10 Ideas to Increase Classroom Engagement with Your Students
In the Classroom

10 Ideas to Increase Classroom Engagement with Your Students

We all know the bread and butter of a well-oiled classroom isn’t the content material or the depth of a lesson plan. Heck, it can be argued that it’s not even the dynamic of the students or the strength of the teacher (stick with me here). Yes, all of this is important, but without classroom engagement, every aspect of the classroom will be on a poor foundation, ready to crumble at any time.

As classroom teachers, we will all agree that classroom engagement is paramount. It’s the glue that holds everything together. If we notice classroom engagement waning, we can immediately observe a shift in how students are interacting with their learning environment and each other. And it’s not limited to just emotional engagement either; many classroom management strategies rely directly on building classroom engagement.

So how do we go about classroom engagement? There are many ways to initiate, but there are a few that make it unique from classroom management strategies. Classroom engagement does not involve the use of tangible rewards or threats (think: points systems and classroom behavior charts). Rather it relies on building classroom relationships through deliberate positive classroom management strategies that focus on classroom culture. This means that engagement is almost impossible to achieve through classroom rewards and classroom behavior charts (both of which are staples of classroom management).

But you’re probably asking, “what classroom behaviors should I look at when monitoring classroom engagement?” The answer here is simple — all of them! For the sake of engagement, you need to focus on everything that you do in the classroom when building classroom culture. You may think that classroom management is all about classroom control and student accountability, but there are aspects of classroom management (when it comes to student engagement) that have nothing to do with discipline at all!

So if we’re going to talk engagement, classroom management is a good place to start. Let’s look at classroom management strategies and how they can contribute to classroom engagement:

1) Individual Accountability

Individual accountability refers to classroom policies that allow for student responsibility for their learning and actions. This includes classroom attendance, classroom behavior, academic performance, and other tasks. While these are classroom management strategies, the classroom implications of these classroom policies are one of classroom engagement. It is important to understand what classroom behaviors you can leverage into classroom engagement strategies.

Individual classroom accountability strategies include classroom attendance, classroom behavior, academic performance, and classroom management. These are all classroom behaviors teachers can physically see. When students create classroom policies in the classroom that are enforceable by both teacher and student, classroom engagement is created through motivation born of trust.

When classroom policies are created by students, classroom engagement is built and success becomes a classroom culture.  

This classroom management strategy allows for student ownership of learning outcomes and classroom behaviors directly affecting them. It creates a classroom environment where there is peer accountability for all classroom behavior, including academic performance. When students have input in creating classroom policies that they are then responsible for, classroom engagement is achieved through student motivation.   

When classroom policies are created by students, classroom engagement is built and success becomes a classroom culture.

10 Ideas to Increase Classroom Engagement

2) Classroom Schedule

The classroom schedule is also a classroom management strategy, but it’s directly related to helping students become engaged with their learning environment. For example, classroom choices, classroom behaviors, and classroom routines are all classroom management strategies that build classroom engagement.

By classroom choices, I mean having students work/learn in different classroom stations or centers. This feature allows students to become engaged with classroom peers and teachers by allowing them the opportunity to choose what they want to learn about on that particular day. In addition, it also gives them control over their learning environment and where they want to be.

By classroom behaviors, I mean classroom routines and classroom rules. Students are much more engaged when classroom management is in place (rules, routines, classroom etiquette, etc.). They know what to expect within their classroom environment.

For example, if you tell students to “clean up” and they’re engaging with the learning task at hand – but then all of the sudden classroom management starts to break down and students are talking, standing around, etc. – classroom engagement is disrupted, and learning stops. The classroom teacher should then be able to re-establish classroom management, which brings the class back under control. Students will then become engaged again with the lesson being taught by the classroom teacher.

Classroom routines and rules may help manage the room, but they also help students become engaged with their classroom environment.

During “Clean Up” time at the end of each school day, a teacher may ask elementary classroom students to put away materials and clean up desks, etc. For example, before they finish their work and clean up for the day, students may put classroom materials back in their classroom storage area, and classroom furniture into classroom storage areas.

