There’s nothing more fulfilling than for a teacher to discover that all students in the classroom are engaged during a lesson. At that moment, you know that you’ve created an excellent curriculum that is the right balance of education and interaction.
But not every lesson is like that and often you find yourself frustrated that students aren’t paying attention and seem to be more interested in other activities. Keeping students engaged is a significant challenge for most teachers.
How do you get them to stay connected with what you’re teaching? What do you do to help them stay on task and get their work done?
Here are a few tips for creating a more engaging experience for your students.
1. Create emotional and intellectual freedom.
Students who are afraid to give the wrong answer won’t be as willing to participate in front of a group. Make sure that you cultivate a classroom that is just as much about progress as it is about a product. Assure students that it’s totally fine to not always have the right answer and trying anyway is praised and encouraged. Let them express emotions when they need to, without shame or impatience.
2. Know when to change the pace.
Different age groups can focus for different lengths of time. Once your students have hit the end of their ability to pay attention, it’s time to change up the activity. Give them some time to stretch, do chair yoga, or another activity that gives their brains a little break. Once they’ve had the break, regroup them to continue with the lesson. Their minds will be more willing to work again with clarity.
3. Break projects down into steps.
Sometimes we see logical steps for completing a project, assignment, or lesson, but with some children, these steps will still be too big. Make sure to gauge how they’re doing at getting from one step to the next and decide if you need to add in intermediate steps. Get feedback from the students and alter your curriculum plans for the next time.
4. Add in activities to your lessons.
Let’s face it, no one likes sitting still at a desk for hours at a time. Make your lessons interactive and include movement activities. By changing the flow and pacing, you’ll bring new energy into the classroom and allow students to have enough variety that they can stay on task. Find out what works for their engagement level and retention, and then shape your lessons around those styles and needs.
5. Change the way you ask questions.
The traditional way of asking for someone to give the “right” answer doesn’t always keep students engaged. Find new ways of engaging students that allow everyone to participate. For example, try asking students the question and having them come up with the answers in their heads. Then, when everyone has the answer, ask them to all say that answer together in a quiet voice. This will give everyone time to process the question, figure out the answer, and share in the discovery.
6. Don’t be afraid to move faster.
When we’re teaching someone something, we tend to talk and move slowly. Often, that’s the appropriate pace for the task at hand. But sometimes the slow teaching style feels more like dragging and kills the energy and momentum. Figure out when students need you to pick up the pace and challenge them to stay on task so they can keep up.
7. Ask students to summarize and get feedback.
At the end of a lesson, have students teach the skill back to you. During the process, they might have questions about things they didn’t understand very well. This will help them understand the lesson at a much deeper level. Then ask students to provide feedback, especially if you tried a new tactic. Find out what they liked and what they would enjoy in future lessons.
Keep Working Toward More Engagement
If it’s evident in your classroom that students aren’t engaged, keep trying new things. These tips will get you started, but there are so many great ways to foster more engagement in your classroom. Change up the environment and desk arrangements, and experiment with different kinds of activities to get kids moving and exploring. Pretty soon, your classroom will be an engaged laboratory of learning.
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