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What are the best practices to improve student engagement?

Casey BrownMay 23, 2019

girl painting and crafting

Teachers often try to get their students to be more engaged in the classroom. Engagement happens when students care about the material, feel welcome in the classroom, understand expectations, and have fun. They are also more likely to achieve their learning goals. But how do we make this happen? Teachers have to craft lessons that will engage all students and get them ready and willing to learn the lessons. Here are some best practices to help improve student engagement in the classroom.

7 best practices for student engagement

Kid learning on a map with an adult
Photo credit: Lonely Planet

1. Use a variety of teaching methods

If you always rely on the same teaching methods, your students will quickly lose interest. You need to present material and practice concepts in many ways.

For example, introducing vocabulary with a textbook can be helpful, but you shouldn’t just rely on this method. Have students draw the vocab words. They can act out the words for classmates while playing vocabulary charades. Students can incorporate the new words into a story or a skit that they present to the class. The more you use variety and creativity, the more engaged your students will be.

Teachers should be mindful of different learning styles when planning lessons to include all learners — visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Get the students moving! Encourage them to interact with different mediums, such as music, videos, and writing. The variety will keep them on their toes and more interested in what’s going on in class.

three girls smiling at the camera
Photo credit: Di Lewis

2. Devote class time to getting to know your students

There’s an old adage that still rings true: Students don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Showing students that you care about them as individuals will help them care more about what you’re teaching in class. Students appreciate having time to talk with you about their lives outside of the classroom.

Some teachers set a timer at the beginning of the class to have a few minutes to chat with their students about their lives. Other teachers give the students a few minutes to catch up with peers at the start of class. While this might appear “wasteful” because it takes away from class time, it actually helps your students stay focused once class begins because they’ve had a moment to socialize.

girl studying with her computer
Photo credit: Tirachard Kumtanom

3. Integrate technology into the classroom

Technology is fun and engaging for students. By incorporating technology into their lessons, teachers introduce another medium that many students enjoy and that appeals to many different learning styles. Plus, technology helps facilitate personalized learning — students like the fact that they can move at their own pace and focus on areas in which they need improvement.

Websites like Classcraft engage students through personalized learning quests that help them meet learning objectives in a fun way. Students can choose their own adventure to learn new material, practice learning objectives, and submit assignments. Along the way, students earn rewards and journey through a creative storyline written by their instructor.

Students can also use technology to collaborate with each other and to get real-time feedback from teachers thanks to apps like Google Docs and Slides. Group projects and interactions are much easier when everyone can work on a document or presentation simultaneously, from anywhere and anytime. These collaboration tools get students more interested in class assignments because they have to worry less about sharing files and can instead focus on producing quality work.

pile of school books with an apple and playing cubes
Photo: Element5 Digital

4. Embrace project-based learning

Project-based learning (PBL) is a method where students learn by examining real-life problems and challenges. Students enjoy working together with their classmates with a clear purpose that applies to the real world. The teacher provides a rubric, but the students can explore the issue from all sorts of angles using many types of resources. Students can present their findings and ideas to the class in ways that appeal to them. They can create a video, do a presentation, create a brochure, develop a website, and much more.

One example of a hands-on, problem-based learning activity used in some school districts is a fake crime scene investigation. The science department creates a unit where they stage a crime scene (age appropriate, of course), and students have to investigate the incident to identify suspects and piece together the story. Students gather clues, collect evidence, perform experiments, and use online research to help solve the mystery. This type of assignment gets students excited about class because they’re learning actively instead of just reading from a book or attending a lecture.

Road sign pointing to different directions

5. Let students have choices

Many students feel as if they have no control over their lives. When they enter the classroom, they’ll feel invigorated if they’re given some freedom to choose part of their learning experience. For some classrooms, this can be as simple as letting students choose their own seats every once in a while. Teachers can also let students choose to complete either odd- or even-numbered problems on a worksheet. For projects, students can pick their own topics or group members. In English class, students might be able to select a book they’d like to read. When using computers, you could have students decide which programs or websites they’d like to use to review their material.

For larger projects, some teachers offer students a broad outline of what they can explore, and then the students pick a topic of interest and dive in. Throughout the year, students can research a topic that they’ve always wanted to learn about and present their findings to the class.

Adding an element of choice to the classroom means students feel more empowered in their learning and have more ownership over the material. This naturally leads to more student engagement.

school themed scrabble game
Photo: Pixabay

6. Play some learning games

Students enjoy a good friendly competition. Allow students the opportunity to play games with peers or as a whole class to help review and practice material. Some class games can include trivia, hangman, bingo, Jeopardy review sessions, and more, depending on the lesson. For example, Pictionary and charades are great ways to review vocabulary. Get creative!

Technology also offers excellent opportunities for interactive reviews of course material. Classcraft offers a fun, interactive way to review with Boss Battles, which pit students against fantasy creatures — and the only way to defeat them is to answer questions correctly! If the entire class performs well, they all win group points for use on in-game features (equipment or pets) and powers that unlock real-world privileges.

male teacher in front of a class of student
Photo: Neonbrand /unsplash

7. Make learning more personal

Whenever you can connect the material to students’ lives, the lessons will become much more engaging. Let students interact with the lesson in ways that matter to them and to their world.

For example, when learning percentages in math class, allow students to pick a store where they enjoy shopping and an item they might buy there. Have them look up the price of that item online, and then tell them that the sale is a certain percentage off. Students can then share what they bought and how much it costs. This is much more fun than just presenting a generic word problem. Students can even write their own questions that classmates must answer.

If your class shows an interest in a certain musical artist or TV show, see if you can incorporate it into a lesson. Is there a clip to demonstrate something they’re learning in class? If a student has an interesting hobby and can share it with the rest of the class, give them a chance to do so! If students are passionate about sports, you can easily make connections to this area when teaching physics or statistics.

School is much more enjoyable when it’s relevant. When students can personally relate to whatever you’re teaching, they’ll have a reason to pay attention.

With creativity and effort, you can get your students invested

Finding ways to engage all students can be a challenge. With a little bit of creativity and effort, teachers can create lessons that offer variety and choice and help get students invested in the material. By making connections to students’ lives and bringing some fun and excitement into the classroom, teachers can make big strides in engaging their students.

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Student Engagement