How To Keep Students Engaged
As a teacher, there’s nothing more fulfilling than inspiring a student’s “A-ha!” moment. But getting there often takes more than sticking to a lesson plan. Teachers have to be dynamic, resourceful, and above all else, engaging.
However, with everything that demands kids’ attention today, creating an engaging classroom is more challenging than it’s ever been. For instance, 97% of children have at least some access to a smartphone. On top of that, the recent back-and-forth between online instruction and in-person schooling has left many teachers frazzled and few students with an idea of normalcy.
These factors keep new and experienced teachers alike wondering how to keep students engaged in today’s distraction-filled classrooms. If that includes you, here are six student engagement strategies you can build into your already expertly-crafted lesson plan.
Get Warmed Up
The human brain is like a car on a cold morning — it needs to warm up before it gets into gear. To get your students’ gears turning (especially in the morning), start lessons with a fun, quick warm-up exercise or icebreaker.
For younger students, it could be singing along to a song about what they’re learning about. In a foreign language class, students might benefit from listing vocabulary words for every letter of the alphabet out loud as a class. But no matter the class, these warmups should be fun, light, and get everyone involved.
However, not every warmup has to be related to the curriculum. Some days, getting students talking to you and each other is an accomplishment in itself. A quick game of pictionary or a word scramble can get students in the mood to participate.
Is Sacrificing Class Time For Warm-up Time Really Worth It?
Teachers have enough to get done in a class that lasts only an hour or less, which raises an important question: are warm-up exercises actually a good use of time?
In a study conducted on 51 students over about six months, students who played brain training games demonstrated improvements in attention, problem-solving, and other cognitive functions over their un-warmed-up peers. So while short warmup exercises may cut slightly into class time, they could also be an important factor when planning how to keep students engaged on a day-to-day basis.
Make Mobile Devices Your Friends, Not Your Enemies
Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets can be a teacher’s worst nightmare. They’re distracting, disruptive, and easily concealable. But with a little creative thinking, mobile technology can be a powerful teaching tool.
Figuring out how to keep students engaged using technology depends on the needs and resources available to each individual school, but teachers can start by investigating some commonly-used tactics:
- Kahoot quizzes. Kahoot software allows teachers to craft their own interactive quizzes that students can take on their own devices. Afterwards, teachers can analyze a report that shows what material students are struggling with most.
- Competency-based games. When it comes to spelling, reading, and basic math, giving young students an “A-ha!” moment can be difficult. Playing computer games based around these subjects can be a stress-free way to let students practice.
- Digital field trips. Many museums, historical societies, and science centers have digital field trips available on their websites. If a large portion of your class has mobile devices, allow them to take a self-guided field trip in groups and make presentations based on their experiences.
- Creative video projects. Some of the most popular social media sites make use of short videos. Emulating that experience by having students make brief videos about relevant topics could be a fun, meaningful way of increasing student engagement and motivation.
- Media reports. Have older students search for recent articles or other media about a relevant topic. How does it change their understanding? Is the information they found online accurate? Answering these questions may be difficult, but in the information age, media literacy could prove to be an important addition to high school curriculum.
Though mobile devices can be a huge source of distraction, 73% of teachers who participated in a Pew Research poll say they have integrated smartphones into their teaching methods. This growing use of smartphones in the classroom could mean more resources for teachers in the very near future.
Redirect The Class’s Energy Instead of Suppressing It
Sometimes, students’ moods are contagious. Boredom snakes from one corner of the class to the next. Before you know it, you’re even feeling a little off. But instead of powering through dead time, think about how to keep students engaged based on their overall mood and energy.
Physical Activities for Tired or Antsy Classes
If the class seems a little sluggish after lunch or has too much pent up energy, get everyone out of their chairs for some jumping jacks or stretches. But if you want to combine fitness and learning, try:
- Review ball. Have students throw a ball to each other. Whoever catches it has to answer a review question and throw it to another student.
- Write some terms from this week’s unit on a stack of index cards. Have students act them out while other students guess.
