5 Easy Ways to Keep Students Engaged

Some of these methods of student engagement are tried and true, while other methods might be new to you. Regardless, I hope that you leave this blog post with at least one strategy to try!

1. Increase Student Engagement by Using Shorter Tasks - Break instruction into shorter, smaller time durations. 

We all know that students' attention spans are far too short for our long school days. As a general guideline, I was taught that we (teachers) can expect to hold students' attention for about as many minutes as their age - for example, if a student is 7 year old, we can only expect him to pay attention for about 7 minutes. 

We need to keep that guideline in mind as we plan lessons and activities for class. We can teach in shorter increments and break up the lesson by involving student movement, discussion with peers, written work or prompts, and/or using some type of manipulative.

Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs) are a great way to break lessons into parts. When I use an ISN, I typically begin with a 5 - 10 minute lesson, then direct students to either do some writing or some cutting. I will often then talk again before directing students to do some coloring, solving, and gluing.
Four Types of Angles Mini-Book for sale at Teachers Pay Teachers
A technique that I love is what I call the "Turn and Talk" method. I ask students to explain what they have just learned to their classmate and I allow a short discussion to take place. If students are in groups, I encourage each student to take a minute or two to discuss what they learned in the lesson and what questions they still have. 

Students can learn so much from one another, and fellow students often have special ways of making learning easy to understand. Sometimes students can explain material in a way that is easier for other students to understand!

Animal Report or Lapbook Project - click on the picture to visit my store
Hands-on learning is also wonderful for keeping students' attention focused. Projects that can be divided into smaller parts work great for both young and older students.

Try to keep your Teacher-Talk short and allow students to learn by experiencing.

2. Pulling Sticks Adds to Student Engagement - I keep a mug containing popsicle sticks with student names written on them. The idea behind the sticks is to call on students fairly, randomly, and evenly. Students remain engaged because they know that they can be called on at any moment!

I love the pulling stick method because it's quick, easy, handy, and it's one less thing that I need to worry about. How many times do you question if you call on the same students all the time? Oftentimes, I forget if "Johnny" has read already or if I've called on Ramon that day - or was it yesterday? (Sometimes it's all a blur! I hope I'm not the only one!) 

When I pull sticks, I know immediately if Liz has already read, or who the last reader was. One less thing to hold in my brain.

When I taught middle school, I had different mugs for my different class periods. I wrote student names on the sticks with different colored Sharpies for each class period. For example, 1st period would be written in blue, 2nd period in green, etc. I wrote a "1" on one end of the stick, and the student name on the other end, if I was teaching only math. I learned to use different colors the hard way when I had one mischievous student who thought it would be cute to mix up the sticks of students from different class periods.

I'm currently teaching upper elementary and I just write "M" for math, "SS" for social studies, etc. It's pretty simple.

Sometimes I choose to pull a stick, then return the stick to the mug - "I can call on you more than once, so pay attention and be ready!" Other times, I pull a stick and lay it on the table (or turn it upside down) for an activity like writing on the Smart Board, or when I want everyone to have a turn evenly.

An alternative is using index cards if you don't want mugs cluttering up your desk area, but I prefer the sticks.

3. Include Real-Life in your lessons to Up Engagement!  Let's be honest - when someone is presenting new information to you, you immediately assign it a "Priority Level"

If it's information and material that has absolutely nothing necessary to you - it's boring, you don't care about it, and there is no need for you to remember it, you assign it Low Priority. Who cares that Freddie's Aunt Matilda bought a new motorcycle or that Ronnie's brother just got a new bike? Low Priority. You mutter, "uh, huh," and it goes in one ear and out the other . . .

BUT - if the information you are hearing IS important to you and you find it useful and necessary - it will become High Priority and you are much more engaged and motivated to stay tuned and focused. Obviously, students' minds work the same way.

I know that you are thinking - how do I convince Malik that he really needs to learn Stem and Leaf Plots? 

Relate it to his life and interests right now - as a fifth grader or a seventh grader. Students are short-sighted. They are only interested in the "here and now," not stuff they will need 20 years in the future.

You need to be a bit creative - just creative enough to figure out a way to hook your students. The above stem and leaf plot could be used to show test scores or batting averages. Anything that will hold their attention.

Yes, it does take some extra effort to consider how 12 year olds can relate to the surface area of a prism - or stem and leaf plots, but you can make it matter to your students - and they will learn it easier and remember it longer!

4. Making it a Game Adds to Student Engagement!  Task Cards - Scoot - Treasure Hunts - they are so engaging and fun!

There really are more ways to practice and reinforce skills than worksheets. Worksheets are fine, but games can promote enthusiasm and excitement to learn - isn't that what we teachers dream about?
I absolutely LOVE task cards! My students do as well. Task cards are so versatile that they can be incorporated into most existing games - like board games - or even hangman or tic-tac-toe on the whiteboard! Simple, yet fun and engaging!

 2-Digit Multiplication using Shapes & Colors! Available at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store! Click Here!
2-Digit-Multiplication Using Shapes and Colors! Click on the picture!
Often I scatter task cards around the room - one on the heater, one on the bean bag chair, one hanging in the doorway, one on the teacher chair, etc. and students move around the room "Treasure Hunt" style, finding the cards that they need and solving them.

Sometimes the boys solve the odd and girls solve the evens. Sometimes brown eyes solve the first ten, and other eye colors solve the next ten. Sometimes I use differentiated task cards with my strugglers solving certain cards while others are enrichment cards.
Click here for Educlips Happy Faces Clipart
Sometimes I allow them to play Connect 4 - but only after correctly solving a task card!

There are other games besides task cards, however. I love and use those too!
2-Digit Multiplication Story Problems - click the picture to visit my Teachers Pay Teachers Store!

Have you played HotSeat? I was planning to retype the rules of the game, but I will just give you a link because the rules and strategy are explained so well at this site:  HOTSEAT.

Word cards above are from my High Frequency Sight Word Wall
Sometimes I just allow students to play tic-tac-toe with a partner while I'm working with a small group. My rules for tic-tac-toe are simple: Students need only a pile of task cards and paper (or whiteboards). Task cards are set facedown in a pile between the two students. Student A flips over a task card. Both students solve the problem on the card. If player A solves it correctly, he can place an X or O on the tic-tac-toe board (which is usually another whiteboard). If the two students come up with different answers, they both erase and solve it again.

5. Teacher Enthusiasm Ups Student Engagement!  Without a doubt, the simple act of being excited about your teaching and lessons adds SO, SO, SO MUCH to your lessons!

Remember that teacher you had way back when who talked in a MONOTONE and was so incredibly boring? Don't be that teacher!!!!

If you are excited, your students will also be excited! I read recently that students are so accustomed to being entertained, that even children's tv programs have about 75 transitions within 1 minute! OMG!! How can we compete with that? No wonder students think school is boring if a cartoon has to work that hard to keep their attention!

Some days, enthusiasm is hard to come by. There are those days that I have to put on my Game Face and psych myself up to perform. Because that's what you need to do - perform. I know teachers of younger students are nodding along with that. Some days it's really hard! It's exhausting!

Muster up your positive energy and bring excitement and enthusiasm back - your students (and their parents) will love you for it. In fact, I'm pretty sure that YOU will love you for it!

What is in your bag of tricks for engaging students? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Photo Attributions: 
By stuartpilbrow (102/365 Fed up) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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