Use these strategies for student engagement to grab and keep students’ attention today. These simple but powerful strategies will spark enthusiasm in you and every student in your classroom to make this your best year ever!
You’re writing on board during class and you hear a loud sigh. You quickly scan the classroom and notice a couple of students staring out the window. Another is playing with her shoe. Several are digging in their pencil pouches.
You’re losing them.
Your brain flips into high gear: Why aren’t they paying attention? Why can’t I keep them focused?
You start speaking in a louder, sing-song voice to pull them back in.
“This is boring!”
And there it is. One student took the leap and announced it. Out loud.
Frustration. Self-doubt. Irritation. Anger. If you’ve been teaching longer than 15 minutes, you’ve felt all these emotions and much more.
The more determined you are to plan solid lessons, the more determined students are to tune you out.
1. Increase Student Engagement by Using Shorter Tasks
Break instruction into shorter, smaller time durations and change up the tasks.
Students’ attention spans are far too short for our long school days. As a general rule, expect to hold students’ attention for about as many minutes as their age. For example, if a student is 7 years old, you can expect him to pay attention for about 7 minutes.
Keep that guideline in mind while planning lessons and activities for class.
We can teach in shorter increments and break up lessons by involving student movement, discussion with peers, written work or prompts, using manipulatives, or hands-on activities and crafts.
Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs)
Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs) are still 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 do some writing or cutting. I often address the class again before directing students to do some coloring, solving, and gluing. I try to keep the cutting and assembly to a minimum to avoid spending too much class time cutting and gluing.
The Turn and Talk Method
The Turn and Talk Method encourages students to explain what they just learned in their own words.
Students simply turn to the classmate seated beside them and have a short discussion about what they just learned and what questions they still have.
Students have a special gift of making learning easy for fellow classmates to understand. They can learn so much from one another.
Hands-on learning works very well for all learners because while they manipulate objects, they learn through experience rather than relying on attention and memory. Hands-on learning includes projects, crafts, and manipulatives. It’s one of the easiest ways of keeping students’ attention focused without them even realizing that they’re learning.
As students practice new skills, they increase independence, develop critical thinking, use creativity, and learning retention is increased.
2. Keep ‘Em Guessing
Keep students on their toes by using index cards or popsicle sticks with students’ names written on them to randomize who is being called on to participate. During discussions, pull a random stick (or card, or bookmark) and that student is first up to answer the question.
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?
Sometimes, I forget if “Johnny” has read already or if I’ve called on Ramon that day – or was it yesterday? Eeks! My days are blurring together!
3. Include Real-Life in your lessons
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 ZERO importance, you assign it Low Priority. Honestly, who cares that Freddie’s Aunt Matilda bought a new motorcycle or that Ronnie’s brother has an ear ache? It’s boring, you don’t care, and don’t need it. Low Priority.
It goes in one ear and out the other . . .
BUT – if the information IS important, useful, and necessary – it will become High Priority. You’re instantly engaged and motivated. 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 and self-absorbed. They’re interested in the “here and now”.
Become 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. Make it a Game
Task Cards – Scoot – Treasure Hunts – they’re 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. They’re versatile and can be incorporated into games – like board games, hangman, or tic-tac-toe on the whiteboard. Simple, yet fun and engaging!
Easy ways to change up the rules: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.
- boys solve the odd and girls solve the evens
- brown eyes solve the first ten, and other eye colors solve the next ten.
- differentiated task cards with my strugglers solving certain cards while other students use enrichment cards.
Want to learn more about Task Cards? Click HERE to learn “How to Energize Your Teaching with Task Cards!”
Have you played Hot Seat? 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 really well at this website: HOT SEAT.
Sometimes I just allow students to play tic-tac-toe with a partner while I’m working with a small group. Students need only a pile of task cards and paper (or whiteboards).
My tic-tac-toe rules:
- Task cards are set face down 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
Without a doubt, the simple act of being excited about your teaching and lessons adds SO, SO, SO MUCH!
Remember that teacher you had way back when who spoke in a MONOTONE and was so incredibly boring? Don’t be that teacher!!!!
If you’re excited, your students will 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 teachers 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.
For sure there are days 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 will love you for it.
And 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!