how it applies to certain situations.

The cliffhanger

Anticipation doesn’t have to be limited to the start of class, as the cliffhanger method proves. If you want to carry that engagement and enthusiasm to the next lesson – or even the following day – a cliffhanger is a fantastic way to do so. As with all good stories, an exciting and compelling not-quite-end to episode or chapter can draw you in and leave you wanting more. In the classroom, the theory is the same. End your lesson with something thought-provoking, exciting and mysterious, and it’s far more likely to stick in their mind.

For classrooms, your best bet is to make it something that can’t easily be researched once students leave the class. In the smartphone era, it’s hard to build up any steam when the world is at your fingertips – with all that free information included. Instead, pick cliffhangers that are tangible and mysterious, without enough there to allow for a good session on Google once your students leave your class. Strike that balance, and the anticipation will still be building once your lesson rolls around again.

Cliffhangers are an excellent way to tail off lessons in general and provide a natural stopping point without your students fully disengaging from their learning. Making a list of lesson-relevant options at the end of every class could be the ideal staple or even be used for independent work or homework if utilized alongside provocative questions based on what your students have covered that day.

The curiosity sparker

For any anticipatory technique to work, curiosity has to encourage students to reach their conclusions and get excited about what’s coming up. Sparking that curiosity means choosing methods that work for your specific class and students – what works for one won’t work for the other. Having a bag of tricks you can pick from, primarily if you teach multiple classes, can help you find something that’s the ideal fit, is as creative as it needs to be, and is meaningful to your lesson plan. Marianne Stenger of Edutopia has suggested that curiosity enhances learning, making it an invaluable resource.

If you want to encourage your students to use their deductions and critical thinking to spark their curiosity, these options might be an excellent fit for you:

  • Using mystery music and asking students to try and figure out what they will be learning based on the tune you’ve chosen
  • Bringing in an object related to the subject matter and simply leaving it in plain view to get your student’s minds moving
  • Drawing or writing a riddle or puzzle on the board that they can try and solve in their heads

The goal of using these methods is to get students in the mindset to learn. It’s human nature to want to figure something out and understand something interesting; these techniques play on that specific nature. Sparking curiosity can mean the difference between an excited class and one disengaged from what you’re trying to teach.

The visual hook

Whether you’re teaching science, arts, or anything else in between, the visual medium has its place in all areas of learning. So, don’t be afraid to use that visual hook for your anticipatory set. Giving your students something to look at, analyze, and wonder about can prompt their brains to go up a gear, whether using brief video clips, photographs, artwork, or even dressing up as a specific character. Let your imagination go wild, and your students will have far more fun connecting the dots once the lesson begins.

With the visual hook method, changing things up is even more critical. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different mediums to keep your student’s attention, as a routine can quickly reduce anticipation. If you instead aim to surprise them with each lesson or every couple of lessons, you’re far more likely to achieve your goal. The visual hook is a technique that works, provided you put the effort in up-front. Sara Ipanteco of Classroom knows the benefit of going visual, as you can see here.

What anticipatory techniques do you use in the classroom? As a valuable teaching tool, anticipatory set ideas can be worth their weight in gold, provided you know how to use them effectively.