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5 Strategies for Reaching Disengaged Students

August 18, 2015 by Emily

Disengaged students. We all have them. More interested in what is going on outside the window, or tugging at that loose piece of thread hanging on their neighbor’s shirt. They are in every classroom. These are capable students who just haven’t been “hooked” yet. I’d like to share with you 5 ways for reaching disengaged students.

5 Strategies for Reaching Disengaged Students

 Guest post by Erin Beattie from Mrs. Beattie’s Classroom

1. Use Whiteboards

In my classroom, giving a student a personal whiteboard and marker is like flipping a light switch. All of a sudden the student is listening to what I have to say.

Use Whiteboards for Reaching Disengaged Students

Using whiteboards does require some training, however. Like with any other classroom tool, you won’t engage your students just by handing over these things and not TEACHING the children the proper way to use them. My students know that they aren’t for doodling, and that the lid stays on the marker until I’ve finished with my instructions. Anyone not using the whiteboard and marker properly loses the privilege of using them until the next day. It sounds harsh, but never happens – my students are too busy ENGAGING with the lesson!

2.  Ditch the Hands

If your students know that you’re only going to call on students who are politely raising their hand with an answer, they know they are safe to tune out. Why not try a random selector system? This forces them to pay attention during your teaching time because they never know when they’ll be called on next!

Ditch the hands and use sticks for reaching disengaged students.

There are many computer-based programs and apps out there, but if you prefer not to use technology, a simple (and faster) way of randomly selecting students is using craft sticks. I keep a set with my students’ names right next to my chair at the carpet. I mark each end of the stick with a different color and flip the stick over when I have called on a student. This way, I know to choose all red sticks before beginning to select from the blue ones, ensuring I reach every student.

3.  Elbow Buddies

Kids LOVE to talk with their friends. In my classroom I take advantage of this by giving them plenty of opportunity to “Turn and Talk”. Setting a clear purpose and identifying exactly what you expect of them during their sharing is extremely important. I have my students turn to face each other, sitting knee to knee. This way, they can look each other in the eye as they speak. Invest some time at the beginning of your year to teach your students exactly what to do when they partner talk.

4.  Technology

If you’re lucky enough to have technology in your classroom, use it! You don’t need more than one iPad or similar device to engage your students effectively. Aside from some of the more traditional apps for practicing reading or math skills, there are many exciting choices like Plickers. Perfect for assessment, you provide your students with a printable code that they use to answer your multiple-choice questions. You scan the students and see in real time who has the correct answer and who does not.

Use technology to reach disengaged students.

I have a fun set of iPad rules for your classroom that you can grab here completely free!

Tablet Rules Freebie from Mrs. Beattie's Classroom

QR codes are another favorite of mine. I’ve never had my students so engaged and motivated to write as when I provided them with writing prompts linked to QR codes. You can read more about that here.

5.  Get Their Hands ON!

My final tip for catching your disengaged learners is probably the simplest… engage them kinesthetically with manipulatives! Students learn by doing, so what better way to keep them engaged in your lessons than by keeping those little hands busy in a meaningful way?!


I try to use hands-on activities throughout my school day, from building words with letter tiles, stamps or magnets, to solving math problems using a variety of math tools.

No money? No problem! Use everyday things from around the house and make your own manipulatives! Check out some ideas on Pinterest.

5 Strategies for Reaching Disengaged Students

My thanks go out to Emily for this guest-blogging opportunity. I’m thrilled to get this chance to share my passion for making learning fun! If you liked this post, please be sure to pin or share with your teacher friends, and be sure to pop over to my blog to visit!

Erin has taught Grades 2-6 for 17 years in the Kingston, Ontario area. She has her Mathematics Specialist qualifications and has been blogging and selling her creations on Teachers Pay Teachers since December 2012. You can take a closer look at the resources and strategies she uses for engaging her students and making learning fun and meaningful by visiting her at Mrs. Beattie’s Classroom, Facebook, and Teachers Pay Teachers.