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6 strategies to keep students engaged in the classroom

High engagement levels will increase the learning experience and leave teachers and students feeling great about participating in class. This guide is designed to serve as a toolkit of strategies that a teacher can use and perfect on their journey to a highly engaged classroom.

Every teacher envisions a classroom brimming with excited energy and filled with curious students deeply engaged in learning. It’s a common goal, but too often students are still distracted or bored in class. Specific strategies are needed to transform the average classroom into a highly engaged learning space.

Luckily, it doesn’t take much. Some of the smallest changes can have a big impact. Many of them involve questioning techniques that encourage responses and invite all students into the learning experience.

Small strategies are also a great starting point since they allow a teacher to increase engagement and learning without overhauling their lesson plans or materials. By implementing small strategies every day, teachers can plan for and create an engaging learning environment.

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Here are six ways to encourage student engagement in any classroom.

6 strategies to engage students in learning

Group of students working with the teacher on a geography project

1. Polling

When posing a question to the class, the main goal should be to have every student think about the question. But asking a question usually gives a few eager students the chance to answer while others might not be paying attention.

Polling provides a way for every student to share their voice. A great way to do this is by using whiteboards. When a question is asked, have each student write down their response. Then, on the teacher’s cue, everyone shares their answer by holding up their whiteboard.

2. Turn and talk

Brief partner discussions are a great way to get every student involved in processing content as a lesson is presented. Teachers can try brief “turn and talk” minutes after posing a question by having students turn to their neighbor to discuss their answers together.

Compared to a single student answering a question aloud, this method is a powerful way to get every student talking about and thinking about the content. “Turn and talk” is most effective with open-ended questions so students get to share their ideas on the topic.

3. Wait time

If you’ve ever had the chance to observe lessons, you probably noticed that teachers often pose deep important questions and then hands pop up after a few seconds. Students should be encouraged to do the opposite and think for a while about the question before responding.

To use the “wait time” questioning strategy, teachers simply pause for 15-30 seconds before calling on students to answer. This cues students to think deeply about their answers and not to just mindlessly volunteer a memorized low-level fact.

Pro tip

Use a combination of “wait time” and “turn and talk” called “think-pair-share” to form a meta-strategy. Teachers can pose a critical-thinking question and then offer a wait time for each student to think of an answer. Then students share with their partner and work together to synthesize their answer. At the end, bring the class back together, and students can share their answers with the whole group.

4. Annotations

Often students will engage with written pieces. Though reading itself is important, there is a strong role to be played by annotation as well. Students can be directed to annotate questions, conclusions, or notes while reading a text. This gives the teacher evidence of the thought processes occurring during the reading time.

5. Vote with your feet

This strategy gets everyone up and moving with a purpose. “Vote with your feet” is a physically active form of polling where the teacher poses a question with three to five possible answers. Sections of the classroom are designated as answer areas. Students then move to the location that matches their answer.

This technique works best with moderate-level questions that have short answers and no exact correct answer. This way students are validated wherever they move but can be asked to explain why they chose each area.

6. Reflection

Engaged students constantly think about their learning and reflect on their achievements and process. Reflection helps students review what was truly learned. It can help them work more effectively if they can keep track of their own progress in a checklist, learning journal, or another notebook.

Giving students time to think about learning can help them build strong metacognitive skills. This is very important as we realize that teaching is really about showing learners how to be their own best teacher and evaluator.

Guide your students to discovery

Think back to that common classroom goal, where students are working on solving problems with the teacher happily walking around and guiding their discoveries. To get there, educators have to be intentional about their practice. By adopting the small strategies discussed here, a teacher will surely increase engagement levels in their classroom.

Photo credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

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