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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

An Engaged Classroom . . . Dos and Don'ts

An Engaged Classroom . . . Dos and Don'ts

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We all know that students when students are truly engaged in their learning classroom discipline becomes a non-issue. So without going into specific activities, what I would be interested in hearing what types of activities engage in different age groups, and what types of activities will shut them down. I think we will find that there are more do's and don'ts than we realize! I'll start with the easy and obvious don't - lecturing! There are those times when you just have to tell them something, but I think it's best to keep this at 5 min. or less for younger students, and not much more for older students.

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Kim's picture

I have found that if my students feel like they're learning something that's relevant to their lives, they'll be much more actively engaged in the lesson - writing letters to pen pals, for example, instead of just writing a random letter to show that they know how. If I absolutely have to lecture, I try to be as animated as possible, walking around the room, gesturing, etc. I also will let the kids put their feet on their desk or even sit on their desk with clipboards if I have to teach something fast that is probably not remotely interesting to them but has to be done.
Another way that I keep the kids engaged in learning is to put them in charge of a project. For example, when we study insects for life cycles, the students have to design their own bug. It has to be an insect (so I can assess if they know what that is) and they have to describe eating habits, the life cycle, habitat, etc. Everything they need to know has to be reflected in this project, but they DIG it and are completely engaged. If only I could do that with every standard!

Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

I've found that it's important to listen to students. See what they like and enjoy. What are they into? What would they like to do/learn? I've always tried to incorporate their interests into everything - give them choices.

One of the best learning experiences I had in a classroom was something a student teacher did. She was designing a writing lesson and asked the kids what they wanted to do? They wanted to make something so she built a writing assignment around make a "no-bake" dessert. The kids LOVED it! They were so engaged and ... hold onto your seats ... they were having fun!

Things are so crazy with timelines, mandates, NCLB, test scores, etc. But we can always make things more interesting if we just listen to our students. They have so much to give us!

Julie's picture

I think laughing with your students is so important! They need to see you as a person and that you are engaged in what you are teaching. When you are passionate, they will be also.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

I think when discussing classroom management, we sometimes see engagement as the end-all solution. But, in truth, sometimes we have to do some direct-teaching that isn't so fun for anyone.

But I think it's important to be up front with the kids that, no, this is not going to be the most engaging, exciting thing, but here's why we need to learn it and learn how to apply it.

Bargaining can work, as well. For example, "Let's just get through learning how to properly annotate and practicing for the next 20 minutes, then we can spend the last bit of class working in our poetry slam books. Deal?" Students then feel they have a say and there's a reward --however small.

Yes, intrinsic motivation is what we all hope for and strive for, but a little extrinsic motivation is perfectly acceptable.

Ron Shuali's picture
Ron Shuali
Keynote Speaker and Workshop Trainer at Shua Life Skills

I always have a joke or 5 up my sleeve.
Knock knock, who's there, boo, boo who, don't cry its only a joke.

Go to a book store, library or internet and get a joke book for the age group you work with. even if a few children aren't listening or paying attention, when they hear the rest of the class laugh, they'll feel like you would if you were THAT table talking at a comedy club and you suddenly heard the place explode in laughter. You would be asking "What did I miss?" Jokes are one form of Pattern Interrupts. SHUA!!!

Lindsay Collins's picture

But, we must not forget that the students need to be taught to have respect for the classroom and their teacher as well. As teachers, we don't need to teach the way a student wants to be taught. We need to teach the way they NEED to be taught...giving them boundaries.

Bill Chapman's picture

Since I began my teaching career in 1970, I've found that engaging lessons do one or more of the eight things I've listed as Secrets of Good Lessons at http://www.classroomtools.com/secrets.htm

Summarizing them I'd say one needs to present things in unusual ways and ask students to build on skills they already possess.

Bob Sullo's picture
Bob Sullo
author, educational consultant

Engagement requires a positive relationship. While you may have a few students who have a relationship with the topic or subject you are teaching,many will need to first develop a positive relationship with you before they will fully engage. That said, a positive relationship with the teacher is not enough if your goal is to help students be successful learners. Help them create a positive relationship with the learning and develop a picture of themselves as hard-working, successful learners.

Kim's picture

Something just happened with my post; I was trying to include a quote from a post that said "As teachers, we don't need to teach the way a student wants to be taught." I guess technically that's true, that we don't HAVE to, but if you were a student, wouldn't you prefer a teacher who taught with respect to your strengths and interests? Gardner's multiple intelligences, differentiated instruction, humor - all have a place in an active, engaged classroom where students are motivated to participate in the learning process.
There are a couple of books that I thought were wonderful:
"The Laughing Classroom: Everyone's Guide to Teaching with Humor and Play" by Loomans and Kolberg; and "If They're Laughing, They Just Might Be Listening: Ideas for Using Humor Effectively in the Classroom, Even if You're Not Funny Yourself" by Elaine Lundberg.
My philosophy is - why not teach the way my students want to be taught? They'll be happier and better behaved because they feel comfortable and confident in their learning style; hence, I'll be happy too.
Just my two cents.

Ron Shuali's picture
Ron Shuali
Keynote Speaker and Workshop Trainer at Shua Life Skills


100% agree. I have had teachers tell me "We are educators, not entertainers." and then she crossed her arms defensly. I simply asked her "How is that working for her?" She got it and agreed it wasn't. We need to adapt to the new evolution of child. The faster, sharper, quicker and smarter ones that now start their full time socializing in preschools at 6 weeks old. By the time they are 5, they have spent five full years learning how to manipulate their teachers and then go home and practice on their tired, over worked parents.
I have found the secret to engaging children is to give them what they want: Attention. Kings and queens of the classroom will rise up, whether we like it or not. The question is will they be on our side? If we give them leadership roles quickly, and still keep them in check when they occasionally test, the entire energy and environment of the classroom changes. I always like to learn 2 facts about the students in my classes. ie, their favorite tv show, sport, activity, book. That way if they get disengaged from their activity, instead of trying to lead them back, I'll pattern interrupt their thoughts with a quick conversation about the "fact" i know about them, as I walk them back to the activity. Works magically...if a teacher is willing to give the extra effort to learn their children.

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