Whether you’re a first-year teacher or a veteran teacher heading back to school to get your master’s, you know that sometimes, engaging your students can be difficult. If you’re stuck in an engagement rut, fear not! With these ideas, student engagement will become less stressful and become a natural part of your classroom routine.


1. PLAN, PLAN, and PLAN!

We are teaching a generation known for getting bored easily. We have to plan the details of each lesson to find the dead space so we can avoid any downtime. That’s when things can get rowdy! When planning a lesson, think about the space you have between tasks. Are you going to spend four minutes passing out papers? Will you have technology issues? Think about how to fill that space. Assign a student helper, one who might need some extra movement, and let them be your Paper Passer. While he or she is distributing materials to classmates, you can continue to review instructions. You’re taking advantage of every minute that you have with your kids!


When you’re planning activities, think about your students’ interests. What do they talk about during lunch? What TV shows do they watch after school? What sport do they love to play at recess? Use their interests to your advantage. Students are more likely to pay attention to a lesson with math problems using their favorite athletes’ names. If you need to create a behavior chart for certain students, ask them what graphics they’d like you to put on it! Let them decorate their folders with stickers you bought of a popular new TV character. They will take ownership of things when they have a personal attachment. They will also notice how hard you’re working to get to know them, and trust me, they’ll love you for that.


With all of the rigorous expectations placed on our students, we’ve got to remember that their brains are working on overload. While writing this post, I’ve taken several brain breaks myself! Incorporating a variety of breaks will allow students to be more productive and engaged during lessons and independent work. Mix it up with exciting movement breaks, calming meditations, Yoga poses, and quiet coloring breaks. My students are ready to learn after they’ve had time to recharge!


We can’t expect our students to be energized and excited if we’re not. This can be hard when we’ve already had morning duty and several meetings and stayed up late grading papers, but it’s an expectation we should set for ourselves. I’ve learned to stop my lessons when I feel my students are tired or overwhelmed. We take a quick break and talk about how we need to put energy into our learning, then we get back to it. Smile, move around, have a big presence, be energized, get loud, and have FUN! If we’re just reading from a textbook and not working to engage our students, that’s the response we can expect from them. We have to buy into the things that we want our students to get excited about. It can be something as small as a new classroom management tool, but if you sell it well, they will buy it.


Doing a big review before a test? Working on a new concept and need an exciting way to introduce it? Break out the board games, basketball goals, dice, and bowling pins. Using games in the classroom gives your students a way to have fun, encourage each other, take a break, and stay engaged all at the same time. When planning to use games in the classroom, remember that content should be at the center of the excitement. Just like tip No. 1, make sure you plan, plan, and plan! Are your students in small groups or working individually? What concepts are you going to review? What are the behavior expectations? How long do you plan to let students play? Plan enough activities so that ALL students are involved. There should be no down time for anyone!


I always ask my students for popular music suggestions before making a new content song. Remember tip No. 2? Students will be more likely to rock out to a song to the tune of their favorite hit rather than something that they’ve never heard before. Print lyrics, count the syllables to each line, and come up with a tune that will help students remember important concepts for months to come. There have been many times when I’ve given a test and heard students humming one of our songs to help them recall information. But just like every other engagement tip, content comes first! Don’t use songs to introduce new concepts, and don’t throw the whole song at the kids during one lesson. Split it up so they will learn it and use it in the future! Tip No. 4 comes in handy here, too. Even if you’re not the best singer, you’ve got to act like you’re on American Idol! Don’t worry about singing on key, rhyming, or using the whole song, just get the important facts in the lyrics and you’re good to go.


One of my favorite ways to engage students is by dressing up. It’s also one of the easiest ways! I have a large bucket in my room full of Hawaiian leis, funny hats, tacky shirts, clown shoes, dinosaur costumes, spy gear, feather boas, and much more. Whenever we’re reading a book or working on a topic that I can use a costume with, I will go for it 100 percent, no matter how silly I look or feel! Students are automatically more engaged if you’re dressed up, even if it’s something as simple as wearing a hat and speaking with an accent. Don’t over-complicate things or stress about the perfect outfit. Get comfortable being silly! If you are into it, you students will be, too.


There are so many resources for student and classroom engagement right at your fingertips. Use things that are laying around your classroom or school to provide the extra “umph” needed to keep your students’ attention. Ask your P.E. teachers for ideas for games that you could use in the classroom. Have the principal come in one day dressed up as a character from the book you’re reading. Ask parents and volunteers to donate supplies for a classroom transformation. Engagement does not have to be something time-consuming that you stress over or spend a lot of money on. Your teaching community can be your best resource! Ask your team or other teachers at your school for ideas on engagement. My back-to-school unit had a pirate theme this year. The librarian brought me tons of books, the ESL teachers gave me posters, and a parent gave me a costume. People are always willing to help. Soon, you’ll see that you had the tools for amazing classroom engagement all along. You just needed some tips to give you that extra push!

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About the Author

This guest blog post on ways to engage students is written by Megan Williams, a 3rd grade teacher residing in Dallas, TX.  Follow on instagram @mswilliamsyall