In the Classroom

Easy Ways to Incorporate Student Engagement Beyond the Classroom (K-12)

We know as teachers that we are teaching students much more than just the curriculum. In addition to fostering a love of student learning, we are also helping them become well-rounded individuals that are ready to meet this world head-on. We are just one piece to the puzzle (it certainly takes a village), but this leads many educators to find ways to incorporate student engagement beyond the classroom. How can we encourage learning experiences in a real-world sense that allows our students to have the drive to increase their own learning and create positive change in the educational realm?

When looking at student engagement beyond the classroom, it is important to first understand what that means. Is it the same thing as a student’s “interest level?” In my opinion, no. Interest level is when a student enjoys a subject to some degree. For example, there are students that love math and will go to great extents for their teacher in order to obtain extra help in a subject they enjoy. It is not about the course materials as much as student motivation. We need to ignite that intrinsic motivation and push for student participation when it isn’t mandated in the classroom.

That being said, there are also students that enjoy a subject, but will still avoid homework and focus on their phones during class instead of participating with their peers. Student engagement beyond the classroom is not about how much a student enjoys a subject, but it is about the amount of effort they put into learning it when no one is looking.

Traditional vs. Non-Traditional Engagement

Engaged students can be broken into two categories:

1) Students that are “traditionally” engaged.

These students show up to school early and stay late, they ask questions when they don’t understand something, and they take pride in their work. They have research interests in subject areas and enjoy whatever learning environment they are a part of.

2) Those that are “non-traditionally” engaged.

These students have a hard time being motivated at school due to the fact that they’re bullied, they’re hungry, or there is violence at home. They may not know the true importance (or even relevance) of education. They may not be encouraged to go deeper into course content or even be concerned with a future career by the adults in their lives. However, once they do find someone who gives them the support that they need (that they may not be getting elsewhere), they become a regular participant.

It’s important for teachers to discover ways to connect with all students in order to get them the support they need to become engaged, well-rounded people (not just academically, but emotionally as well). It is a matter of finding a best practice that works for the high flyers and the low riders because then everyone else naturally falls somewhere in between.

Easy Ways to Incorporate Student Engagement Beyond the Classroom

Moving Engagement Outside the Classroom

The most obvious way to move student engagement beyond the classroom is for teachers to allow students to explore their passions and interests. This doesn’t necessarily mean sending a group of students with a passion (such as chess) across the school to compete against another team (although those types of activities are incredible), but it is more about incorporating those activities into the school day and encouraging inquiry-based learning.

For example, a child that loves skateboarding might be involved in a classroom discussion about an upcoming trip to a local park. In this way, both teacher and student can learn from one another during class time. If it’s a math class, perhaps they can research the mathematical necessities of a good skate ramp. They’re still learning the content they need to, but their own interests are driving that experience.

There is also no harm in allowing creative writing projects to tie with something outside of the realm of literature when considering student engagement beyond the classroom. For example, a young poet may be able to write an original piece of work about something they love (such as running) or they may be inspired by the world around them.

A misconception is that you can only focus on activities like these with honors students, but truly it helps build a strong connection with all levels and is one of the most effective ways to help with engagement.

These types of connections help students learn in different ways while still touching on curricular learning. It is not enough for teachers to teach their subject matter; we must teach students how to learn in general. We need to give them enough tools so they can carry on the learning process through any activities outside of class (such as home life, extracurriculars, or self-led learning).

Keeping Learning Personal

Another way that teachers are encouraging student engagement beyond the classroom is by creating opportunities for students to engage with other students via group work that is actually meaningful. This can be small group discussions, breakout rooms, research projects, you name it. This involves the core group of “traditionally” engaged learners but reaches out to other students as well.

Avoiding group work that the students can just either divvy up amongst each other or where it is possible for just one person to do all the work is key. This truly pushes classroom engagement and once all students are participating, they naturally begin to get more curious about the content they are working on.

In this way, learning is not just about the teacher showing students how to learn, but it’s about students teaching each other as well. Granted, student-to-student instruction can be risky business. It’s important for teachers to maintain control over what they are teaching because there are always those that may abuse this type of opportunity (especially with social media or cyber bullying).

However, if you’re running this the right way, you will still be 100% in charge of everything happening in that classroom. Combining different groups of students in a variety of ways does not mean you are hands-off; it is encouraging active participation and an educational experience that is still fully drafted by you as the educator in the room.

When teachers maintain control, ask questions, and listen to their students’ ideas, amazing things can happen. Students should never feel like learning stops once they leave their desks. We are all responsible for fostering a love of learning so that tomorrow’s world is full of productive members who contribute to our society in meaningful ways. This snowballs into community engagement and other experiential learning activities outside of the walls of the classroom.