In this classroom management strategy, classroom engagement is built as students are engaged with classroom tasks and behaviors, while classroom routines allow the class to “clean up” quickly at the end of the school day so all students can exit on time or engage in classroom activities that are not classroom management related.

3) Classroom Rotation/Interaction

Classroom rotation and classroom interaction are two classroom engagement activities that help create a positive classroom culture and give students opportunities to become engaged with each other. By simply rotating the seats in your classroom or giving classroom choices throughout the day, classroom engagement is being built.

This interaction helps lead to a classroom culture of connectedness.

The classroom is the classroom. Rotation begins and ends with a positive classroom culture. You can’t have one without the other – they are dependent on each other for effectiveness. Classroom interaction carries over classroom cultures from day to day.

A classroom culture of positive interactions with all ages is essential to classroom engagement. Classroom rotation and classroom interaction are two classroom activities that build positive classroom cultures, leading to classroom engagement.  

When students have opportunities to be around teachers they interact with them in classroom rotation, building respect for their authority and increasing the positivity already present in your classroom. Classroom rotation could include classroom jobs, classroom seats, or classroom discussions around the room. Students interacting with each other as they rotate through classroom activities and discussions are building classroom interaction. Classroom interaction builds connections among students that help create a classroom culture of connection in your classroom.

4) Classroom Rules

The classroom rules also have a classroom management component. However, when classroom rules are clearly defined, students understand why they exist. They should be talked about in an open forum so that students can ask questions regarding what they mean in regards to classroom culture (i.e., classroom behavior).

It is very important that classroom rules are applied the same way in classroom management and classroom engagement situations. Students should have a voice about what they expect to be included in classroom rules. Additionally, if classroom rules include an expectation of how students might behave when not in class (i.e., online), then this is a great opportunity for you to talk with students about a plethora of topics.

Students have a voice in classroom rules because classroom rules are a classroom engagement strategy that is directly related to classroom culture (i.e., classroom behavior). When classroom rules include expectations around online behaviors, this is an area where you can begin to build trust and talk with your students about academic integrity/plagiarism. Learning classroom rules can be a classroom management strategy but classroom rules are classroom engagement strategies as long as student voice is included and classroom rules are explained.

5) Classroom Response Systems

Classroom response systems are classroom management strategies, but they do not have to be used for classroom discipline or classroom management. They can also be used as a classroom engagement strategy. For example, you can ask students to use their classroom response system to answer classroom-related questions or classroom culture-related questions.

In classroom response systems, students are provided with a classroom response system device. With classroom response systems (also known as clickers), you can simultaneously poll the entire classroom by asking a classroom-related question and have an instantaneous answer from your students. In addition to classroom management or classroom discipline, classroom engagement is another popular use of classroom response systems. You could poll your classroom with classroom engagement questions to measure classroom engagement and/or to keep classroom engagement at an optimal level.

Classroom response system questions are usually classroom-related questions or classroom culture-related questions. For example, you can use classroom response systems to measure classroom engagement by asking students classroom-related questions such as “What question would you like to ask a guest speaker at the next class meeting?” or “Which of these two topics is more interesting: topic 1 or topic 2?”

When classroom response systems are used as classroom engagement, teachers do not have to grade the classroom response system answers or aggregate them. Teachers can simply use classroom response systems to obtain classroom engagement scores.

6) Classroom Culture

The classroom environment is not just about classroom management, so make sure you think outside of the box when it comes to classroom engagement strategies that deal with classroom management in general.

You want the classroom culture to be inviting, comfortable and pleasant for students to learn in. You want your classroom atmosphere to be conducive to learning. Classroom engagement involves more than classroom management in the classroom’s environment, but classroom communication/classroom culture as well.

If you have ever been to a classroom where students were disengaged from learning, chances are the classroom environment wasn’t conducive to learning. If students were being loud and disruptive or if they felt uncomfortable with their surroundings (like finding out there were spiders in the classroom ), students would be hyper-aware of their environment, and classroom engagement would obviously not be happening.

Contrast that with a classroom environment that had no distractions, but didn’t necessarily have a positive culture or environment. Students can be sitting quietly working at their desks while the teacher is standing in front of the class talking about something and students are not engaged in learning. The reason they’re not engaged is that there’s no motivation for them to be engaged. It’s because the teacher has not created a classroom environment where students could be engaged in learning, and as a result, there’s no classroom engagement going on.

