As a communications professional I often find myself inundated with information about the latest and greatest copywriting techniques. While it is helpful for me to know how to craft web content that sparks interest and facilitates further clickage, the aspect of my job that is much more important to me is the creation of content that is useful and applicable to STEM enthusiasts. Needless to say that I am always thrilled, however, when these two worlds collide and pose an opportunity for interesting transdisciplinary application…
So, I recently stumbled upon this Buffer article explaining some simple copywriting tips. About halfway through reading the article I found myself wondering, “What if these principles were also applied in a classroom?” Now, you’re probably thinking “yeah, but it’s way easier to keep someone’s attention for a few minutes on a social media site than to keep it for hours in a classroom,” but just hear me out. When you find yourself following an entertaining conversational thread on a Facebook page or reading an interesting article that a friend posted, you are pretty engaged in that moment, right? And why is that? Because you are following information that is particularly interesting or applicable to you. So how can those moments be re-created in the classroom setting?
While not all of the rules posed in the article are applicable in the classroom, I’ve plucked out some gems to help you create engaging lessons in your classroom.
Rule #1 – Create a Curiosity Gap
The first rule presented in the article is to create a curiosity gap. What this means for copywriters is that they should create headlines that are “tantalizing enough to get a reader to click through, but mustn’t give away the whole story.” Ok great. This is a great principle to create short-term curiosity for a reader, but it can also be very applicable to the way lessons are planned and structured. But how can you introduce your students to new lessons to create a curiosity gap? I view this to be a trait that many project-based, problem-based, and inquiry-based lesson structures possess. When students are posed with a context and a problem, obtaining the skills they need to learn to explore the issue becomes a much more engaging process. A narrative structure also creates a curiosity gap. When our brains are presented with bits and pieces of a story, we become much more engaged in filling in the details of the story. Which leads me to the next rule…
Rule #2 – Don’t expect announcements to be popular (and turn them into a story instead)
You’ve probably been there… the pinnacle of your lesson comes around and your students are underwhelmed, disinterested, and staring at the clock. But for those lessons that came packaged in a story, I bet you experienced the opposite effect. According to the article, “You can in fact, create the exact same emotions that you had when experiencing a situation in the other person if they are listening to your story.” The use of narrative storytelling with your lessons creates a shared experience among yourself and your students, thus creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. So when crafting lessons, think to yourself “how can I incorporate these facts and/or processes into a story?”
Rule #3 – Know exactly who reads your posts and tailor your words to them
One of the words that goes through the heads of communication professionals about fifty thousand times a day is “audience.” Now, before you get mad at me, I am completely aware that this word (or student—its equivalent in teachspeak) in constantly on the minds of teachers as well. Lessons are almost always tailored to a student’s age, skill level, etc. But are there more aspects of your audience that you could take into account when you stage your lessons? Building off the previous two rules, ask yourself “what are my students talking about during their side conversations? What are they interested in, what do they pursue in their free time?” Making class time feel more closely in tune with their extracurricular identities is a sure way to get them engaged and keep them engaged. This teacher who crafted a zombie-based learning experience for his students is a great example of being tuned in to an audience…
Rule #4 – Use more verbs and less nouns
To apply this rule to the classroom setting I suggest looking at it less literally and more symbolically. This one goes back to the basic adage “tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” Are there a way to make your lessons more active? More involved? More hands-on? Think of different angles that you can approach your content from to create new and innovative ways to involve your students.
But if you want to take this one literally too, the article points out that “verbs are also more persuasive in college admission letters. Dee Leopold, Harvard Business School’s head of M.B.A. admissions said in an interview that the best recommendations for student contain lots of verbs, as these are stronger than adjectives.” So pass this tip on to your college-ready students, eh?
So what are your experiences with these rules? Do they work? Can they be improved? Let’s talk about it!