Student engagement is critical in moving the needle on learning, but sometimes you need to shake things up. Here are some easy strategies to try.

What is student engagement?

You don’t need me to tell you when your students are engaged –you can usually tell, but it can be helpful to look deeper.

According to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, students can be engaged on three levels: behavioral, cognitive, and emotional.

Behavioral engagement means students are behaving appropriately.

Cognitive engagement refers to your students’ intellectual connection with material. They are thinking and learning.

Emotional engagement is how your students feel in your school and classroom. Do they feel safe? welcomed? part of a community?

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engage students on behavioral, cognitive, and emotional levels.

Does it matter?

To answer that question, think about how you feel in a faculty meeting.

If your eyes are glazed over when your principal is discussing changes to the handbook, you are certainly not engaged.

But, if the changes include additional vacation days, you’ll probably be engaged. You’re listening, questioning, and processing the information (and maybe even doing a little internal dancing).

Same for our students.

The difference between compliance and engagement

A class working doggedly on an activity may be quietly working, but are they engaged or are they compliant?

These are good questions to ask as you plan activities. A word find may keep your students quiet, but are they engaged on a cognitive level?

There is no question that finding the correct combination of behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement is a challenge since each student responds to different things.

However, by varying your teaching, trying new activities, and testing out strategies, you’ll find what works for you and your students.

Student engagement strategies

Here are some strategies to try:

Break lessons down into short segments.

Think about “chunking” a lesson into 15 – 20 minute increments.

Use a timer to keep yourself on track. (I like this one since it has a clip and a magnet.)

Keeping the content moving will help prevent boredom.

Build in rewards.

This can be at the end of the week or even end of class — if students complete the tasks required.

Rewards can include something simple and easy for you to administer.

For example, use A 4 minute talking break, a quick game of trashket ball, charades, Pictionary, or a “Fun Friday” activity to work toward.

Use games.

Don’t forget the value of games like Scrabble, trivia, or Scategories. Convert them into a review game.

If you want to play trivia, you can enlist your students to come up with the questions. You can use this slide show to get started. Students can create additional slides for you to add.

Small group work

Group work can be tricky since students can quickly get off track.

Use a timer for this activity — and give them less time than you think they’ll need. Consider having them share their learning with the rest of the class.

Use videos.

Pixar shorts and commercials are a great way to engage students.

This blog post has tips for teaching characterization using short videos, but the process can be duplicated with other reading strategies.

Set goals.

It is never too late to set goals.

Students can set one personal goal for themselves to accomplish by the end of the week, quarter, or year.

If you can, meet with your students as they set a goal so you can help them meet it.

Try the unexpected.

Humans love novelty.

Try something new like a pass-back story or flipped classroom. Use quirky rafts or use creative writing prompts.

Offer students activities like dressing up like a favorite character from a book or participating in a poetry reading or readers theater.

Provide them with big sheets of butcher paper and challenge them to create personifications of vocabulary words.

Choices

Give your students options for assignments. Using a choice or bingo board is a great way to boost student engagement.

If you are providing choices, be sure to think about Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.

Gardner's Multiple Intelligences

While you don’t need to try to include all of them, providing a few different choices makes an activity more interesting.

For example, students can have the option to act out a scene from a book (bodily) or illustrating it (visual).

Add a read aloud.

Starting class with an engaging, scary, funny few pages from a book can help calm students and get them ready to learn.

If you stop at a cliffhanger, that can also be a reward for the end of class.

Add independent reading.

This can be an easy reward for the end of class or the week. Middle school students may have fond memories of DEAR time (drop everything and read).

Allow them to bring in a snack, sit in a new seat or on the floor, and provide quiet for reading.

Be sure to stock your classroom library if you are worried about students forgetting to bring their own book to class.

Share your frustrations.

Your students may not even be aware of how you feel.

Sometimes it helps for them to hear what you are thinking and what you want from them. They may even be able to offer suggestions for how you can better work as a team.

When student engagement is low

Sometimes you just have a really challenging class.

You may feel like you haven’t made any headway with getting your students excited about learning no matter what you’ve done. But don’t be discouraged. They have learned something.

They have learned that you care enough about them to go that extra mile to reach them.

What engagement strategies have worked for you? Please share in the comments below.

With gratitude for all you do…