One of the most frequent questions I hear from teachers is if I know any ways to go about increasing student engagement. While there will always be that “one kid” that we just can’t seem to crack, there are many methods, strategies, and systems you can put into play in your classroom that will show a significant and consistent increase in student engagement time and time again.
The strategies I’m going to lay out for you will only work with a high level of consistency. If your classroom management is not top-notch, none of this is going to work very well at all. Not that it won’t help, but you’ll see more consistent results if your classroom management game is on point. However, this is like a puzzle and once one piece is set, the others fall into place much more easily.
Systems and structures are the foundation. Setting high expectations for yourself and those around you creates a level of consistency that is much easier to manage than the chaos that comes with trying to motivate 28 9-year olds who just want to play Minecraft all day.
Closely tied to classroom management is feedback. If a system isn’t working, then you need to be able and willing to identify that and make an adjustment or two before your entire day collapses around you. I’ve seen it happen far too many times – the teacher tries something for the first time. It goes well enough that they try it again. And again. And then that one thing they were doing at first has snowballed into something much bigger and now the teacher is completely overwhelmed, confused, and out of control.
Seems silly to some of you reading this that a teacher would get themselves into such a situation, but it happens all the time! I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s incredibly easy to fall into the negative cycles that happen in classrooms when you’re not prepared, when you don’t have a system in place, or when your classroom management is lacking.
But we know better. We’ve been there before and we refuse to go down that road again! This is why I’m here to help you layout some strategies that will help your classroom increase engagement in a way that stays consistent.
The key to increasing student engagement is to give students options on how they can engage and make it fun for them (and for you, too!). I have used these methods in my own classroom and know they work, so allow me to share 5 of them with you.
Add in-class activities to help students stay engaged and interested in the lesson
When we were kids, it was common for a teacher to stand in front of the class and lecture us for an hour or two. There wasn’t much interaction going on aside from asking questions every now and then, which usually led to short answers before the teacher moved right along as if nothing happened. Kids these days are used to constant interaction with their technology, so add in activities on the board or around the room that will encourage students to get up and move around.
A good example of this is using a “clicker” system for quizzes or tests. This keeps students engaged throughout the testing period because they are able to answer questions from any location in the classroom instead of just sitting at their desks.
Take time to give your students a quick break every once in a while instead of keeping them on the edge of their seats all day long. It will help with increasing student engagement, and it’ll help keep you healthy, too!
Some teachers may find that increasing student engagement is as simple as increasing student participation. When students feel comfortable and confident enough to speak up in a classroom, you will find that they are much more engaged. It could be as easy as asking them questions each day about what they have done over the weekend, what their hobbies are, or even just asking them if they have any questions.
Borrowing from good old-fashioned book club methods, I would give my students a “reading” list that we will read throughout the school year. This allows each student to choose at least one book to read on their own time and then come into class ready to discuss it with the whole class.
I have seen increasing student engagement increase by leaps and bounds when I give my students choices in assignments or at least the option to do an alternate assignment if they don’t feel like doing one of the options given.
Offer rewards for participation in class discussions
This one is not quite as simple to implement, but it had proved very effective for increasing student engagement in my classroom. The first thing you want to do is figure out a system where your students can earn points toward rewards that they will be able to redeem at the end of the school year.
My class used colored pins and a board on the wall as a simple point system. Each student started the year with 10 pins and each teacher was able to hand out 1 pin per day for any reason that they chose (bonus points could be added if the student had a good test grade or showed increasing student engagement in class).
At the end of the year, students were given an opportunity to redeem their pins for rewards. The reward system isn’t necessary, but I found that it helped to entice students into increasing student engagement during class discussions. Another idea is to give some points toward free time at the end of the day if a certain number of criteria are met (for example, if a student shows increasing student engagement in class for a certain number of days, he or she could be rewarded with 10 minutes of free time at the end of the day).
Any teacher can see increasing student engagement improve when class discussions are taking place. The key is to not allow your students to sit and stare at you as if they were waiting to go back to their desks after an hour-long lecture.
The best way to do this is by increasing student participation in class discussions. This allows students to feel like they are a part of something instead of just listening and waiting for a test at the end of the day. It also helps them learn better because discussion can often be more engaging than simply reading from a textbook or taking notes.
Give out prizes or points for attendance, good grades, and other achievements
This can be a more time-consuming method in increasing student engagement, but it is well worth it if you are able to implement it. It can be as easy as handing out a point for every A, B, or C grade (or even for good attendance). You could also give points for things like earning money through a school fundraiser or participating in a class activity.
It’s also important to be aware of which students are increasing student engagement in your classroom, and then reward them for it (either publicly or privately). This can be as simple as giving high-achieving students extra points toward rewards at the end of the year, increasing their grade if they really push themselves to exceed your expectations, or even allowing them to pick out their own copy of the book we will be reading in class if they participate well during discussions.
It’s also important not to solely reward increasing student engagement on test grades. Students should be rewarded for homework completion as well (and, if you’re flipping your classroom, this is a given). Again, this is a chance for you to see who is increasing student engagement and for them to receive recognition for their hard work.
If you really want increasing student engagement in class, it’s important that your students think of you as a caring and understanding teacher who wants to help each individual student succeed at his or her own pace. The most effective way to do this is by rewarding increasing student engagement after they have shown they are reaching your academic expectations, but before you start increasing their grades. This way, increasing student engagement is not based on increasing performance on test scores.
Increasing student engagement doesn’t necessarily mean increasing performance on a standardized test. It’s important to remember that increasing student engagement can be as simple as going outside with the class for 20 minutes at the end of the day, increasing student engagement because it’s considered “fun.” Another way to increase student engagement is to reward increasing student engagement with increasing responsibility within the classroom, in areas like helping other students or taking over a class activity for a few minutes.
There are plenty of options to consider as class rewards for students of all ages.
Encourage students to ask questions during class time so they are not lost on what’s going on
It’s extremely important that increasing student engagement does not take away from increasing the academic standards within your classroom. If increasing student engagement means students will be losing learning time to questions then increasing student engagement is doing more harm than good.
If increasing student engagement means you are allowing certain students to talk for an extended period of time, try giving them this time outside of class time so increasing student engagement doesn’t take away from increasing academic standards.
You can also set aside a few minutes at the beginning or end of increasing student engagement for students to ask questions without increasing student engagement taking away from increasing other types of teaching going on in the classroom.
You should also make sure that increasing student engagement doesn’t mean increasing the amount of talking going on in your classroom. Don’t allow increasing student engagement to include increasing the amount of class time spent with students asking questions.
Increase student engagement by increasing their level of responsibility within the classroom, either publicly (such as allowing them to take over a certain activity for increasing student engagement) or privately (such as increasing their grade if they exceed your expectations).
Offer extra credit opportunities for those who want it (e.g., do an extra research project)
Decreasing student disengagement means increased accountability and increasing responsibility. Both of these things can come from increasing student engagement, as well. You can set students accountable for their academic performance by rewarding increasing student engagement with increased credit toward your end-of-the-year grade.
Increasing student engagement also gives increasing responsibility to your students, because it’s something that they want and are personally invested in doing. Offer additional opportunities for increasing student engagement by giving them a choice of things to do (such as working on an extra project) and letting them choose what it looks like. You should give choices that are in areas that can allow the student to show off and be proud of their products.
This will give students the chance to show off who they are as a person and increase their academic performance at the same time.
Doing this gives our kids more of a personal reason to increase their grades and be better students because it becomes about them excelling on an individual scale. It’s important not to give options that will only benefit the entire class in these instances, but instead focus on tasks that will better benefit the individual.
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