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10 teaching strategies to keep students engaged in the classroom

Jenny FultonJuly 11, 2019

Did you know that, instead of taking the bus or riding in the car with their parents, kids in remote areas of Colombia ride a zip line to school? 

How would you feel if that was the case for you? Would it be fun or terrifying? It would certainly get those beta-endorphins going first thing in the morning, don’t you think? I wonder if getting to school via a zip line gets these students ready to be engaged in classroom lessons.

Student engagement is an ever-present concern in today’s classrooms. Why? Because as a number of studies (and informal observations) have found, increased student engagement is linked to higher achievement and more effective classroom management.

But how can you be sure that your students are engaged? Besides a variety of observable indicators, like these, showing that students are engaged, there are also a number of teaching strategies that you can employ.

Keep your students engaged with Classcraft.

Teaching strategies to ensure student engagement

1. Begin the lesson with an interesting fact

Did you know that the brain disengages when it thinks it already knows something? One way to jump-start the brain out of its slumbering state is to give it startling or interesting information that it knows it … doesn’t know. Besides waking up the brain and getting it ready to engage in the rest of the lesson, these facts also give the students fun ammunition to use against the adults in their life as a way to show off their smarts.

“Hey, mom,” they say, “Did you know that baby camels are born without a hump?”

“They are?” mom replies. “No, I sure didn’t! Is that really true?”

“Yep! My teacher told me!”

Education World offers some introductory fun facts that are already formatted into usable templates.

happy guy in a red shirt in front of a blue wall
Photo credit: Bruce mars

2. Exude enthusiasm and engagement

Enthusiasm is contagious and, at the very least, entertaining to watch. If you’re excited and engaged with the topic you’re teaching, your students will at least give it a chance. If you obviously aren’t interested in teaching it, then in their minds, why should they be interested in learning it?

3. Encourage connections that are meaningful and relevant

While having your own enthusiasm for a topic is a good start, it isn’t enough to keep the students engaged in the long term. Instead, you need a way to bring them into that enthusiasm. One way to do this is to make it relevant and meaningful to them. 

Ask the students questions: Have you ever …? How would you feel if …?

Incorporate areas of student interests into the lessons. With writing, grammar, spelling, and reading, you can create sentences and other content around things they like.

As an example, you could have your students try to find all the nouns in sentences like this: Spider-Man shot out his web and pinned the bad guy against the wall.

4. Plan for short attention spans

Students, especially younger ones, have a relatively short attention span. Studies suggest that:

  • Kindergarteners (ages five and six) are able to focus on an interesting task for 10–30 minutes.
  • First-grade students (ages six and seven) can focus for 12–35 minutes.
  • Second-grade students (ages seven and eight) can focus for 14–40 minutes.

And so on. With teaching, it’s better to keep the lower number in mind when planning and executing your lessons. To keep the students engaged, plan several short activities that will aid you in teaching and reinforcing the lesson and will keep the minds of the students moving. Read on for some activity examples.

5. Address different learning styles and multiple intelligences

Every student has their own way of learning and their own set of strengths and weaknesses. It’s impossible to give each student what they most need at every moment. However, if you include a variety of activities from some of the categories below, you can ensure that you’re giving everyone at least one thing that works for them.

Auditory/linguistic learners

With the auditory learning style and linguistic multiple intelligence, students learn best when they are both listening and talking. They think in words and will often be learning as they are speaking.

Good activities for these students include:

  • Brief lectures
  • Discussions
  • Stories
  • Word games
  • Reading aloud (especially if they’re doing the reading)
  • Group projects

Visual-spatial learners

Visual learners and those with visual-spatial intelligence learn best by seeing. Visual learners may see in words or pictures. Those with spatial intelligence may enjoy such activities as drawing and reading maps. 

Good activities for these students include: 

  • Reading 
  • Taking notes
  • Looking at charts, organizers, pictures, models, videos, etc,
  •  Drawing their own charts or models 
  • Solving puzzles

As a visual learner myself, I also tend to be a more visual teacher. I like to use different colors of markers when I’m giving notes or explaining something on the board. I use these colors to connect similar concepts or to simply keep my mind awake by providing more visual stimulus.

