Let’s be real: Sometimes, teaching feels like it’s half preparation and half theater. You can prep your lessons all you want, but then there’s one disruption—and boom! Your students’ attention is gone, and you can say goodbye to that concentration you worked so hard to create. Yeah, it’s enough to drive you crazy. So, if you’re looking for some fresh ideas to keep you from going insane, you’ve come to the right place. Here are 14 ways to keep students engaged in learning.
1. Encourage feedback.
Students tend to check out mentally when they’re passively learning, so one way to keep students engaged is to give them the chance to actively participate in the lesson.
Here’s how: This could be as simple as saying, “Raise your hand if you agree with this hypothesis” or “Write your answer to the next question on a piece of paper and hold it up.”
2. Ask lots (and lots!) of questions.
Another way to keep students engaged is by asking questions—lots and lots of them! Think about it: If you only ask your students a question once every so often, speaking up will feel like a big deal to them. But the more often your students participate, the sooner it won’t feel like such a big deal. Eventually, even the most introverted student will feel encouraged to speak up in class and stay engaged.
Here’s how: Try incorporating some games like Twenty Questions into your lessons and have your students guess what you’re trying to explain. If you need something to fill downtime or get your students used to participating, try out some conversation cards, like Questions for Humans: Classroom Edition. You might be surprised how this simple activity will break the ice and get your students used to speaking up in class.
3. Get your students’ blood pumping.
Movement is a great way to keep students engaged because it gets the blood flowing to their brains and increases mental clarity—so weave it into your lessons as often as possible.
Here’s how: In math class, have your students walk around the classroom and measure the square footage of the room. Also, take lots of breaks! Get your students to stand up, stretch their legs, and maybe even do some jumping jacks. That extra movement will help keep your students engaged for longer periods of time.
4. Play substitute teacher.
Have your students teach the material they just learned to someone else! It’s a great way for them to build confidence in their knowledge and solidify the material they just learned—and it makes your job of keeping them engaged way easier if they’re initiating it.
Here’s how: Have your students teach one-on-one at home for their parents or siblings, or have them mock tutor another student! If you want to make it a class activity, have students take turns sharing something quickly in front of the class.
5. Hide a magic word in your lessons.
Sometimes, all you need to keep students engaged is to keep them looking forward to (or looking for) something. Tell your students what the magic word is, then try to sneak it past them in a lesson.
Here’s how: The magic word should be something you wouldn’t normally use—and the crazier, the better! For example, if your word of the day is pineapple, you could sneak it into your social studies lesson like this: “The early pioneers traveled west with all the food they could carry—flour, corn and even pineapple.” When your students catch the magic word, switch it up! Soon, you’ll have them hanging on to your every word.
6. Create anticipation.
We all need something good to look forward to. This could be something as simple as playing a game as a class, watching an educational video, or doing an afternoon project.
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Here’s how: Pick a few activities per month, set a date for each one, and create a countdown. You can build anticipation for the activity by updating the countdown every day until it happens!
7. Set some goals.
An easy way to keep students engaged is to set goals as a class and as individuals. Encourage your students to set goals that are specific, measurable and time sensitive. Make sure to write these goals down, reference them often, and celebrate as your students stick to their goals and hit them! Also, encourage your students to choose an accountability partner to share their goals with—whether that’s a classmate or a family member.
Here’s how: In the classroom, create a monthly reading goal for your students. This can be based on the number of words, pages or books read—whatever your students seem most excited about. When you hit your monthly goal, reward them with a pizza party! Now your students have a reason to actually complete their assigned reading (and not just use Spark Notes to get by on quizzes). Outside of the classroom, encourage your students to set a goal for a hobby they’re interested in. The more motivated they are outside of the classroom, the more likely they are to engage inside the classroom.
8. Tell a joke (or two!).
How good are you at stand-up comedy? Just kidding! But seriously, sprinkling jokes throughout your lessons will really help keep your students engaged and wondering what’s next. We’re talking every hour, on the hour (or whenever there’s a natural break in a lesson).
Here’s how: Use everything from simple knock-knock jokes to full-blown riddles. Your students will love the variety. For even more participation, have your students bring their favorite joke and share it during a joke break (but make sure they keep it PG). You might be amazed by how laughter can bring life and energy to your classroom!
9. Mimic the lesson.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and keeping students engaged definitely falls into that second category. Surprise your students by impersonating someone from that day’s lesson! They’ll never see it coming.
Here’s how: Dress up as Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird during literature, pretend to be Winston Churchill during history, or pose as Albert Einstein during math. You can keep it simple with just a couple of props or go all out with a full costume if that’s more your style. The options here are endless—and your students will love it.
10. Give class awards.
Throughout the month, have your students nominate each other for the good things they’ve noticed in each other. Then, pick a few winners and award those students at the end of the month.
Here’s how: You can go silly with awards like the Technological Guru Award for the student who’s always helping you out with tech issues (no judgment here). Or you can encourage your students to call out the good things they see in each other with the Most Likely to Help a Classmate With Their Homework Award or Best Smile Award. You might be surprised by what your students see in their peers and how it’ll motivate others to go the extra mile in class!
11. Incorporate your students’ interests.
Curiosity often drives learning. And since every student has unique and interests, it’s no surprise they’ll each engage with the lesson differently. So, one way to capitalize on those differences and keep students engaged in learning is to incorporate their interests into the lesson when you can.
Here’s how: In math class, a problem that reads, “John ate four apples,” could easily be changed to, “Elaine milked four cows,” if you have a student named Elaine who lives on a dairy farm. It’s a simple switch, but it’ll really help the lesson hit home for your students.
12. Individualize assignments.
Making connections between learning and personal experiences is an easy way to keep students engaged. So, whenever possible, encourage your students to incorporate their talents and interests into the projects they’re working on.
Here’s how: For a book report on Romeo and Juliet, one student might prefer to put their thoughts to music by performing a song for the class. Another student might choose to explore the historical context by sharing how Shakespeare’s work impacted the 16th century. Someone else might decide to draw or paint their favorite scene to go along with their book report.
13. Use students’ names as often as you can.
When students feel seen and known, they’re more likely to ask questions, participate in discussions, and succeed in school in general. Referring to students by their names (or nicknames) will help them feel like they belong—but also keep them accountable and paying attention in class.
Here’s how: Try to learn your students’ nicknames and use them in questions, on notes of encouragement, and even on the feedback you give them on their assignments. Any effort you make here with your students’ names will make a big impact.
14. Connect what they’re learning to the real world.
Whether you’ve been a teacher for five minutes or 15 years, you’ve heard students ask that question (you know the one): “When am I ever going to use this stuff?” So, as often as possible, help your students understand why they should pay attention and how the lesson will impact their lives in the future.
Here’s how: Find ways to help your students make connections between their homework and their futures. If you can do that, they’ll have a new sense of motivation, and it’ll be that much easier for you to keep students engaged.
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Teaching is no walk in the park—especially when it comes to keeping students engaged in learning. And here at Ramsey Education, we’re so thankful for you and your passion to bring hope to your students. These tips are just some of the ways you can keep students engaged and have fun doing it. You’re doing great, so keep it up!