Overcoming Midsemester Slump

According to critics, Coleridge was actually describing Midsemester Slump in the following passage from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner":

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

There usually comes a time when-in some classes-there can be a sense of losing momentum. The anxiety and flurry of midterms is over, or almost over. There has been a wealth of information covered in classes. You've gathered good feedback through the midsemester evaluation (haven't you?). And the backlog of work in all classes is beginning to catch up with students. Now is the time for something new and different, something to break up the semester, to re-engage students.

Here's a list of some of the many things you can do to re-energize your course and your students (and perhaps yourself):

1. Acknowledge to your class that this can be a time of lethargy, and that it's not uncommon in the cycle of a semester. Remind them that you are aware that they are taking other classes, that homework might be piling up, and so on.

2. Turn a large class into a seminar by having a day with no lecture. Invite students to come to ask questions, discuss issues, review difficult concepts.

3. Ask students to comb newspapers/magazines/journals and bring articles relevant to the course. Spend a day discussing them.

4. Introduce more "active-learning" activities on a regular basis: 

  • Ask for a show of hands on opinions, solutions, etc.; at the end of a class, ask students to write down the major points from the day, or the one question they have;
  • Begin the class by answering questions about the reading;
  • Use an oral version of "The One Minute Paper"-propose a relevant question in your field, break the students into groups, and ask them to come up with the best and most creative answer that their grandparents/younger siblings/etc. could understand. For example: Explain why planting trees can help in efforts to reduce global warming.

      5. Where are we now? Devote half of one class to a sweeping review of the major ideas covered so far, and the other half to a preview of those coming up. Variation: divide students into groups and ask them to brainstorm on the major points of the first part of the semester; then have the groups report to the class.

      6. Show a relevant movie-something you'd like your class to see, but hadn't planned on showing.

      7. Spend some time talking about your own research or talking about new research/interesting new developments in the field.

      8. Invite a guest speaker whom you know will energize the class. Variation: give students an article by the speaker, who can then lead a question and answer session, instead of giving a talk.

      9. Invite a graduate student to talk about what it's like to be graduate student in the field.

      10. Have music playing as students enter class. An economics instructor began one class with "Get a job," by the Silhouettes. To oil your thinking machinery: Carole King's "I feel the earth move" for geology or civil engineering; Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance" for physics; ABBA's "Waterloo" for European history; Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," for poli sci; Oingo Boingo's "Weird Science," for any science class. Solicit ideas from students for future musical selections. But be sure of course to listen to any songs you choose-you don't want to get caught with embarrassing or offensive lyrics. (And find something perhaps a little more current than the above selections.)

      Of course many of these can be used effectively throughout a term, as a regular part of the class, too.