Any activities that you do must align with your mission statement. If your mission statement is for students to learn about physics, then anything you do within the environment should have some kind of application to that goal.

If your mission statement is for students to learn how to read, any activities you do in the classroom must have something associated with reading so that it’s clear what the goals are and what students should be doing in order to pertain to those goals.

Sometimes teachers get sidetracked by trying new things out, but those things have nothing to do with the classroom’s goals and mission statement. It can be fun and entertaining, but if it doesn’t link back to the classroom culture or engage students in learning how to read, then you shouldn’t be doing that activity.

7) Classroom or Schoolwide Events (Fundraisers)

The classroom fundraiser is about classroom culture and what the classroom wants to achieve whether it’s learning-related, understanding of classroom practices and procedures, or relationships within the classroom environment. Always remember that classroom fundraisers can also be used as classroom management strategies.

This is a great idea to get your classroom involved in these types of activities. I’ve seen everything from candy sales, dances, pizza parties, donut sales and so much more! I recall the Special Education team at my old school did an 80’s themed dance party complete with leg warmers and *gasp* hair gel.

These classroom management events can bring the classroom together and create a positive classroom culture. Once the event is over, you can nurture a classroom culture that wants to do something positive for the school and its students.

Don’t forget about PTA/PTO events. I’ve seen schools where these types of organizations have multiple fundraisers throughout the year. These groups will often work with classrooms in order to sell items and support their families.

Let’s look at an example:

Imagine this scenario: A kindergarten teacher knows that a family is struggling due to a sick relative. She wants to do something in order to support them, but also help the community. The result? A bake sale. With all of the baked goods and treats, she not only supports her own students’ families but other families as well.

The key is to support your family and community while also creating positive classroom culture. If your school has any type of PTA or PTO organization, take advantage of their help in order to make this process go more smoothly for you and your classroom. If not, consider contacting a neighboring class or two to participate in the event with you.

8) Classroom Management Systems

A classroom management system can be an efficient way of ensuring that the class is moving at a good pace, that students don’t get bored or distracted during certain parts of their lessons, that students don’t feel like they’re being rushed through important concepts essential for understanding, and that students are learning the material in a way that makes sense to them. There’s no one-size-fits-all classroom management system, but at their most basic level they all share some similarities:

1 ) A class seating chart with each student labeled by his or her name so you know who is where (you can use labels for this or you can have students label their own seats).

The seating chart will usually be on the wall of the classroom. You’ll either make one yourself ahead of time or just write students’ names in marker on small pieces of poster board and then attach them to push pins.

2 ) A ‘target word’ that will remind students what you want them to be doing while you’re teaching.

This could be a word like ‘Quietly’ or ‘Listen’ that will help students know what they should be working on. In the past, I’ve used words like “Watch” or phrases like “Try and listen for important pieces of information.”

3) An activity for transitioning from one section of a lesson to another.

This could be as simple as having students get up and stand in the back or front of their seats, or it could be something that gets them moving around the room (like walking around in circles).

4) The use of physical movement/breaks during lessons.

Studies have shown that if people are forced to sit still for long periods of time they become less alert and engaged, as their minds wander.

Rather than having students sit in a chair or at their desks, try having them stand up at regular intervals. Also, consider telling students to get up out of their seats when you’re driving home a difficult concept. These small physical breaks, even if they’re just one minute in length, can help students stay more alert.

Some other unique systems to consider include:

1) Traditional and Open Floor Plans: Open floor plans are intended to increase student interactions and classroom engagement. However, some studies have shown that classroom social interactions increase classroom distractions, classroom disorganization, classroom noise level, classroom conflicts, and classroom management problems. Future research needs to identify the best classroom floor plan for maximum classroom engagement and student learning.

2) Classroom Seating: Back-to-back seating arrangements may improve classroom communication and classroom collaboration. Forward-facing seating arrangements may improve classroom engagement and classroom listening skills. Some classroom seating arrangements are intended to maximize active classroom participation of all students (both individual and group activities). And, of course, you know I am a HUGE fan of flexible seating, too!