- Spelling darts. Instead of a traditional dart board, you may want to use a velcro board and ball set. Break students into teams. During each round, one member of the team throws the ball at the board. But to get full points, the team has to spell or define a vocabulary word together.
In a review of 39 studies about physical activity and attention, researchers found that physical classroom activities typically helped students stay on task. So even if they’re short-term solutions, physical games can be key to increasing student engagement and motivation.
Social Activities For Talkative Classrooms
Does it seem like everyone’s a little chatty? Then it might be the perfect time for small group discussions or team-based trivia games. Have groups prepare short presentations, play Jeopardy, or collaborate on diagrams and drawings.
Outdoor Activities For Distractingly Beautiful Days
When winter turns into spring, many students will be too busy daydreaming to pay attention. Embrace the call of the wild and have them draw scenes on the pavement, take them on a nature scavenger hunt, or just play a game of “I Spy.”
Hands-on Projects For Tough Subjects
If a particular subject gives students trouble, they may tune out after a lesson or two. If that seems like it’s happening on a large scale, doing a hands-on project can keep students engaged.
For instance, if your elementary students didn’t do so well on the last math quiz, use blocks, dominoes, or candy to show how math functions work in real life. Or if your sophomore physics class is struggling to understand potential energy, a rubber band demonstration can snap them back to attention.
Give Students A Say In Activity Planning
Increasing student engagement and motivation often means making them stakeholders in their own education. A simple way to do this is to let them plan some fun activities throughout the year.
For younger students, you may want to keep it pretty simple. Ask them if they’d like to do a certain activity on a certain day. But with older students, you can set up an online poll and have them vote. Or if you’re feeling particularly confident, make an open call for activity ideas and put them on an online class calendar.
Keep Quizzes Frequent Yet Small
Big quizzes can be just as intimidating as finals even if they don’t count much towards students’ GPAs. But when they’re kept short, specific, and low-stakes, quizzes can be great tools for students on a cognitive and motivational level.
Through frequent quizzing, students get to practice memory retrieval, an active brain process that involves remembering past events or information. According to an analysis of learning research published by the American Psychological Association:
Repeated retrieval enhances learning with a wide range of materials, in a variety of settings and contexts, and with learners ranging from preschool ages into later adulthood. — Dr. Jeffrey D. Karpicke, A powerful way to improve learning and memory
So if students get to practice their retrieval skills, they may feel more ready for big tests. And there’s perhaps nothing more central to how to keep students engaged and motivated than building their confidence.
Help Students Recognize and Develop Their Own Learning Styles
Knowing how to keep students engaged often involves making your classroom friendly to any and all learning styles. But while you may be familiar with alternative learning styles, your students may not be. Try to remind them that there’s no right way to learn and give them the tools to learn in a way that benefits them most.
This can be as simple as setting aside reflection time or doing an online survey about the class so far. Invite students to think about what they succeeded in, what gave them trouble, and what would help them learn better.
However, instead of increasing student engagement and motivation, this kind of reflection might discourage struggling students. For those scenarios, build a list of alternative studying methods you can help them with like:
- Watching videos
- Explaining course material to others
- Changing their study schedule (studying at a different time of day, taking frequent short breaks, etc.)
- Writing short summaries of each lesson
- Making flashcards
- One-on-one tutoring
- Creating small study groups
Having such an open dialogue between teachers and students creates more than an engaging classroom environment. It creates a classroom full of students who feel confident and supported. And according to a survey of almost 500 adolescent students published in Frontiers in Psychology, confident students are much more likely to be engaged in the learning process.
Build Your Own Student Engagement Toolkit
Exploring how to keep students engaged is about more than coming up with interactive games and finding educational uses for smartphones. It’s about meeting students on their level, supporting their individual needs, and finding fulfilling teaching opportunities for yourself.
Whether you’re a current teacher looking for ways to connect with a diverse student population or a new teacher trying to pay for your own education, explore EducationDegree.com’s student and teacher resource center. From lists of scholarship opportunities to articles about supporting underprivileged students, there’s a little something for anyone who wants to make education more engaging, impactful, and accessible.