It’s always the first thing my principal does when she walks into my classroom. Quickly scanning my students, she counts how many are on task and how many there are in total to compute my engagement percentage. Student engagement has become our school’s number one focus. If our students are not actively engaged in their learning, how much are they actually learning? There are so many great student engagement strategies to keep your students on task throughout your entire lesson. #13 is always my go-to!
Student Engagement Strategy 1 – Pair/Share
You can call this a variety of things. (Peanut Butter/Jelly, AB Partners, Talking Buddies, etc.) First, decide how you are going to pair your students. You can choose partners strategically, or randomly. I recommend you choose the partners. This is the person that they have to sit by on the carpet during whole group. It helps to limit behavior issues during instruction.
The benefits of this strategy are that everyone gets a chance to share their ideas and you get the chance to “listen in” on their responses. After partner talk, I always call on a few students to share their answers with the class, just as a quick check. Pair this strategy with Morning Meeting Slides or Math Warm-ups and you can have students partner sharing their responses while you walk around and listen to their conversations.
2 – 4 Corners or 2 Sides
This student engagement strategy gets your kids up and moving while still learning. It is also a great activity to use when reviewing. If you are using 4 corners, pose a question with multiple choice answers (A-D). Your students will go to the corner that is their chosen response to the question.
The same concept applies to 2 sides, as you pose a question (yes/no or true/false), your students will choose the side of the room that corresponds to their response. 2 sides is also a great engagement strategy to use with statements. Do they agree or disagree with what you are saying?
3 – Whiteboards
There are so many activities you can have your students engaged in using whiteboards. As a matter of fact, we create an entire blog solely on whiteboard engagement activities and ideas. Read up on more than 30 Ideas for Whiteboard in Your Classroom.
When using whiteboards, your students are able to show you their work. Just like pair/share, it is an easy way for you to check for understanding, as they hold up their whiteboards with their responses. Or you can walk around and take a peek at their work while all of your students are answering the question.
I also love using whiteboards during writing time. My students construct their sentences on their whiteboards first, we edit them together, and then they return to their seats with their whiteboards and rewrite their sentences on paper and illustrate them.
Student Engagement Strategy 4 – Physical Response
Another way to get your students moving and engaged in learning is with physical responses. It can be as simple as thumbs up or down, showing a number to a math problem on their fingers, or making hand motions to symbolize vocabulary words. So that students can keep their responses private, I will have them hold their hand signals against their chest instead of up in the air.
Your students can also have larger movements, like stand up or sit down, reach up high or touch your toes, and jump up or lay down. Just a note of caution, make sure that students have enough personal space to make these movements without bumping into one another.
5 – Choral Chants or Songs
Okay, who doesn’t like to sing or recite a chant?! Your students will have an easier time remembering content when it’s in a song or fun chant. They can repeat after you, or it can be something that you practice every day and becomes a part of your warm-up. By having to say something, your students will be engaged in the lesson.
6 – Whip Around
This engagement strategy is an easy way to review a skill or set of skills and it quickly gives everyone a turn to share an idea with the class. Students can sit in a circle, or stay at their desks. You pose a question to the class, such as “Tell me a word that contains the bossy e”. Start with a student, they will quickly state a word and then you move on to the next student in the circle, or at the next desk. Keep whipping around the classroom until every student has had a turn to share.
(Thing to remember… after asking the question, or saying the category, give your students a little bit of think time before starting. This gives your students time to put together an answer before it is their turn.)
Student Engagement Strategy 7 – Pass the Page
Writing can be a difficult time to keep your students engaged in the lesson. It tends to be a lot of teacher instruction and less student doing. Passing the page is a great way for your students to be active participants in the writing lesson! Give each student a piece of writing paper and have them write their name on the top. Display or state the prompt, along with the particular writing skill you want to focus on for this lesson. (ex. dialogue, extended sentences, punctuation, descriptive language, etc.)
Each student will have a few minutes to start their story based on the prompt and inclusion of the skill. When the given time is up, they will “pass the page” either to the student on their left or right (your choice). Set the timer again for a few minutes. Then this student has the opportunity to add to the story started by their classmate, remembering to include the target skill and have the story make sense. Continue these steps for as long as you like.
