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Simple Interventions: Building Connections to Help Kids Value Coursework

By Dave Stuart Jr.

In my last post, I argued that the best solution to student boredom is the simplest one that works. Additionally, I claimed that when we value a subject, we're less likely to find it boring. (The Value belief is one of five I focus on here at the blog.)

So, how do we help our students value something? Here's one way that's been tested in multiple experimental studies: Build Connections.

It works like this. After a unit of instruction, ask your students to get a blank sheet of lined paper. Tell them this is going to be a brief, reflective writing exercise.

  • Step One: Brainstorm a list of specific concepts, skills, or knowledge that we worked on during the past unit. In a unit on persuasive writing, this might include rhetorical moves (perhaps with some help from Jennifer Fletcher), naming naysayers (a la Graff and Birkenstein), or using evidence well. This is List A.
  • Step Two: Brainstorm a list of your own interests, hobbies, or goals that might connect with something that we learned. (If you get stuck here, just jot down any interests or hobbies or goals that you have.) This is List B.
  • Step Three: Select one specific course concept from List A that connects with one specific item from List B. Now, write a paragraph explaining the connection between something in your life and something that we learned this past unit.

That's it. Researchers like Chris Hulleman have found this exercise to be particularly helpful for kids who don't value a given course and don't expect to do well in it. The beautiful thing about this intervention though is that it is simple and short enough to be used at the whole-class level. Once students get used to it, it becomes a go-to reflective activity after each of my units.

For all kinds of help rolling something like this out, visit what the folks at Character Lab have put together for this intervention: the Build Connections Playbook. It's free, it's practical, and it was created by a team of researchers, teachers, and designers.

Build Connections Character Lab Chris Hulleman

A worksheet version of the intervention from Character Lab's Build Connections Playbook. Head here for a comprehensive overview of Build Connections, or click on the image above for a PDF of the worksheet.


Note from Dave: I offer an all-online, schedule-friendly professional development course on student motivation. To get on the waitlist, click here.

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