How to Use Engagement Strategies to Promote Learning in the Classroom

Student engagement: it’s a high and lofty goal for every teacher. And it’s essential for meaningful learning and progress. As teachers we can’t force it or manufacture student engagement; but we can incorporate some effective and fun engagement strategies in the classroom to keep our students connected, excited and involved in meaningful learning.

What Does Student Engagement Look Like?

What is academic engagement? Is it a light bulb moment? A learning insight as quick and electrifying as a flash of lightning? Is it a dramatic “Helen Keller/Annie Sullivan-at-the-water-pump” scene in which a child finally “gets it” and is overcome with an insatiable thirst for learning?

Ummmm….sometimes. Of course we’d love to see those big, transformative moments occur in every student, every day. But to be honest, sometimes the light bulb is the size of a small penlight, the lightning is more like a brief spark, and the water pump only yields a trickle. Yet we still give everything we can. We teach our hearts out every day, and we do all we can to promote student engagement that results in meaningful learning. Real engagement happens one student at a time; and we LOVE it when we see it taking place!

Sometimes that’s a big grin and an “I got it, Mrs. DiGilio!” At other times it’s seeing a student break into a chuckle as he’s engrossed in a book during independent reading. Often it’s overheard when students are doing partner shares, quietly but animatedly discussing a Guided Reading text. Whatever it looks like, we know it when we see it; don’t we? Our goal is to see every student fully involved and excited about learning and processing new information.

Engagement Strategies Can Build Community and Collaboration

Student engagement takes place at the individual level, but our classrooms are busy little learning communities! How do we balance the individual student’s need for behavioral, emotional and cognitive involvement, while encouraging teamwork and collaborative learning? Both sides of the educational coin are important and necessary.

You can incorporate engagement strategies within the walls of your classroom in a variety of settings for both individuals and groups. Incorporate activities that excite and inspire learning in whole group and small group instruction times. Allow your kiddos opportunities to experience those “Aha” moments individually as well as collaboratively. A turn-and-talk during Guided Reading small group or a partner share during shared reading gives students the opportunity to think about what they’ve read and verbalize their thoughts. The added benefit of hearing another insight or point-of-view can increase the interest and engagement. Teamwork makes the dream work!

“So here’s how you do it…”
Clear Instructions Set the Stage for Engagement Strategies in the Classroom

Literacy centers are perfect vehicles for incorporating fun, hands-on practice activities. The use of hands-on, interactive strategies will help the students in your classroom to remain engaged and actively involved in learning. But your kiddos have to be taught the process before they begin! The engaging activities students will participate in at literacy centers should first be taught and modeled in whole group and small group settings. This initial modeling and demonstration prior to adding an activity to a literacy center will prevent needless interruptions while you’re conducting Guided Reading small groups. Best of all, it will prepare students for the activity and will allow individual students to dive right in when they encounter it at a literacy center.

Make sure directions are clear and kid-friendly. Include both words and pictures on all of your shelf labels, center directions and schedules. If a number of students seem unclear or confused about a center activity, reteach the procedures during a quick mini-lesson. It’s not necessary to change every center every week, but you should have a supply of materials and activities that can be changed out periodically to keep things fresh.

Keep it Moving…
Clap, Dance, March–Whatever it Takes to Engage Those Kiddos!

While we value a calm, quiet classroom, we also know the value of a little physical activity to stimulate the brain and sharpen focus! It can calm the wiggles, help clear minds and redirect attention. A quick activity such as a rhythmic hand clap pattern or a grammar dance video can help make a tricky concept or strategy memorable.

Want to engage your students? Use them as the engagement tools! Line-up students across the front of the class to create a human timeline for a history or social studies lesson. Give students cards representing prefixes, suffixes, or other word parts or parts of speech, and have them line up accordingly to compose words or sentences.

“Listen-up!”
Engagement Strategies promote Active Listening
Which Results in Active Learning in the Classroom

To encourage active learning, create an atmosphere that’s conducive to active listening. Minimize visual distraction, noise and needless interruptions. Easy, right? Maybe not, but it is an attainable goal. Have a clear behavior management plan, and follow-through with consequences when necessary. Keep a positive tone within your classroom, and encourage your students to adopt a growth mindset.

Spread out chronic talkers to minimize distractions, and teach students effective questioning and discussion techniques. Establish hand signals, such as thumbs-up/thumbs down, to encourage quieter students to take part. When appropriate, use response cards, drawing exercises or other differentiated activities that allow students to respond to reading.

Create a positivewelcoming environment where students feel safe and are encouraged to take risks and tackle challenges in learning.

Engagement Strategies and Tools to Spark Learning

You have a list of your own, but here are a few simple ideas to get you started. I go into more detail about several of these items in my You Tube video “Top 10 Tools & Strategies for Effective, Engaging Guided Reading Instruction.”

  • Engagement tools for tracking reading: “Googly Eyes” finger rings, finger flashlights, witches fingers all help to keep little eyes focused on each word!
  • Foam Blocks: The beauty is, they’re QUIET! Students love working with these during word work. Use them to teach blends, digraphs, short vowel sounds, etc.
  • Whiteboards: These need not be expensive. Purchase a large sheet of showerboard at the home improvement store,and have it cut into smaller squares. Provide write & wipe markers, and use these boards for all types of word work instruction, making words, sight word practice, etc.
  • Write & Wipe Tape – Cut small pieces of Scotch Write & Wipe tape, and allow students to do word work on the tape strips. Your kiddos get tired of writing on plain paper all day. Change it up a little with erasable markers and whiteboard or tape!

Incorporate Technology

While most of us admittedly struggle with the distractions of social media in our personal lives, we also know how valuable technology is to us as teachers. Needless to say, there are a host of videos on line for teaching everything from phonics and sight words to science and math. While technology will never take the place of an effective and caring educator, it can be a huge help to you as you teach those sweet kiddos! There are soooo many exciting ways to use the latest technology and learning apps to increase student engagement! I dealt with this in a previous post; click here to read “Apps for Teaching Reading: 5 Things to Consider.

Get Guided Readers!

If you’re looking to incorporate an online program for best practices in literacy instruction, meet Guided Readers!

Guided Readers is my brand new comprehensive online Guided Reading program that provides hundreds of professionally leveled Guided Reading texts, rigorous and standards-based lesson plans, and word work instruction, based on best practices in literacy instruction. Best of all, the Digital Interactive Reader will also provide your students with oral comprehension, decoding, and fluency practice. You can address 21st century skills and engage students in open doorways to learning. Talk about using technology to promote engagement strategies in the classroom!

If you’re looking to engage young readers, you will LOVE Guided Readers! It will give you access to amazing lesson plans along with professionally illustrated printable & digital books and instructional materials. All texts are professionally leveled by Fountas & Pinnell and Lexile.com.

There are 3 affordable program plans for Guided Readers, and right now they’re at special introductory pricesClick here to get Guided Readers!

Thank you for stopping by; and thanks for all you do to inspire and motivate your students to become lifelong readers and learners!

Happy Teaching!

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