Creating a Climate of Joy in Spite of the Polar Vortex ❄️

As the polar vortex is creating record lows and cities are experiencing the harshest cold in years, be certain your classroom climate doesn’t mirror this event. Instead, create or infuse a climate of JOY in your classroom as we head into the spring. Think back to a lesson you were taught in school that you still remember. What did the teacher do to make it stick?

Now consider some of these phrases:

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At times, I hear the inner voice of my parents wanting to respond with, “Because I said so! Now make like Nike and just do it!” However, as I gained more confidence in the classroom, I began to react less defensively. Instead, I realized that these phrases were not the problem but were symptoms of the problem. THE LESSON WAS BORING MY STUDENTS or FELT POINTLESS.

I reflected on my own answer to this post’s starting question. I was obsessed with projects. I kept my 2nd grade salt map of Virginia until I moved out of my parents’ house. I still have pictures of myself in 3rd grade as Amelia Earhart and in 6th grade as Thomas Edison. In college, as a current math major, I took a random Russian Literature course (no political agenda here) and it quickly became my favorite due to our frequent theatrical productions of Dostoevsky’s classics. What do all of these have in common? They merged JOY with learning.

As Mary Poppins famously said, “For every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and SNAP, the job’s a game.” Infusing FUN or JOY into our lessons, my friends, is the art of teaching. Our job is to teach content. Our challenge and purpose, is to invest our students in “geeking out” about the content.

Disclaimer: Adding joy to your classroom or school is not sparkle for sparkle’s sake. Adding joy, or sparkle is a way of moving the lesson forward; it should not detract from it. You can infuse joy in both academics and procedures. Lastly, adding joy makes life easier for everyone. Increased student investment leads to increased student happiness and productivity which leads to increased adult happiness.

Step 1: YOU “geek out” about the content!

Even if, at first, you need to “fake it ‘til you make it” it is important that students see you excited about your content. This does three things:

  1. It makes kids wonder what all the hype is about and intrigue them.
  2. It makes you relatable and human.
  3. It makes your classroom a safe place for them to let their nerdiness out.

Before you can infuse joy into your classroom and invest your students, you have to appear or genuinely be joyful about it yourself. #gethype

Here are some concrete ideas:

Subject Ideas Examples
Science Follow @futurism on Instagram.

Share some of these posts with your students (add to PowerPoint, embed in classwork, create a poster).



History This day in history – check it out, then share the events and how they changed everything!

Dress up in costume to accompany the said event.

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ELA Read and display young adult books and gawk over them just as our students do. (i.e., “You must read this book. I cried the whole last chapter.”)

Create a countdown until a book is released (I did this with every Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the students were obsessed).

Announce book challenges!

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Book Challenge Examples:

  • I love Harry Potter. I announced that for any student who read all 7 books during the year, I would buy them a book of their choice on Amazon.
  • One year I told students, “Adults don’t think kids will read classics. Adults think classics are too hard or boring for kids. I put this basket here in case you want to read them, but most adults don’t think you will.” More kids read classics that year than any other.
Math There are all kinds of shirts, shoes, scarves, ties, etc. that have math problems ALL over. Wear them with pride.
Competition time!
Turn math into puzzles, codebreaking and escape room activities. There are many examples out there for purchase and DIY guides are all over Pinterest.
Every Friday we had a “math code-breaking” competition. Sometimes this was purely for me to show off a skill (i.e., solving a Rubik’s Cube in under 2 minutes). Sometimes this was us solving logic puzzles or soduku together.
Visual Arts Buy students paintings and hang them on display. Show off your own artwork.

Announce local art shows and if able to go yourself, share a quick video highlight from the show.

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Performing Arts Show off pieces that you performed as a kid, young adult, or in your career.

Compare the difference between film and plays.

In high school, we watched Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, then Kiss Me Kate, then 10 Things I Hate About You and compared the three. I still remember those lessons.


