Yawning, heads down, staring off into space. No, this isn’t just teachers in professional development. Our students struggle to stay engaged and attentive every single day. Sometimes it may feel like we have to do jumping jacks in a clown suit to keep their attention. And, even then, they will lose interest quickly. Here are 9 FREE engagement strategies to use with students.
Here are some of my favorite, easy and free engagement strategies.
- Tell a Joke: When I was student teaching, my dad bought me a book called “If They’re Laughing, They Might Just Be Listening” and that message has always stuck with me.
- Talk in a different voice: Maybe accents aren’t your thing, I get it. But some of my favorite moments have been when I switch up my normal speaking voice to imitate a game show host or cartoon character.
- Allow student choice: Giving students a choice about how they will practice a skill or show what they know creates a sense of ownership. It has been linked to increases in students’ effort, performance, and learning. It could be as simple as choosing between two worksheets, picking their own topic to write about, or deciding on writing a poem, story, or play.
- Add movement: Getting students out of their seats wakes up their brains and ignites engagement. My favorite activities that include movement are scoots, games, and 4 corners. Check out some of my favorite classroom games.
- Make a chant: Have your students help with creating a chant/call back that will help support learning in the topic you are working on. This will not only get them involved in creative thinking skills but it will also be useful in remembering the material.
- Include your students’ names: This one is quick and easy! I love adding my students’ names to our word problems or stories. It can be as simple as including their name in your morning message. “Yesterday, Ashley shared that she has been working hard on her gymnastics routine. What’s something you are working hard on?” Sometimes, I switch out a name in a book we are reading. It really makes them perk up and pay attention!
- Include your students’ interests: Another easy way to get students excited about what you are teaching. One year, I had a student who did not want to participate in anything. Literally nothing. I found out he liked dirt bikes so I started there. I found every book I could about dirt bikes and he started opening up. Find out what they like and use it to your advantage!
- Use highlighters: I love to give highlighters as my back-to-school gift. You could incorporate using highlighters into any subject. For writing/grammar, have students write a sentence and then highlight whatever the focus is like nouns, verbs, and adjectives. For reading, students read a passage and answer questions using the highlighter to show their answers. In math, during independent practice instead of doing the whole page, have students highlight 10 problems to complete. For science, students could highlight the keywords in the directions/questions. In social studies, students could highlight important vocabulary and use the words in a Frayer.
- Add music: This one is among my top favorites! Long ago, I worked with one teacher who made it a goal to play every Beatles album in the background while his students worked. Music is transformative! Anytime I’m in a bad mood and put on some favorite tunes, I can typically pull myself out of it. Pick songs that pair well with what you are learning or just play some calm or uplifting beats to change the mood. One year, I was teaching 6th-grade Language Arts in summer school. We listened to songs and analyzed different lyrics to find poetic elements. It was the perfect way to kick off what is typically not a “fun” experience.
It’s a constant battle and one that we as teachers lose often. Finally, there’s only so much we can do. Let’s be real, not every subject/skill/lesson can be as fun as riding on a hoverboard while eating an ice cream cone (that seems more dangerous than fun to me but you get what I’m saying).
Being intentional with quick, easy strategies can be the key to a lesson’s success. Deciding what engagement strategies to include ahead of time or simply having a bunch of tricks ready to go in our back pocket is what sets apart the amateur from the expert.