Keeping students engaged and checking for their understanding while you’re teaching is kind of important.
You probably don’t have to think back too hard to remember a time you sat in a meeting where you were mentally unengaged (i.e. checked out). After a few minutes of sitting, if the leader lacked the ability to hold your attention, your mind probably started to wander to more “important” things… like thinking about that stack of papers waiting to be graded, an interesting side conversation, or a text from a friend. It happens to the best of us, and yes, it happens to our students, too. Because, let’s face it. If our students aren’t absorbed by what’s going on in the room, they’ll find something else that interests them.
Middle school teachers have a lot to compete with: screen time, friend dynamics, family issues, and extra-curricular activities, just to name a few. It’s definitely a challenge to gain students’ undivided attention in class. And once we have it, holding on to that attention all period long is not an easy feat. Neither is knowing if the instruction is always getting through.
The way most of us were taught, teachers checked for our understanding either by asking for raised hands, eye contact, or by giving some form of a test or quiz. This worked for most kids.
Today, we know from research that limiting ourselves to these techniques as our ONLY way to check for understanding is leaving opportunities on the table.
Giving students multiple ways to respond during your instruction helps them, and it helps you. The more intentional you are about providing those opportunities for increased student engagement, the more “turned on” their brains will be.
And that is a good thing!
The goal during instruction is to get as many brains “turned on” as possible.
Growing research tells us that problems with classroom engagement are associated with negative academic achievement and behavioral outcomes. Put another way, the higher the student engagement, the better the participation, and the more likely we are to see:
- Improved academic performance
- Increased school attendance
- Decreased inappropriate behavior
So is better engagement the magic pill?
In this post you’ll learn 15 techniques you can use (starting tomorrow!) in your classroom to increase student engagement. They are meant to be practical, quick, and inclusive. And while they aren’t necessarily a “magic pill”, they will tend to get more students on-task – and put them on notice that you expect them to be active participants in their learning. Most of them are a lot of fun, too!
See if you can add a few to your instructional bag of tricks. They can be used intermittently, in between chunks of direct instruction, as end-of-class exit passes, or simply as brain breaks when students need a chance to get up and move. You might be surprised at how your class responds, how YOU feel better about the increased participation, and about knowing how much they’re learning along the way.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #1:
Teacher asks for a commitment on a quick decision (checking for understanding, and giving students a brief brain break), e.g., “if you think Peter will win the prize in our story, hold up one finger, if you think Joe will win, hold up two fingers, if you don’t know, hold up three fingers; ready, SHOW!”
Student Engagement Quick Tip #2:
Make it a Competition (against time, against peers, against teacher)
- Vocabulary games (Quizlet, Kahoot, etc.)… time
- Add Rock, Paper, Scissors as part of review… peers
- Stump the Chump… teacher
Student Engagement Quick Tip #3:
Do it in Slo-Mo
Take the concept learned in class and have students act it out with a partner in slow motion.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #4:
Have students make up a game to learn information. The game created must include:
- How to score
- Some type of challenge/strategy
- Include content/information learned in class.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #5:
Take two minutes to sketch a scene/create a mini-storyboard that retells about the content learned. AFTER the storyboard sketch, THEN ask students to write about it or answer a prompt (or just discuss with a partner).
Student Engagement Quick Tip #6:
Students each draw a picture of one aspect from the day’s instruction or topic (either give the students the topics or allow them to choose). When all students have completed their picture, then the students stand and must put themselves in order without talking. Discuss as a class when the group feels they are ready to reveal the correct order (may have more than one solution – which is OK).
Student Engagement Quick Tip #7:
With choral responding, the teacher asks for a word or phrase to be repeated. For example, “What is the absolute value of -6?” Response, “6!” This is one way to get a quick glimpse of the entire class, and is best used for rote responses, where there is ONE right answer. Caveat: Use sparingly. It’s easy for the students who do not know the answer to stay anonymous.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #8:
Write it Out
All students stand up. Students write name of a key vocabulary word/historical term/correct math answer, etc. in the air with right index finger, left index finger, left foot, right foot and finally entire body. Alternatively, one student can write while another guesses the word, based on the content of the day.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #9:
Help students to get up and get moving, while also engaging them in their learning! Have them stand and walk around the room, touching 5 different desks (or fist bumping five different people, etc.). Whoever they are nearest to when they reach number “5” becomes their partner for a discussion prompt.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #10:
Teach Your Partner
Breaking content into chunks, every few minutes, the teacher pauses and has students turn to a partner in the room. Student “A” teaches the content that the teacher just taught to their partner, while student “B” silently listens. Add a requirement for the students to come up with simple gestures, so that their whole body is engaged as they teach their peer. Students switch roles and repeat.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #11:
Using a random letter generator online such as this one, have students encapsulate what they’ve learned with one word that begins with that letter. The word needs to be “backed up” by a brief explanation of why they choose it and how it relates to the learning.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #12:
Random Names + Signals (w/Multiple Answers)
To help ensure all students are on their toes, use popsicle sticks or another random name generator to ask a question of the class. Be sure to ask the question before you select/announce the name. Using questions that have more than one answer helps differentiate for the lower level students, as everyone will need to be prepared with at least one answer, and some may have more. Using a “silent” signal (hand signal, etc.) also prevents the students who usually blurt out responses from stealing the spotlight from those who might need more time.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #13:
A few minutes before the end (or the beginning) of class, students summarize the key concepts of a topic with a short hashtag. The teacher may ask that students give a brief explanation, so that it is clear how they are making the connections.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #14:
Predict the Test
Ask students, in pairs or triads, to review their notes and come up with a test question that the teacher might ask to check their understanding. They must also answer their own question, justifying it with content learned in the class/text.
Student Engagement Quick Tip #15:
Give students a task of creating a 15-30 second video (similar to the length of time for an Instagram or Snapchat story) that summarizes their understanding of a particular topic/chapter/character, etc. Students take turns recording their videos and the teacher either selects a few to show to the class (screened first, of course), or uses as formative information to integrate into the next day’s lesson. This also makes a great homework assignment!
Want the list?
Click here for a PDF of all 15 tips to download/print.