Instructional Practices

How to Keep Students Engaged in the Classroom

5 Min Read
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Did you know that, instead of taking the bus or riding in the car with their parents, kids in remote areas of Colombia ride a zip line to school?

How would you feel if that was the case for you? Would it be fun or terrifying? It would certainly get those endorphins going first thing in the morning, don’t you think? I wonder if getting to school via a zip line gets these students ready to be engaged in classroom lessons.

Student engagement is an ever-present concern in today’s classrooms. Why? Because as a number of studies (and plenty of informal observations) have found, increased student engagement is linked to higher achievement and more effective classroom management.

But how can you be sure that your students are engaged? There are a number of teaching strategies that you can employ.

8 Teaching Strategies to Engage Students in the Classroom

1. Begin the lesson with an interesting fact

One way to jump-start the brain is to give it startling or interesting information. Look for facts that relate to the lesson to come, but don’t worry if they’re not a perfect match. The point is to wake students up and make them go, “wait, what?!”

2. Exude enthusiasm when delivering a lesson

Enthusiasm is contagious and, at the very least, entertaining to watch. If you’re excited and engaged with the topic you’re teaching, your students will at least give it a chance. If you obviously aren’t interested in teaching it, then in their minds, why should they be interested in learning it?

3. Find meaningful connections

While having your own enthusiasm for a topic is a good start, it isn’t enough to keep the students engaged in the long term. Instead, you need a way to bring them into that enthusiasm. One way to do this is to make the content being learned relevant and meaningful to them.

Ask the students questions: Have you ever . . . ? How would you feel if . . . ?

Incorporate areas of student interests into the lessons. When teaching writing, grammar, spelling, or reading, for example, you can create sentences and other content around things they like.

As an example, you could have your students try to find all the nouns in sentences like this: the superhero in the movie you watched last night turned into a spider.

4. Converse with students—don’t talk at them

Teaching isn’t just about what you teach and which activities you lead the students in; it’s also about how you teach it—how you speak to the students and present the information.

Think about your tone and demeanor when you’re having a conversation with someone. How is it different than when you’re presenting information to your class? It’s easy, especially when you’re presenting important foundational information, to talk at students instead of talking with them. Students are more likely to mentally check out when they’re passive recipients of information. So, instead of just giving the facts, think of this whole-class presentation time as though you’re having a conversation with your students and sharing something with them that you think is really great.

5. Turn lessons into games

Students learn best and are most engaged when they are having fun. With this concept in mind, more attention has been given in recent years to the benefits of playing games in the classroom. There are many ways to gamify a lesson, ranging from student-picked avatars to yearlong class quests.

6. Turn lessons into stories

Storytelling is another highly engaging strategy to use in the classroom. This practice, which has been around for thousands of years, engages both the emotional and logical parts of being human. Stories engage listeners and might help them to remember the information embedded within the story.

7. Maintain close proximity and eye contact

Have you ever noticed that you can “feel” it when someone is looking at you? It’s as if we unconsciously know when someone is paying attention to us! This seems to hold true at least in the classroom. Students are more likely to be engaged when you make eye contact with them and are standing nearby. Circulate around the classroom and make sure you engage every student and try to help them feel accountable.

8. Offer choices

Students, like most people, enjoy the opportunity to have choices. They like knowing they have control over some aspect of their learning. Having choices gives them agency. They are responsible for sitting up, taking notice, and making intentional decisions about which direction their education will take. Choices can come in many forms, such as deciding which topic to learn about, how to learn it, which activities to do, or how to present what they have learned.

Using a Variety of Tools in the Toolbox to Engage Students in a Lesson

In teaching, not every strategy will prove effective with every student. For this reason, it is good to think of these strategies as tools in your teaching toolbox that you can use when student interest starts to waver.

What do you think? Are there strategies that you remember engaging with the most when you were a student? As a teacher, which teaching strategies have you utilized that have most effectively engaged your students? What would you add to this list?

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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