Step 2: Get their attention!

In order to insert joy, students must be listening to you to see/feel/hear the joy. Use a reliable attention-getter or Google some if you haven’t yet found one you use regularly. Quick note on attention-getters: If you don’t have everyone’s attention, it wasn’t an attention-getter. Two teacher actions that will help get and keep students’ attention.

  1. Don’t talk over.
  2. The best way to get silence is to be silent.

Step 3: Infuse purposeful JOY! 2.4blog12

Remember adding JOY (sparkle) to the class is a way of moving the class forward – not detracting from it. Be sure you can point the academic or procedural purpose behind the sparkle you choose to infuse, otherwise it’s like a Pinterest fail, and rather than being bored your kids are now off-topic – just as dangerous.

Type of Joy What it is & How to do it Examples


“A short introductory moment that captures what’s interesting and engaging about the material and puts it out front.”

  • Story – tell a short and engaging story that leads directly into the material.
  • Analogy – give an interesting real-life young adult analogy that students can use to connect their experience with the lesson
  • Prop – use something concrete to pique student interest. A costume, a globe, a miniature pecan pie
  • Media – pictures, videos, music, “visitor” (you in costume or another teacher) from the past, video chat
  • Status – describe a piece of work (student-work or content from the lesson) as extraordinary and that today you will be showing it off
  • Challenge – give students a challenge for the class and see if they can complete it by the end of the lesson

Teach Like a Champion 1.0 Technique 12

Example 1:

I gave kids 1-2 minutes to discuss the question and images on slide 1. Then introduced slide 2 and made a huge deal that, “You would never say, ‘I’d like a jelly and peanut butter sandwich.’ Just like you would never say, ‘The ratio of squares to diamonds is 20 to 15,’ because the order matters!”


Example 2:


VEGAS “The Vegas is the sparkle, the moment during class when you might observe some production values: music, lights, rhythm, dancing. It reinforces one of the day’s learning objectives.”

  • Production values – changing your tone and pace for dramatic effect
  • Like a faucet – teaching students how to “ooh” and “ahh” but then turn it off and jump right back into the lesson
  • Chorus line – students stand, chant or do the motions as one team
  • On point – reinforce excellence so that when students sing, chant or move they do it well and it doesn’t get sloppy or detract from the lesson
Example 1: Chants

Multiplication Rolling Numbers Classroom Video
Example 2: Oversized Timeline


PROCEDURES Make normal procedures fun by adding a song or action to the procedure. Frontload the directions of what students should do and how they should do it so that you keep students focused on the joy of the task rather than getting distracted, thus creating a smoother transition. Name on your paper *snap snap* (to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it.”)

  • Put your name on your paper first thing/Put your name on your paper first thing/Your teacher needs to know/ who did the work and so/Put your name on your paper first thing.

Instead of saying “flip to the next page” chant a call and response:

  • Teacher: “We’re rocking”
  • Students: “We’re rocking”
  • Teacher: “We’re rolling”
  • Students: “We’re rolling” (by this point students need to be at the top of the next page, ready to roll with the content)

Timing students to see if they can beat themselves, beat another class, boys v. girls, etc.

Transition into the room “as spies” without the class next door hearing that anyone is in the room.

As you look at your upcoming lessons plans, add in a hook for each lesson, determine where you can add a little Vegas throughout the lesson, and determine what procedures need a little joy. Invest your students in “geeking out” about the content by finding and bringing out the element of fun!

meghan thompson

Meghan Thompson joined Teach For America in 2008 and began her career in education as a 9th-12th Special Education Teacher in Charlotte, NC. In 2010, she was a member of the founding team at Henderson Collegiate (a school that has ranked in the top 3.5% of all NC public schools for the past 4 years). In 2014, she was a member of the founding team at Democracy Prep Baton Rouge and throughout her time at DPBR served as a middle school ELA teacher, middle school math teacher and the Middle School Campus Director.

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