3) Classroom Grading Systems: Traditional grading systems required every student in the class to earn an A to earn a good classroom grade. However, these classroom grading systems lowered classroom engagement and classroom participation. When classroom grades were based on classroom participation (either individually or in groups), classroom grade improved classroom engagement, classroom collaboration, classroom communication, and classroom listening skills.

4) Classroom Rewards: classroom rewards are classroom engagement strategies intended to promote classroom participation, classroom behavior, and classroom performance.

5) Classroom Planning Systems: classroom planning systems involve a routine for classroom teachers to develop daily classroom learning objectives that help students reach their learning potential every day. Effective classroom management systems begin with effective classroom planning systems.

9) Classroom Rules/Policies

It’s not enough to have a classroom management system that gets students on track and makes them pay attention during class. You also want the system to make students feel good about themselves while keeping order and decorum in the classroom.

Sometimes, a simple list of classroom rules for students can help to create pride in one learning environment. Negotiating with your class what those rules are and how they will be enforced helps to build rapport between teacher and student while helping everyone understand the behavior that is expected while in class. Students can also agree on punishments for infractions of these rules.

If you know that a certain student is likely to talk out or get up without permission, for example, then the agreement will be clear that misbehavior during class will result in this student having to stay after school or hold your desk. As long as it’s made clear beforehand, both parties should stick to the agreement and no one will have to suffer the consequences, or at least not for that one infraction.

A classroom management system also includes policies that a teacher can agree on with his or her class. Things like whether you should take off shoes during class or not can fall under this category, as well as how long bathroom visits are allowed.  Should students be able to use cell phones during class? You should talk to your students about these issues and come to some kind of consensus. This way, you won’t be faced with arguments, and everyone will know exactly what’s expected while in the classroom.

One way that you can help create a good classroom management system is by encouraging students to take ownership of their learning.  Often, classroom management problems can be solved by giving students more responsibility for their own behavior. For example, if you know a student is going to have trouble staying in his seat while completing an assignment, then instead of limiting this student’s movement throughout the class, give him a chair that he can use as long as he stays seated and focused on the task at hand.

As a general rule, students should be able to walk around freely during class if they’re working independently or in small groups and are not disturbing anyone else’s learning.  This allows them to move about as necessary while remaining quiet and focused if that is how you set up your classroom management system. Your role is to make sure that students are able to focus and handle their own stress without disrupting the learning of other students.

10) Classroom Management Evaluation Rubrics

I truly believe that rubrics are what makes the teaching world go ’round. Creating them to help tie in all these aspects of classroom management and engagement Venn diagram can be vital for not only the students to understand what the expectations are, but also for you to develop data to see which factors of this whole formula need focus or redirecting by any number of students.

If you can categories each of the pieces that I have mentioned into a tangible rubric, not only does it become less confusing, but it also adds structure and sees how each aspect works with the other to keep the classroom running with great functionality. This will also help keep your classroom engagement on point as all other aspects of the classroom environment are utilized and examined in one place.

These rubrics can be used to assess at the moment, through an evaluative process, or can also be used as a progress monitoring tool to see what aspects need redirection and how students are performing.

I highly recommend breaking this down into different content areas (language arts, math, science) or topics so that you have a different rubric for different content. It allows each group of students to be assessed on their own terms, while still having similar aspects between each grouping of students.

It is also a great idea to include the school and/or district rubric so that you can transition from your classroom-made rubrics into what is expected in the larger realm of education. And of course, be sure to make the rubrics available for your students to see.

Using this in my classroom has been helpful in so many ways as I can utilize it as a formative assessment tool, but also as an evaluative process to see where my students are when introducing a new unit of study. It helped me stay on track and have a better understanding of where I needed to redirect my students’ attention.

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After moving from a teacher-dominated classroom to a truly student-centered one, Jenn found herself helping colleagues who wanted to follow her lead.  In 2018 she decided to expand outside of her school walls and help those out there who were also trying to figure out this fantastic method of instruction to ignite intrinsic motivation in their students.  Read more about her journey with Student-Centered World at studentcenteredworld.com/about

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