How To Engage Students? 6 Proven Ways to Engage Students

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Author: Jeromie Heath is a 10th year elementary teacher.  He has taught 1st-5th grade in Virginia and in Washington. He has been featured in local media (newspaper, news, journals, and tv) for his unique an innovative ideas on engaging students and customizing instruction to meet their needs (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YwReY_o7SU). He more recently received became a NBCT.  He has helped to write district curriculum for Science and is currently piloting the new NGSX standards for elementary Science. He is always trying to find ways to share his ideas with other teachers – and has a website that offers ideas, materials, and resources that he thinks leads to student success: https://sites.google.com/site/mrheathfunteacher/home

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I won’t bore you with explanations on WHY you should ENGAGE your students in learning – but rather the HOW.  Below are tips that I have either gathered over the years from colleagues, trainings, books, observing other classrooms, or just from my own interests and ideas on how to make learning FUN! There are examples of each these ideas (categories of engagement) and free materials on my website: https://sites.google.com/site/mrheathfunteacher/home

I’ve sorted ‘student engagement’ into different categories:

  • INTELLECTUAL Engagement
  • LEARNING STYLE Engagement
  • Engagement Through ENTERTAINMENT
  • Engagement Through SONG/MUSIC
  • Engagement Through HANDS-ON CENTERS
  • 21ST CENTURY Engagement

Intellectual

Leveled activities keep students engaged because the material isn’t too easy or too hard. Try creating leveled activities based on difficulty of task (EX: 5×6,15×6,  255×6)  or creating different leveled questions (EX: What’s the author’s purpose of this text?  How could the text be changed to strengthen the author’s purpose?).

Leveled Texts teach the same topic but address the learning needs of all readers. Find different levels of books but that all teach the same topic.

A Challenging Multi-tasked Activity gives students a purpose and intent when completing the activity.  Create a task that involves several skills and would take more than one person to do. (EX: Read this text about plants, create a context clues chart, write a summary, draw a diagram of a plant life cycle using the info from the text, and then create an investigation someone could do to test plant growth).

Learning Style

Plan for different types of learners. When planning a unit, think about including an equal balance of each of the following to ensure that all students can have more equitable access to learning: Hands – on or Body movement, Musical component, Group work, Individual work, Writing (reflection), Reading, Art component, Class debate or group conversation. Creating assessments that hit as many of these as you can also ensures student success.

Entertainment

Costumes and Classroom Décor add an element of fantasy/play to lessons.  You can buy a very cheap costume after Halloween sales or online during the summer (in off season) or you can make your own with thrift store buys.  Dressing up yourself or the classroom gets the kids excited about school and makes them look forward to coming every day.  (For Examples, watch this youtube clip:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfKMcEHaOno).

Special days and Themes tie standards together and make learning more memorable.  Studying Oregon Trail?  Have an Oregon Trail day! Or a Dr Seuss day, or Space day!  On your special days, do math, reading, science activities that all tie into that topic. I ask kids to wear a color (like red for Dr Seuss day).  I also bring in treats that tie in with the theme and play a class game.  (EX: Check out this video clip for my Greek/Roman day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpafcV9Hs5A)

Spicing up Powerpoints with music, animations, and movement makes learning a ‘game’.  I have a TON of online resources that could help you with this!  Some are filled with free animations.  Just edit copy and paste and make your powerpoints seem like video games!  (Email me for examples- I have Math and Science Powerpoints full of cartoons, animations, and movement: https://sites.google.com/site/mrheathfunteacher/home/teacher-stuff).

SONG/MUSIC

Add Music to the day’s activities (classical during Reading, upbeat for Math, techno for Science) creates a more fun and engaging atmosphere. The music can play quietly in the background as students work.  Please believe me, students don’t like it at first, but after just a few days they LOVE it and are more productive with it!

Music Videos (on Youtube or other websites) turn educational topics into fun ways to remember content.  Before you teach something, check to see if someone has created a song for it on youtube.  I have a channel of math, reading and science songs if you’d like to check it out: http://www.youtube.com/user/teachheath/videos

Hands-On Centers

Board games excite students and trick them into learning.  I’ve created a TON of math cards on different levels and then give students a board game.  Students can do about 100 questions in one hour! This is great for leveling your math lesson or for practice.  I have some board games on my website if you are interested:  https://sites.google.com/site/teachermrheath/home.

Centers can be engaging if they are: driven by student interest, revisitable, self-checking, last 5-10 min, and are easy to clean up.  Keep in mind that you are working with a child’s attention span. So, putting fun pictures, adding lots of color, and keeping the activity short will go a long way.  I have some examples on my website: https://sites.google.com/site/teachermrheath/home.

21st Century Engagement

Use 3d to teach! I bought 3d glasses online (50 cents each) then created a powerpoint using free 3d pictures online.  When students get an answer correct, they look at the picture!  Kids love it!

Use youtube or other videos online to help introduce lessons. There are a ton of videos out there of teachers, students, and experts that teach topics.  Before you teach a math lesson on fractions, type in “teaching fractions” on youtube to give you lots of ideas.

Find virtual field trips online or virtual labs to enhance Science/Social studies. Teaching Oregon Trail?  Just type in ‘Oregon Trail Virtual’ and you will get some very cool websites!

Set up a webpage that has a list of websites and resources for students and parents.  Gmail has a FREE site! If you have gmail, you can create your own website.  I use it to post info for parents, sites for students, and materials for other teachers.

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