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How to Keep Students Engaged in Learning

Let’s face it: Students are distracted these days. If it’s not social media, it’s somebody’s dog barking in the background during the virtual lesson (maybe yours—it happens!).

Instead of competing for your students’ attention, what if there was a way to keep them hooked on your every word? The next time you feel your class engagement drifting, battle their boredom with one of these tricks. You’ll keep things exciting, even if you’re separated by a computer screen or other classroom barriers.

Activate Participation

Humans were designed to move. Physical activity stimulates mental activity, so the more often you can get your students moving, the better!

  • Offer opportunities for students to actively participate every three minutes. Students tend to check out mentally when they’re passively learning, so you could say something as simple as, “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.” And don’t forget about the chat box! Tell your remote students to chime in on the lesson in real time. You can measure their engagement with all the emoji stickers you’ll get.  
  • Ask lots of questions. Another way for students to participate is by answering questions—lots and lots of questions! Think about it: If you only ask your students for feedback once every hour, it will feel like a big deal to be the one to speak up and answer the question. But the more often everyone participates, the sooner it won’t feel like such a big deal! Even the most introverted student will become encouraged to speak up in class and stay engaged.
  • Physical activity gets blood flowing to the brain and increases mental clarity, so weave it into your lessons as often as possible. For example, in math class you could have your students walk around their home and measure the square footage. Also, take lots of breaks for your students to stand up, stretch their legs, or even do jumping jacks.
  • Let students learn by teaching. A great way for students to build confidence in their knowledge and solidify learned material is to have them teach it to someone else. By preparing to teach and actually teaching, they’ll gain a deeper understanding of what they’ve learned than students who only learned by listening. Whether it’s in front of the class or at home for their parents and siblings, offer your students the opportunity to demonstrate what they know to others.

Keep Them Hooked

Sometimes, all students need is something to look forward to (or look for) to keep their attention!

  • Hide a magic word in your lessons. Let your students know what the magic word is and then try to sneak it past them in a lesson. The word should be something you wouldn’t normally use—the crazier the better! For example, if your word of the day is pineapple, you might use it in social studies to describe “the early pioneers traveled west with all the food they could carry: flour, corn, even pineapple.” When your students catch it, switch it up. You’ll have them hanging on your every word!
  • Look forward to something together. Now more than ever, we need good things to look forward to. This could be something as simple as playing a game as a class, watching an educational video, or a doing fun project. Pick a few activities per month, set a date for them, and create a countdown. Every day, write down how many days are left until the fun thing happens, and build up the anticipation!
  • Set goals together as a class and as individuals. Make sure they’re SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based. Write them down and reference them often, then celebrate as students stick to their goals and hit them! By celebrating students who reach their goals, others will be encouraged to stay on track with their own goals.

Use Humor

How good are you at stand-up comedy? Just kidding! Bringing laughter and joy into the classroom shouldn’t feel like a chore. Here are a few simple ways to incorporate humor into your lessons and keep your students wondering what’s next.

  • Tell jokes. We’re not joking! Every hour on the hour (or whenever there’s a natural break in a lesson), plug in a joke break. Sprinkle them throughout your day to keep things fun. These could be anything from simple knock-knock jokes to full-blown riddles. For more participation, give your students the option to bring their favorite joke to class and share it on a designated joke break. It’s amazing how laughter will bring life and energy to your students.
  • Role play. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Surprise your students by impersonating someone you’re learning about. Dress up and talk like Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird during reading, create a character from the 1940s during history’s lesson on WWII, or impersonate Albert Einstein during math. Keep it simple with a couple of props or go all-out with a full costume if that’s your style! The options here are endless, and your students will love it.
  • Give class awards. Ask your students to nominate their peers for qualities they noticed in them that month, pick a few winners, and award them to students at the end of the month. You can go silly with awards like The Most Likely to Own Shares in Zoom Next Year or The Most Unlikely to Get a Haircut in 2021. And you can encourage your students to call out the good things they see in their peers and recognize The Most Likely to Help a Classmate With Their Homework or The Best Smile. You might be surprised by what your students see in their peers, and it will motivate them to go the extra mile in class!

Make It Personal

Curiosity often drives learning. And since every student has a unique set of skills and interests, it’s no surprise that they’ll each engage with the lesson differently. Make connections to their personal experiences, and you’ll have more motivated learners!

  • Incorporate students’ interests into lessons whenever you can. For example, a math problem that reads “Jimmy had 7 apples . . .” could easily be changed to “Sally milked 7 cows . . .” if you have a student named Sally who lives on a dairy farm. It’s a simple switch that helps hit the lesson home for students of any age.
  • Individualize assignments. Whenever possible, encourage students to use their talents and interests when they work on projects so that it’s engaging for them. For a book report on Romeo and Juliet, one student might choose to put their thoughts to music by performing a song for the class. Another student might choose to explore the historical context by sharing about Shakespeare’s impact on the 16th century. Someone else might decide to draw or paint their favorite scene to accompany their book report.
  • Use students’ names as often as you can. Referring to students by name helps them feel like they belong, which tends to boost academic achievement. When a student feels known, they’re more likely to ask questions, participate in discussions, and succeed in school overall. Using your students’ names as much as you can is a small gesture that makes a big impact.
  • Connect what they’re learning with the real world. Students love to ask the question, “When will I ever use this in the real world?” As often as possible, try to help your students understand why they should pay attention and how the lesson will impact their life in the future. It’s often hard for students to imagine a theoretical future, so help them make the connection between their homework and their future life. They’ll have a new sense of motivation knowing how their schoolwork impacts them directly. For a curriculum that’s full of real-life application, check out Foundations in Personal Finance. It gives students the practical tools they need to handle money the right way after they graduate.

Teaching is no walk in the park—especially this year. Here at Ramsey Education, we’re so thankful for you and your passion to bring hope to your students!

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners.

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