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We typically think of teachable moments as serendipitous opportunities to insert new insights, leverage curiosity, or explore something our students want to understand. We know that teachable moments are special openings to support learning. They are times when students are ready—even eager—to learn more. These are times when we need to be aware and prepared to respond as opportunities emerge.

However, not all teachable moments have to be spontaneous; they do not necessarily have to be unpredictable opportunities that must be sensed and seized in the moment lest they be lost. We do not always have to wait for students to present teachable moments to us, either. We can “seed the clouds” with awareness, attention, and curiosity to increase the likelihood that teachable moments will fall into our hands.

Teachable moments we create can be the starting place for instruction, they can be the launching pads for student investigation, or they can set the stage for introducing a new unit or kicking off a project-based learning challenge. Here are six strategies we can tap to create interest-grabbing and curiosity-igniting teachable moments:

Partially reveal something new, interesting, or mysterious. We might provide just enough information to pique students’ interests. We can offer a short overview without sharing too much. We might invite students to speculate, question, and imagine. Having created a teachable moment, we can allow students to “light the path” to discovery as we respond strategically to their interest, curiosity, and growing understanding.

Challenge students to investigate and explore before you teach. We might present students with a problem to solve or challenge to attack before teaching a new skill or sharing information. The experience can stimulate students’ interest, tap their desire to succeed, and build anticipation for instruction. A teachable moment can emerge when we use the questions students generate during their preview to guide discussion and point the direction of our instruction.

Present multiple sides of a compelling issue or topic. We might introduce a topic, skill, or process by presenting it first with one approach, perspective, or process and then present the same thing from another perspective or approach. For example, we might introduce a mathematical problem and demonstrate two or three ways to solve it. We can explore with students the reasons why more than one approach might work. Subsequently, students might investigate and explore multiple approaches. We create a teachable moment when we help students to move beyond singular, linear thinking and procedures to focus on underlying concepts and principles.

Share a captivating story. A good story is almost impossible to resist. Stories can tap curiosity, stir emotions, and create engagement. Even students who may have little inherent interest in a topic can be stimulated to investigate and learn after hearing a relevant, relatable, and memorable story. The experience can become a teachable moment when we “seed” the story with key concepts, important connections, and intriguing information.

Create a surprising and memorable event. The unexpected can be a great ignitor of teachable moments. As examples, we might surprise students with the arrival of an unannounced visitor with a problem or mystery for the class to solve. We might unveil a picture that invites discussion or investigation. Depending on our skills, a relevant magic trick can also be a great way to stimulate a teachable moment.

Ask the right type of question. Some questions are simply intended to provide clarification or ensure understanding. These are important questions, but they may not be invitations to create a teachable moment. We can create a teachable moment by asking a question that examines a noticed misconception, reveals an important gap in understanding, or hints at a learning extension that invites an additional investigation or journey of discovery. A teachable moment offers even greater impact when students are given time and support to reflect, analyze, and investigate.

Teachable moments are precious opportunities to stimulate learning and build understanding. However, we do not always have to wait for students to present these special learning occasions. With thoughtful planning and good timing, teachable moments can play a frequent, powerful, and predictable role in the learning experiences we design.

Thought for the Week

In response to the uncertainty and disruption in which we find ourselves, researchers and experts say that the number one skill for survival and success in today’s environment is adaptability.

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