While I was attending the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee for my teaching degree we were taught as future teachers that no matter how outstanding your lesson plan was, if it didn't match your student's interests it wasn't going to be very effective. This proved true not only with my experience as a teacher, but also as a student. My most enjoyable classes that I still remember called for me to apply what I had learned so that the professor could see that I had mastered the skills and objective taught.
In my early teaching I discovered the importance of this while teaching the water cycle to 5th graders. The students gathered in a circle and we physically did the processes of the cycle in dance motions together. This was even more effective then when I asked them to illustrate the cycles. Drawing was more effective at reaching the students then just talking about it or reading it. But why? It was because they were physically involved.When I was given a choice, I always used a art, music, theater, or writing as a way to demonstrate my learning. During my first years of teaching I taught the water cycle using a dance.
I taught abstract physics and astronomy with playdough and acting to middle school students and the grins spread across the room. Making learning a game or an exploration made it more exciting rather than a chore. The way that I found the most retention was when the students were self motivated. But how could I get the students to become self motivated? I taught them purpose. There is a large emphasis at making the students aware of what the learning objective is before we even begin the lesson but what is even more important to explain is why we are learning the skill.
Good examples of applying skills learned in a lesson to a student centered activity are pairing fractions with doubling a recipe for cookies or figuring out how much money we need to save from our allowance each week in order to afford a bike by summertime. Writing can be given more purpose through letter writing, publication, and entertainment. What our student's need to know is that we aren't teaching these skills to teach them. We are teaching them because they have purpose in our everyday lives.
What separates one teacher from another is the subject matter they choice to teach the skills through. A sports minded individual may teach math through basketball or buying uniforms for a team. An artist may teach through painting and drawing. I like to get to know the student and their interests so I can work to teach it through their eyes and show them purpose. This grooms self motivation and student success. To this day I will never forget the make up of a DNA strain because I held and took apart a giant 3D model that was not much smaller than myself.