These are a few of my favorite student engagement strategies because we know that students learn better when they are engaged, but sometimes increasing student engagement can be exhausting. There is nothing worse than spending so much time on a lesson, giving it your all, and looking out at a bored, unengaged class.
Ideally, these student engagement strategies don’t require any more work from you the teacher, but require more engagement and thought from the student. Let’s get those students engaged, so we can improve learning outcomes.
1. Record Information in a Different Way
Have you ever asked students to write down information on a sticky note instead of on a worksheet? Sticky notes = Instant Engagement.
I don’t completely understand it, but when given a new, novel way of recording their thoughts, students jump all in. You do have to switch it up a bit and use the “something extra” during the most important texts or lessons to maximize their effect.
Here are some of my favorite “different ways” to increase student engagement
- Use sticky notes: Have students write a different answer on each note or draw a visual representation on the sticky note. Then have the students hang them up around the room to share answers.
- Use Post-it tabs: I give my students 2-3 sticky note tabs for each new book we read. They have to mark specific areas in their book with their sticky note tab. For example, I might say, “Put a tab where you notice the character being a good friend.” Marking the page this way seems way more fun than just looking for the page number and examples in a discussion format. It also helps make sure that all students are participating.
- Use a notecard: Students can draw a visual on the blank side and write a sentence or two on the lined side.
- Use Different Colors to Write: Have students write using a different utensil like a pen or marker or have them write in multiple colors.
- Complete worksheets in a group: Have students work in a group to complete a worksheet. Each student uses a different color marker. Each student should answer the first question and then pass the worksheet in a circle. Now each student answers the second question. Continue doing this until the whole worksheet is complete. Students are completing all the work, just on different pages. There is also a moment for self-check when they see what other students have answered.
- Use dry-erase markers: My students love writing right on their desk! (Make sure you try this out first!) You can also use dry-erase boards and pockets, or have students write on the board.
2. Getting Students Talking
It is easy for me to end up talking too much during instruction. I might spend too much time on directions or sometimes even answering my own questions. It is hard to sit and passively listen. I find students are more engaged when they or their classmates are talking.
Here are some ways I encourage my students to talk more:
- Ask open-ended questions to have more of a discussion. In math, instead of asking for the answer to 6 x 7, ask students to share how they solved the multiplication problem. For reading. have one student provide the answer and ask other students to find text evidence to support or refute that answer
- Have students respond together to your single-answer questions. When I do this, I use gestures to show my students if I am talking or the whole class. This works great for questions with simple answers like math facts or vocabulary practice.
- Think, pair, share. This is an oldie, but a goodie! After giving students time to think, make sure to give students time to discuss with a peer. This allows all students to have a space to share and helps students check their thinking with one person instead of the whole class.
- Track students’ participation. Help students set goals for how often they should contribute during class discussions. You can do this by giving students a “participation ticket.” After each contribution, they can color or you can hole punch their cards. As a bonus, this also helps you monitor how often each student is talking so a few students don’t end up dominating the conversations.
3. Use Cooperative Groups
Students love working together! With my last class, I found this was the only way to get most of my students engaged and excited about learning.While it took some time to model how to successfully work together in groups, once we set good routines, my students wanted to work together for everything!
Some of my favorite ways students worked together in groups are:
- Reciprocal Teaching for Reading Articles: In this routine, students work in groups of 4 with each student having a certain job. The jobs include Predictor, Clarifier (of vocabulary words), Questioner, and Summarizer. The student is in charge of leading the discussion related to their job, but all students participate in the discussion.
Seeing this in practice is what really sold me on this strategy. Here is a link from Reading Rockets if you want to check it out:
- Work in pairs to solve word problems. I model, model, model how to make this a back-and-forth dialogue to help improve engagement from both learners instead of one student doing all the work. Students take turns in a back-and-forth fashion to complete the word problem. It might look like this:
Student 1: Reads the Problem
Student 2: Clarifies what students need to solve
S1: Ideas for strategies
S2: Pick a strategy to try and work through the problem
S1: Checks student 2’s answer and explains if it makes sense
- STEM or Makerspace activities in groups (see below)
4. Get Students Moving
Do you know that feeling when your brain starts to get groggy after sitting for too long? Students feel this too and need movement to “wake up” their brains. Movement helps improve engagement because it increases overall attention.
These are some of my favorite ways to get your students moving:
- Keep supplies in central locations. In my classroom, we use flexible seating where students have to get up and gather supplies each time we change subject areas or activities. Students have their own bins in one place of the room and textbooks in another. The quick walk to their supplies is a great way to get their blood flowing again.
- Set Up Task Cards around the room. Find task cards for whatever you are working on and tape them up around the room. Students can solve the problems while walking around with a clipboard.
- Use actions for key vocabulary words or concepts. Not only does acting out a vocabulary word or concept get students moving, but it also helps them remember the content! Sometimes I show students motions to use, but I also like to have students make up their own motions and then decide on a class motion.
- Complete Think, Pair, Share with a movement partner: Ask students a question to think about, tell them to walk around the room. Call out a motion like a high-five, elbow swing, or foot tap. Students do this motion with the person closest to them, and this person becomes their partner to answer your next question with the think, pair, share model.
- Make your content into an interactive scavenger hunt. Have you ever played the get to know you game when you search for someone who needs certain criteria? This concept can be used to practice educational skills as well! Give your students name tags and have them find someone who meets certain criteria related to the content. I love this activity so much, that I made different versions to use for unit reviews for various math and language topics. Find these in my Teachers Pay Teachers store with this link. Try Find an Answer Who… for FREE while students practice multiplication and division basic facts and concepts.
5. Make Learning Hands-On
Students love trying things out on their own. Often my students say they love science because they love the experiments and changes to complete hands-on activities. It is easiest to provide these hands-on experiences in science and math, but it is great to provide hands-on activities whenever possible.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Exploratory Science experiments: I love when students get a chance to try things out on their own and make their own discoveries. One of my favorite exploratory science experiments requires students to light a light bulb. Give students the materials to light a light bulb but don’t tell them how to make it light. Can they figure out how to do it on their own?
- Don’t skip the math manipulatives! While they can take a little bit of time for passing out and cleaning up the materials, it is critical for students to have concrete understanding of mathematical concepts. Give them time to explore with the manipulatives. I found that it helps to give students a few minutes to “play” with the manipulatives before using them for math. This helps students focus on using them as the needed tools during the lesson.
- Use a low tech Makerspace to review concepts for any subject area. Give students materials to create ideas or concepts for any subject area. For example, have students create a model to show what houses look like in an urban, suburban, and rural community.
More Student Engagement = More Learning
I hope that you found a couple of student engagement strategies to try to improve student engagement in your classroom. What ideas from the list are you looking forward to trying? What other student engagement strategies should be included on the list? I would love to hear about your favorites!
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