Readers know that I’ve been doing a series of experimental lessons in my mainstream ninth-grade class (and modifying them for my Intermediate English class) on helping them find ways to motivate themselves to want to work harder at learning. These lessons have included ones on the brain being a muscle that grows with exercise; the long-term importance of developing more self-control; goal-setting skills; and the discipline of visualizing success.

I talk about the importance of helping students find their own motivations in my forthcoming book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work, and will be expanding on that idea in my third book, which will be published by Eye On Education in 2011.

A post by Susan Ohanian today prompted me to create another lesson in this series, and I’ll be trying it out sometime this week. Susan’s post reminded me about a chapter in the excellent book, Nurture Shock, that shares the results of studies that document how teen sleep habits affect them.

Fortunately, the co-author of the book, Po Bronson, published a version of that particular chapter in New York Magazine as the article Snooze Or Lose, and it’s available online for free.

I’m going to start out in both of my classes asking students to complete Part One of a short survey, which can be downloaded here (Part Two of the survey, which I talk about later in this post, is part of the same download). They’ll then tell a partner what they feel comfortable sharing from it.

After that, my mainstream English class will read a page-and-a-half excerpt I’ve modified from the Bronson article. I don’t think I can legally post how I modified it, but I can share the Read Aloud I’ve developed for my Intermediate English class that highlights the most important points (teachers can easily create their own page-and-a-half version of the article). That Read Aloud will substitute for the excerpt, since the article is too advanced for my ELL’s — even with the modifications I’ve made. Here’s the Read Aloud:


Studies show that people under twenty-one get an hour less of sleep each night than they did 30 years ago. Scientists have found that this loss of an hour hurts people because brains are still developing and growing until the age of twenty-one. A lot of this developing and growing happens while teenagers are asleep.

Every study done shows a connection between sleep and school grades.

Teenagers who get A’s average fifteen more minutes than B students.

B students get eleven minutes more sleep than C students.

C students get ten minutes more sleep than D students.

Less sleep hurts the brain’s ability to remember new information. It especially hurts the ability to learn a second language. Less sleep also tends to make you feel more depressed.

Sleeping less also makes your body want to create more fat. Children who get less than eight hours of sleep are three times more likely to get fat.

After students read the excerpt in my mainstream class, and after sharing the Read Aloud in my Intermediate English class, I’ll then do a Read Aloud sharing some ideas on how to sleep better. It’s adapted from a piece written by Ashley Merryman (Nurture Shock’s co-author) that’s titled How to Get Kids to Sleep More:


• You will sleep better if the temperature is cooler in your room.

• If you watch TV or use the computer in the half-hour before you go to bed, experiencing the brightness of the screen will make it more difficult for you to get to sleep.

• It’s important to go to bed at a consistent time. If you stay up late some nights, it will make it more difficult for you to get to sleep on nights you go to bed earlier.

I’ll ask students to take a minute to think of other things that might help (reading before they go to sleep, etc.), and then have them share.

I’ll then give students Part Two of the survey. It basically asks students to summarize what they learned; asks if they feel like they want to sleep more and, if so, for how long; and what are they going to do to make it happen. They’ll then tell a partner what they feel comfortable sharing.

I’ll have students staple the two surveys together and turn them in to me. I’ll make copies, return them, and they’ll add it to the goal sheets they’ve prepared for the new semester.

Here’s my specific plan for the mainstream class:

1) Take survey, share
2) Read first four paragraphs (introduction & lack of sleep’s effect on grades) on their own & write a one sentence summary.
3) Share with partner. I’ll ask a couple of students to share what they wrote with the class.
4) With a partner, take turns reading the next five paragraphs on how lack of sleep can lead to inattentiveness & depression. Write a one sentence summary & make a connection. Again, I’ll ask a couple of students to share with the class.
5) Still be with the same partner, either read aloud or silently the section on how lack of sleep tens to increase weight gain. Write a summary sentence. I’ll ask a couple of students to share with the class.
6) I’ll share a Read Aloud listing three actions students can take to sleep better and ask for more ideas.
6) On their own, complete Part Two of the survey and share.

Teens are physically “wired” to go to sleep later and wake up later (you can watch a short video about that here). As both the book’s authors,and Susan Ohanian, suggest, because of that fact the best solution would be for schools to start later in the morning. Until that happens, though, I think a lesson like this can’t hurt.

I’ll post how the lesson goes. Fell free to leave comments with suggestions on how I can make it better.