Bodily-kinesthetic learners

These students learn best by touching, moving, and doing. They don’t want to simply see the model — they want to make the model. They are the first to get antsy during lectures and note-taking.

Good activities for this learner include:

  • Actions-cues that relate to the information
  • Roleplaying
  • Hands-on activities

Teaching Tip: Address auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners at the same time in a lecture by writing the information, reading it out loud, showing a picture of the information, and having the students perform an action that relates to the information.

Musical learners

These learners have a heightened awareness of rhythm and sound. They learn best when lessons are presented in song format or when information is given in rhythm.

Good activities include:

  • Songs (singing or creating their own)
  • Poems (reading or creating their own)

Teaching Tip: Address linguistic, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and musical learners by printing out the lyrics to a new song, reading them out loud, teaching the students actions to go with the music, and then singing the song together.

Interpersonal learners

These students are your social butterflies. They thrive and learn through interacting with others.

Good activities include:

  • Group projects
  • Class discussions
  • Individual student-teacher conversations
  • Conducting surveys and interviews

Intrapersonal learners

Unlike interpersonal learners, intrapersonal learners are not social learners. Instead, they are very private people who possess a good understanding of their own thoughts, feelings, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. They thrive in independent work environments.

Good activities include:

  • Any independent work
  • Written discussion questions that are deep and contemplative in nature

Teaching Tip: Use think-pair-shares to address both the interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences. In this activity, the students think about and write down their answer to a particular discussion point, pair up with a partner, and take turns sharing their answers.

Logical-mathematical learners

These learners are abstract thinkers, explorers, and debaters. They see, understand, and create patterns and connections. They like to ask questions, experiment, and solve problems.

Good activities include:

  • Experiments
  • Logic games
  • Puzzles
  • Investigations
  • Conducting surveys

6. Converse with students — don’t talk at them

Teaching isn’t just about what you teach and which activities you lead the students in; it’s also about how you teach it — how you speak to the students and present the information.

Think about your tone and demeanor when you’re having a conversation with someone. Is it different than when you’re presenting information to your class? It’s easy, especially when you’re presenting important foundational information, to talk at students instead of talking with them. Students are more likely to check-out when they’re passive recipients of information. So, instead of just giving the facts, think of this whole-class presentation time as though you’re having a conversation with your students and sharing something with them that you think is really great.

7. Turn lessons into games

Students learn best and are most engaged when they are having fun. With this concept in mind, more attention has been given to the benefits of playing games in the classroom.

8. Turn lessons into stories

Storytelling is another highly engaging strategy to use in the classroom. This practice, which has been around since the beginning of history as we know it, engages both the emotional and logical areas of the brain. With multiple areas of the brain being activated, the hearer is better able to engage with and remember the information embedded within the story.

9. Maintain close proximity and eye contact

Have you ever noticed that you can “feel” it when someone is looking at you? For whatever reason, something within us seems to know when someone is paying attention to us. The moment we sense this, we snap to a greater state of alertness. This holds true in the classroom. Students are more likely to be engaged when you make eye contact with them and stand in close proximity. If they know that you are circulating and are making eye contact with them on a regular basis, they will maintain their level of engagement.

10. Offer choices

Students, like most people, enjoy the opportunity to have choices. They like knowing they have control over some aspect of their learning. Having choices puts the student in the driver’s (or passenger’s) seat. This responsibility means that they’re no longer merely recipients who can mindlessly sit back and enjoy the ride. Instead, they are responsible for sitting up, taking notice, and making intentional decisions about which direction their education will take. Choices can come in the form of deciding which topic they want to learn about, how they want to learn it (which activities they want to do), or how they want to present what they have learned.

A note on choices: Too many choices for students who are not ready to make them can be overwhelming. Be sure to limit how often and how many choices students have. Be sure to also approve all options beforehand and to provide guidance in the process.

A bag of tricks

In teaching, not every strategy will prove effective with every student. For this reason, it is good to carry around a big bag of tricks that you can pull from when student interest starts to waver.

What do you think? Are there strategies that you remember engaging with the most when you were a student? As a teacher, which teaching strategies have you utilized that have most effectively engaged your students? What would you add to this list?

Student Engagement

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