8 Strategies to Engage Students
Student engagement strategies, like those shared here, are designed to inspire teachers to empower their students with a goal of increasing attention, curiosity, and passion. Of course, student engagement is human engagement and people are complex at all ages. While these strategies can help to improve engagement, there is no single recipe or response that will magically turn the disengaged youth of your classroom into fully engaged and energized learners. Please be sure to involve the appropriately trained professionals in all matters related to mental or emotional health for teachers and students alike.
Teachers are often left feeling drained and overwhelmed when students don’t participate or become a distraction in the classroom due to low engagement.
With low student engagement in the classroom, teachers spend more time managing negative behavior and trying to motivate disengaged learners who may even be actively resisting motivation or engagement. This article is designed to help teachers engage with students in the classroom by providing 8 strategies to maximize student engagement.
1. Scaffolding to Pace Learning
In creating a meaningful lesson, a teacher must consider which learning outcomes to expect, what ways to deliver the lesson, any supplies the teacher or students will need, and what core content knowledge the students must begin with to understand the material. Scaffolding takes this further by chunking the overall goals of the lesson into sections supported by activities and learning opportunities.
For example, instead of assigning students to read a paper and then write a page about what they learned, a teacher can “scaffold” the lesson to support the student by first defining the vocabulary in the article and then summarizing the article in your own words. When done reading, consider discussing with the students how it relates to them to build relevance before then having students begin writing.
Scaffolding is a powerful technique that can increase engagement throughout the learning journey. Meeting students where they are and providing meaningful and personalized scaffolded activities will help students build confidence and should help students increase participation and engagement in the classroom.
2. Integrate Project-Based Learning (PBL)
Integrate project-based learning where students engage in real-world projects to answer personally-meaningful questions over an extended time period. Different from “doing a project,” Project-Based Learning involves students working toward the answer to a complex question or problem and then creating a public demonstration of gained knowledge for a real audience outside of the teacher. This is one of the best ways to increase engagement because students will respond to the problem or question in an authentic way and craft a response that challenges them to view the solution from different perspectives.
While many smaller tasks will need to be taken to complete the whole project, asking “what are you learning?” at each stage will reinforce learning and keep students interested and engaged. Encouraging student curiosity through this self-reflection helps students understand how to be creative and self-directed learners.
See How LiFT Learning Empowers Teachers to Empower Learners: Watch Our PBL Platform Demo Video
3. Connect Learning to Their Own Life
One of the most overlooked ways to engage with students is to connect what they learn to their own life experiences. For example, students can practice uncovering personal connections to a concept in a sketchbook-style journal.
After reading about a new idea, students write about how the new information connects to what they already know and their life and then create a free-hand sketch to solidify their learning experience.
4. Design Thinking for Leaders
Learning environments are primarily structured from the top down, where administrators make most decisions that impact students. Instead, give students leadership roles and a voice to work together with the administration to help design impactful environments and choices for students.
Design thinking empowers students to take ownership and responsibility for their learning because they become a partner in their educational experience rather than passive learners.
5. Differentiated Tasks
Since not all students learn at the same pace or are at the same level, creating differentiated tasks to match their skill level can engage more students. Providing different levels of classwork to accommodate where each student can be successful while still reaching learning goals will keep students interested and on-task.
Students will be more invested in their classwork because they can take ownership of their learning choices.
6. Host a Dialogic Classroom
Rethink classroom structure to create a more inclusive, engaged student experience with three fundamental changes.
- In-class Reflection: Provide extended periods to reflect on content before the discussion to encourage greater engagement from those who process slower or may be hesitant to be “the first” to respond.
- Questions That Shape: Create questions that evoke a story, comparison, or nuance rather than a binary or simple response.
- New Structures: Designate students to be “listeners” or “questioners” or “helpers” to encourage different roles and new patterns of responding to information and problem-solving.
7. Support Individualism in Groups
Students arrive in their classrooms with a wide range of abilities, interests, and innate skills. Students have a natural curiosity about the world around them regardless of the content taught in their classrooms. Teachers that connect with this instinctive questioning nature will inspire student engagement and help to build lifelong learners.
A straightforward way to support the individual is to put a greater focus on sharing their opinion and presenting their work. Sharing progress with the whole class can be intimidating for anyone and is often challenging for teachers to facilitate.
By paring up students or placing them into small groups, students can express their unique voices in a more personal setting.
8. Transformational Teaching
Instead of focusing on the academic concept, create work that shows how learning changes lives. Transformational teaching allows students to see the immediate and direct connection to concepts in their lives, making complex ideas more tangible and easier to grasp.
Students who may become bored, disengaged in class, or don’t see the relevance of a topic taught in a traditional manner can be re-engaged when a new concept is applied to a self-directed project where they can flex their creativity while practicing the new idea or skill.
As a New Hampshire educator at the forefront of the competency-based movement, Joey taught Cultural Geography in grades 9-12 at Pinkerton Academy. He was awarded New Hampshire’s Teacher of the Year in 2014 before taking a leadership role as Director of Education at Education First. At EF, he was responsible for improving the learning experience of participants in travel programs through accreditation, strategic partnerships, and product development.