Friday, September 6, 2013

What's the Big Deal Anyway?...Engaging Students in the Classroom

Teachers spend countless hours writing lesson plans and tailoring activities to meet the needs of their students. They modify, accommodate, and differentiate. They plan for whole group, small group, collaborative pairs, and individuals. They are on top of their game and know the score. They love their students like their own children. But sometimes, many stop and ask, "What's the big deal anyway?" 

Whether the answer to the above question be to provide the best educational experience possible or simply to remain sane throughout the school year, teachers need to know how engaging students in the classroom works. By engaging students, they are taking responsibility for their learning. They are buying into the concepts being taught in class, and they are taking an active (rather than passive) role in their learning. 

Here are some simple, yet effective ways to get students engaged in the classroom. 

1. Enlist their help. Students love to help in the classroom. It makes them feel a part of the whole group. Opportunities arise all of the time for teachers to enlist the help of their students. This can be asking them to help you demonstrate a concept through role-play, be the score keeper of the class review game, or even help pour the ingredients into the "stone soup" that the class is making (see above picture). 

2. Provide opportunities for games. What child does not like to play games? I know as an adult, I still love to play games of all sorts. Any time you can provide students with several minutes for any type of game, you have their attention. The wonderful idea about games is there are so many varieties for teachers to choose from to engage their students. You can play Jeopardy as a whole class, Scoot as a review game with task cards, use flash cards and have the students beat the timer, etc. 

3. Use centers and task cards. Students LOVE task cards of all types. Create a place in your classroom that will be the "Center Headquarters" and have students rotate through the center. Use task cards for the concepts you are teaching in class. Students concentrate on the one thing each task card is asking, and the students are getting extra practice to master the concept. 

4. Assign fun projects. My students loved working on projects. With the rigorous curriculum and dwindling budgets, it is easy to stray away from assigning projects for the students to complete. However, projects provide a hands-on learning experience that is very valuable to the students. The above project was completed by two of my former students. They had to create a city. They used brownies as their buildings and icing  and candy to construct their roads and green spaces. They had a blast doing this, and it is something they will always remember. Projects do not always have to cost a lot of money. At the beginning of each year, send home a list of items that you would like the parents to send to school as they collect them throughout the year (ex: toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, Pringles cans, old newspapers and magazines, and any new, inexpensive items students could use to create projects). You will probably find, the parents will send it in without reservation. 

5. Take a trip. Learning about history is always more meaningful when you can see it. I know this is very difficult to do in many cases. With that said, there are ways to visit places without costing tons of money. One way is through virtual field trips. With Internet, it is possible to see places instead of just looking at pictures in a textbook. If your school is within walking distance to a courthouse, take a walking field trip when you are studying the judicial system. Many judges and lawyers are more than happy to speak with students if you call ahead of time and tell them you are coming. And if money is available, take your students to places they may not ordinarily go with their parents. The more they see and hear, the more they will learn and know. 

Engaging students in the classroom is critical. Get them up, get them moving, and get them actively participating in the classroom. You will have students who love to learn and who are willing to dig deeper because it is interesting to them. 

I hope everyone has a fantastic Friday!

Thank you to Graphics From the Pond for the use of the chevron borders! 


  1. Great tips; thanks Andrea! I particularly like your suggestion to create a list of "classroom collectibles" to send home to parents for use in projects. In addition to being useful for classroom projects, you are modeling for reuse and sustainability!
    Crafting Connections

  2. Love your blog post. I agree 100% :)


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