Secrets and Surprises

karenIt seems that I can’t go shopping these days without finding ideas that can be poached from retail to make learning more pleasurable for my students. When a bit of joyous health news from a family member dumped a sack of holiday cheer down our chimney, my husband and I were seized by a sudden urge to go shopping.

“We really don’t need to buy anything much,” we told one another, “but it will be fun to get out of the house and look around.”

Ha! Several hours later, a few dollars poorer, and still giddy with happiness, we dragged a Ford F150-ful of impulse purchases into the house. How did the retailers precipitate this purchasing storm? By using those good ol’ pleasure tricks, of course.shopping1

Ah, the sensual pleasures of the holiday mall: bright lights, the scent of Auntie Anne’s cinnamon pretzels, free samples at the Hickory Farms kiosk, carols piped into the stores, and the feel of my hubby’s warm hand in mine. We laughed at…and even bought…some of the gag gifts offered…a “sound machine” and a funny kitchen  towel and, I kid you not, glasses with reindeer antlers and Christmas trees. reduce-stress-holiday-shopping-01-afWe felt part of a very large group of fellow shoppers, and we realized that stuffing the family stockings was an achievable challenge yet again. We managed to buy a few practical gifts, like size 15 shoes for my Yeti-footed son and new rolling carry-ons for both boys, er, men. Finally, as our legs grew tired, we exercised our autonomy by deciding to call it a day.

That covers every item on our pleasure list but one: surprise. Outside a large department store, young ladies offered slips that invited shoppers the chance to win a prize by trying on a coat, any coat, “just try one on.” After I tried on a coat (“I don’t think that fur collar is you,” my husband observed), I exchanged the slip for a scratch-off on a table of prizes. The woman beside me won $10…that’s a one with one zero. Too excited to choose my own scratch-off, I relied on my always-lucky hubby to make a selection. I won a pack of tissues.

We also visited a popular purveyor of all things soapy and smelly. They had lured me to their store with yet another surprise coupon with a scratch-off. I was invited to bring the card to the store so that a helpful associate could reveal my bonus discount. Who can pass up a surprise like that? Once I was in the store, the other pleasures on offer could work their magic by separating my money from my wallet. You can’t have too many candles or too much bath gel, right?bathandbodyworks-coupon-300x220

Yes, surprise is a special kind of pleasure, and clearly a powerful motivator. Yet too often we trudge into the same old set-up in the same old room to deliver the same old information in the same old format. Would you care for a fifteenth helping of these delightful slides? I’m not suggesting that every day needs to be wild and crazy. A surprise is only surprising when it interrupts a well-established routine. The ordinary provides a framework into which surprise may enter as a welcome visitor.

I’ve had good luck with surprise bonus points for recalling previously studied information. I’ve passed out surprise ballots after a round of peer-to-peer tutoring, rewarding the duly elected best teachers with bonus points. It’s fun to raffle off materials that might languish on your bookshelf. Even a round of vocabulary bingo accompanied by flying candy bites can liven things up. A funny video, a poignant story, a tie-in with a current news item….it really doesn’t take much to help students realize that showing up for class has its rewards.

Why don’t you share your ideas for some of the surprises you’ve offered your classes?

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