Once the last student has written the ending to the story, they return the paper to the original author (whose name is at the top). Your students will have fun reading the additions their classmates made to the stories. As an extension, you can also have them go through the text and circle, underline, or highlight the examples of the target skill used. I pair this student engagement strategy with Writing Mini-Lessons. The lessons help me teach the target skills, and passing the page helps my students put them into practice.
Student Engagement Strategy 8 – Bring in a Ball
So this student engagement strategy definitely comes with some classroom expectations, as well as teach discretion. There have been some years that I didn’t use a ball to engage my students in a lesson because they had a very hard time sticking to the rules. Depending on your class dynamic, you can use a beach ball (preferred), rubber ball, squishy ball, etc. as a way for your students to respond to different questions.
First, decide whether they are going to toss or roll the ball to each other. As a teacher of young learners, I’ve found that it is much safer/easier if they are sitting in a circle and rolling the ball during this activity. Ask a question and hand the ball to a student to answer. Once they’ve answered, another question can be posed, or they can roll the ball to a classmate to add on to or elaborate more on their original answer.
I’ve also used this when we are reading a group text. The person with the ball reads then passes it to a classmate to pick up where they left off. You can give students some choice and allow them to read as much or as little as they want before passing.
9 – Write the Room
Another “get up out of your seat and move around” engagement activity. Write the Room can be used for both ELA and Math concepts. Place the cards for that particular skill around your classroom. (If you plan to use this activity during centers, you may want those cards away from your teacher’s table.) The recording sheet goes in the basket for your students, or you can pass them out. They will move around the classroom, locating the card with the corresponding number on it, and recording their answer to the question on their paper. Your students will be learning while getting a bit of a movement break at the same time.
Student Engagement Strategy 10 – Games, Games, and Games
I’m not talking about board games, but web-based games. There are so many web game makers out there you can use to keep your students actively engaged in a lesson. Create a Jeopardy Game to answer comprehension questions about story elements. Use Kahoot to identify different parts of speech. Bingo Cards can have the answers to math problems on them. Spin the Wheel to practice producing words with various Phonics Skills. The possibilities of using technology to create games for your students are endless.
11 – Brain Breaks and Dancing
Not necessarily an academic engagement strategy, but something that your students need throughout the day to stay engaged in the academic lessons you are teaching. Put on a quick video or song and have your students get up and move around. They get their wiggles out, blood gets flowing again, and afterward, they can come back and focus on new learning. Don’t spend your time searching for brain break videos, just save this list and have immediate access to 25 videos you can play today.
12 – Partner Match
Just like number one, this engagement strategy is done in pairs, but your students have to find their partner instead of you assigning them. They also have the opportunity to move around the room here too. Pass out the matching game cards randomly to your students. When you give the signal, your students will start moving around the room, looking for the classmate that has their matching card. You can do this with skills such as rhyming pairs, letters of the alphabet (upper/lowercase), math facts, singular/plural nouns, and any other skill that works in pairs.
I like using this as a warm-up and whoever their matching partner is, that is the student they are paired with for this particular lesson. Another great way to randomly assign partners in your classroom.
Student Engagement Strategy 13 – Sticky Notes
Sticky notes are a great engagement tool. Students love writing notes down and sticking them places. Use your sticky notes as a warm-up, where you pose an introductory question and students write down their responses. Hold a Gallery Walk and students write their thoughts on sticky notes and put them on the different posters around the classroom. Check for understanding by putting a question on the board and students answer it on their sticky notes. Then you can sort by who understood the lesson and who needs extra practice. (Great for targeted small groups, especially in math.)
My favorite way to use sticky notes is to keep my students engaged during transitions with an “Exit Ticket” board. Have your students write either their number or name on the sticky. Once they’ve written their response, they leave the sticky on your designated Exit Ticket board in the classroom. Use this at the end of the day, on your way to lunch or specials, or while everyone is cleaning up and moving on to another subject. You get to see who “got it” and who needs extra practice. And your students have something to do, so it keeps behaviors at bay.
Student engagement strategies are so much more than just making sure your students are doing something when the principal walks in. LOL They help to ensure that everyone in the class is working, producing responses, and learning. We are not just calling on those with their hands raised. Student engagement strategies help to keep behaviors in the class to a minimum by providing a task for every student throughout the entire lesson. I hope that you found a few strategies you can put into place tomorrow in your classroom. And I am always looking for new ways of engagement with my students, so if you have a favorite please share it in the comments below.
Written by – Janessa Fletcher
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