When incorporating student engagement beyond the classroom, teachers should start by identifying what students are already doing outside of school. Students who read for pleasure, play music, work with wood, write poetry, or participate in clubs like drama and dance might be likely candidates for student-teacher collaborations.

Once teachers identify these types of learners they can begin to build on the skills that students are already working on. This means that students can work on critical thinking skills, collaboration techniques, and revision strategies while learning new content. For example, if a student likes to write music they might be incorporated into writing about global warming or an environmental issue in their area. Teachers should also consider how the skills learned by the classroom teacher will transfer to other areas of study.

The next step for teachers is to allow students to work with each other by creating opportunities for learning within groups. This can be done through the use of peace treaties, self-assessment rubrics, or raising one’s hand to contribute ideas. There are many ways that student engagement beyond the classroom has proven fruitful and effective in the history of learning.

It is important that teachers maintain control over what students are learning beyond the classroom. This means that they must be clear about expectations and standards for students. However, it doesn’t mean that students can’t help each other learn either. Sometimes one student listening to another student perspective on a topic will be of much more interest to them in terms of learner engagement than anything faculty members can do in terms of direct instruction.

In this way, student engagement beyond the classroom can benefit students and teachers alike. It allows for time for teachers to confer with their colleagues about curriculum planning while also providing opportunities for students to collaborate with others who have similar interests. It teaches students the art of giving and receiving constructive feedback as well as reduces the stigma of “different kinds” of learners. Truly, this type of classroom environment fosters those lifelong learners we all strive to create.

If students are able to learn from one another, it will be easier for them to translate those skills to their learning outside of school which is a critical element in student engagement beyond the classroom. This means that if a child can teach someone else about using a microscope, he or she is also learning the benefits of investigative science. If a child can teach someone else how to play chess, they are learning critical thinking skills as well.

When students learn from one another, it doesn’t have to be difficult which means that teachers don’t have to try so hard either! Imagine each class NOT being a dog and pony show to try and get the students interested in what is going on.

The Benefits of Student Engagement Beyond the Classroom

Student engagement is defined as the “time and energy students devote to learning.” Some of the most obvious ways that teachers can create opportunities for student engagement include creating a rich environment, giving choices in learning opportunities, and allowing deep focus time on skills. However, we must dig deeper if we truly want to incorporate engaging learning activities into our school every day.

There are countless educators who believe in its power to transform learning environments for students of all backgrounds. Some of the benefits of engaging students beyond traditional classroom practices include:

1)  Student engagement can have positive effects on both academic and social outcomes.

2)  Students who are more engaged in their learning process exhibit higher grade point averages.

3)  Teachers with increased student engagement show fewer attrition rates.

4)  Engaged students are more likely to be active in the community.

5)  When students are engaged socially, their grades tend to go up.

6)  Student engagement creates an environment that is inclusive of all learning styles and multiple intelligences.

7)  Using technology wisely can help foster student engagement beyond the classroom.

8)  Student engagement can make learning more fun for teachers, too.

Simple Ideas for Student Engagement Beyond the Classroom

The goal of student engagement is to get students involved in their own education. How can you do this right away? Let’s look at some ideas:

1)  The teacher should always ask the question, “What motivates you as a learner?” and then create learning activities that fit into that learner’s motivations.

2)  More than just assigning projects, work to get students excited about the “why” behind the assignment. This will encourage more student buy-in and effort for their finished product.

3)  Create opportunities for student choice in both academic learning and extracurricular skills.

4)  Students should be allowed to work on skills and projects that interest them within the curriculum. This way students can focus on developing a skill they enjoy and build their own self-esteem as learners. Plus, this may encourage students to seek help from teachers or peers when needed.

5)  Give students opportunities for peer-to-peer and student-to-teacher learning. If students can teach each other, they will be more engaged in the learning process.

6)  Encourage students to question and think critically about what they are learning. This way we move beyond memorizing information and add depth to our learning (and maybe even add some humor along the way).

Student engagement takes place when the student is empowered to take ownership of his or her learning. This can be a difficult task for many teachers, but it is crucial if we want students to truly value their education. With positive changes to our school, we can move toward the goal of student engagement beyond the traditional classroom.

From the outside, it seems like developing this level of academic engagement is overwhelming. However, you will quickly find yourself working with the students (instead of feeling like it’s a constant tug of war) and those creative ways of engaging them within the content will start shining through in a great way.

Stop Driving the Teacher Struggle Bus

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Originally posted October 13, 2021

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

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