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!).
But instead of competing for your students’ attention, what if there was a way to keep them hooked on your every word? It’s possible, and we want to help you get there. So, 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.
Encourage Active Participation
Humans were designed to move. Physical activity stimulates mental activity, so the more often you can get your students moving, the better!
- Promote feedback. Students tend to check out mentally when they’re passively learning, so offer opportunities for students to actively participate every three minutes. 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.” And don’t forget about the chat box! Encourage your remote students to chime in on the lesson in real time. You’ll be able to measure their engagement with all the emoji stickers you’ll get.
- Ask lots of questions. Another way students can participate is by answering questions—lots and lots of questions! Think about it: If you only ask your students a question once every hour, then speaking up to answer a question 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.
- Increase physical activity. Movement 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, have your students walk around the classroom (or their home) and measure the square footage. Also, take lots of breaks! Let your students stand up, stretch their legs, and maybe even do some jumping jacks. The extra movement will help them stay engaged for longer.
- Learn by teaching. A great way for students to build confidence in their knowledge and solidify the material they’ve learned is to have them teach it to someone else. So, whether it’s in front of the class or at home for their parents and siblings, offer your students the opportunity to teach someone else what they know.
Keep Them Hooked
Sometimes, all students need is something to look forward to (or look for) to keep their attention focused.
- Hide a magic word in your lessons. Tell your students what the magic word is, then try to sneak it past them in a lesson. The 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 might 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 your every word!
- Look forward to something together. We all 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 doing a fun project. 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 each day until it happens.
- Set goals as a class and as individuals. Encourage your students to set goals that are specific, measurable and time-sensitive. Be sure to write them down, reference them often, and celebrate as students stick to their goals and hit them! By celebrating the students who reached their goals, you’ll encourage others to stay on track with their own goals.
How good are you at stand-up comedy? Just kidding! But seriously, bringing laughter and joy into the classroom shouldn’t feel like a chore. Here are some easy ways to incorporate humor into your lessons and keep your students wondering what’s next.
- Tell jokes. (We’re not joking!) Sprinkle jokes throughout your day to keep things fun. We’re talking every hour, on the hour (or whenever there’s a natural break in a lesson). These could be anything from simple knock-knock jokes to full-blown riddles. For more participation, have your students bring their favorite joke to class and share it during a joke break. It’s amazing how laughter can bring life and energy to your classroom.
- Mimic the lesson. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Surprise your students by impersonating someone from the lesson. Dress up as Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird during literature, pretend to be Winston Churchill during your history lesson, 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.
- Give class awards. Throughout the month, have your students nominate their classmates for the good things they’ve noticed in each other. Then, pick a few winners and award those students at the end of each 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. 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 the 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!
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 seven apples” could easily be changed to “Sally milked seven cows” if you have a student named Sally who lives on a dairy farm. It’s a simple switch that helps the lesson hit home for students of any age.
- Individualize assignments. Whenever possible, encourage students to use their talents and interests when they work on projects. For example, with 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 about Shakespeare’s impact on the 16th century. Someone else might decide to draw or paint their favorite scene to go along with their book report.
- Use students’ names as often as you can. When a student feels known, they’re more likely to ask questions, participate in discussions, and succeed in school in general. Referring to students by name helps them feel like they belong and can boost academic achievement. Try to learn your students nicknames and use those too! Any effort you can make with your students’ names will make 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 real life?” So, 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. But just know: It’s often hard for students to imagine a theoretical future. So, if you can help them make the connection between their homework and what they see in their future life, they’ll have a new sense of motivation. And the Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum is full of real-life application to help you make that connection. It gives your students the practical tools they need to handle money the right way now and after graduation.
Teaching is no walk in the park—especially with distracted students. But here at Ramsey Education, we’re so thankful for you and your passion to bring HOPE to your students!