Ten Tips for Engaging Underperforming Students

Guided by research, educators at Cochrane Collegiate have homed in on ten top teaching methods, and teachers receive weekly PD to help them implement the practices. Watch the video.

Guided by research, educators at Cochrane Collegiate have homed in on ten top teaching methods, and teachers receive weekly PD to help them implement the practices. Watch the video.
Class standing looking at camera; math book open with worksheet

Teachers keep students on their toes by moving them to different parts of the room during lessons (left). Graphic organizers (right) are another technique used at Cochrane to help students learn new information.

Credit: Zachary Fink

The educators at Cochrane Collegiate Academy, in Charlotte, North Carolina, have developed an instructional model called Interactive Learning (IL). It is a collection of their ten best practices, which they call their non-negotiables, and teachers must implement them in every lesson, every day.

Shana Oliver, the school's academic facilitator, runs the training sessions for these best practices, and she helps the teachers see and experience how they can incorporate all ten into one lesson. Here are Cochrane's IL non-negotiables, with additional comments from Oliver. Watch the video to see what they look like in the classroom and go to our Resources and Downloads for a sample lesson plan that includes all ten practices.

Cochrane's Top Ten Interactive Learning Non-Negotiables

When planning and delivering your lessons, the following strategies must be implemented in your classroom daily:

1. Essential Question

What is the intended goal of the lesson? Remember, there is one essential question per lesson, and students must be able to answer this question by the end of the lesson.

Oliver: With essential questions, teachers really have to be intentional about what they want the students to be able to do, and it has to be at the highest-level of learning. The students have to be able to analyze and apply; they cannot just answer the question with a yes or no. It has to be an extended response. An essential question must be "multi-skill" in order for it to be a good one.

2. Activating Strategy

An activating strategy is something that gets students actively thinking or making a connection with the material being presented that day. Make a connection to the content or to the outside world to see how much the students already know or remember.

Oliver: With the technology we have, one of the main things we do is show video clips. Students love it when they see their favorite show or cartoon. Initially, they don't know what they're about to learn so they focus on that video clip. Then the teacher uses that engagement to link to the lesson, and the students realize that their likes or interests can channel a learning experience.

Example: For her lesson on the elements of a character, ninth-grade English teacher Angela Johnson had her students watch a clip from a popular TV show. Then they made a T-chart and on one side wrote down the character's name and on the other side wrote down elements of that character.

3. Relevant Vocabulary

Relevant vocabulary must be present in your lesson. Keep your vocabulary limited to what your students are able to handle and make sure that it is actively used in context throughout the lesson. Also have your students interactively use the words during the lesson.

Oliver: We only use vocabulary that's relevant. Teachers must pick and choose what is going to be most important and most effective. They must teach vocabulary through a graphic organizer, through an experience, or whatever they need to help the students get it.

4. Limited Lecture

There should be limited lecture time. After 12-15 minutes of lecturing, you should engage your students in some type of activity, even if it's for only a few minutes.

Oliver: In my experience, students can maintain their attention span only for the number of minutes equal to their age plus two or three, so the lecture must be chunked. When that amount of time has elapsed, teachers must stop and have students do something different. Once students have completed a two- or three-minute activity, the teacher can go back to lecturing for another chunk of time.

Examples: Have students talk to their neighbor, draw a picture, write a few sentences that summarize or describe the lecture, finish an example problem, or get in a discussion with their group.

5. Graphic Organizer

Use of a graphic organizer allows students to visually categorize new information or review old information.

Oliver: Students need to be able to conceptualize whatever information we're giving them. The graphic organizer is student friendly. When they look at information that's organized, it's easier for them to retain and remember that information. And when they go home, it is less intimidating to look at that information as opposed to pulling out a notebook that has pages and pages of notes.

Examples: Have students record information in colorful charts in their notebooks, use computers to create graphic organizers, or create a "foldable."

6. Student Movement

Student movement is a must. Students need to be mobile at some point during instruction to ensure they're actively engaged.

Oliver: This one is probably the most challenging for our teachers because it can be intimidating to have students moving. But student movement can look a number of different ways, and it doesn't always mean students have to get up. They just must be physically engaged in whatever the teacher is doing. It's important because students don't like to sit still, especially male students. We found that when our male students are up and moving around the room, they are totally engaged in what the teacher is doing.

Examples: Students do a gallery walk in which they move in groups from corner to corner, answering questions or analyzing things posted on the walls; they work in teams or at rotation stations; they raise their hands or give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down; they answer questions with their body, putting their left foot out if they think the answer is A and their right foot out if they think it's B.

7. Higher Order Thinking Questions

Present your students with at least three higher-order-thinking (“HOT”) questions during the lesson. This is proof that you are presenting all your students with challenging work.

Oliver: The HOT questions are Cochrane's signature element. The rationale behind them is we want to give the kids an opportunity to be challenged in the classroom. The way the teacher presents these questions varies, and students' responses can be indicative of their learning pace. The same question should be used for all students, but advanced learners may be required to respond in a different way. Students can respond on paper, as part of a classroom discussion, in paired discussion, or through homework.

8. Summarize

Summarize to bring the lesson to a close. This is when you can assess your students' abilities to effectively answer the essential question, and you can find out whether you need to extend or refine the skill.

Oliver: Teachers must find creative ways to have the students answer the essential question at the end of the lesson. A student's ability to answer the essential question at this point is a way for the teacher to assess the student's learning. In most instances, this is the point when a teacher can determine whether she needs to go back and reteach or needs to accelerate student learning.

Examples: Have students use a writing prompt, short activity, discussion, or illustration to summarize, or have them summarize on an exit ticket.

9. Rigorous

Lessons must be rigorous. The activities should be challenging and move at a brisk pace. There should not be opportunities for students to get bored or periods when they have nothing to do. The entire lesson should be an active lesson.

Oliver: Teachers have to take students to the highest level of knowledge. You have to be on your toes. Time on task — everything that you do has to be scheduled to maximize your time. With our students, we have only 180 days, and a lot of our students do not come in at grade level, so we've got to move them with the 90 minutes that we have each day in the classroom.

10. Student Centered

Your entire lesson should be student centered. The ways that we instruct our students must demonstrate that they are our focus and that what we do is centered on their success. The use of technology as a tool is a critical component of this. It provides students with 21st-century skills that are both engaging and relevant to real-world applications. It is a partnership: If you effectively and successfully plan, your students will effectively and successfully work and learn.

Oliver: We train our teachers to take a step away from the learning process to become facilitators rather than "givers of all knowledge" in the classroom. We have to teach students to become lifelong critical thinkers, and we teach them this through resources and tools that they can relate to and will pique their interest. As educators, we have to keep up with advances in technology and go the distance to teach our students in ways that will help them feel empowered to be successful.

This article originally published on 10/18/2011

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Comments (20)

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9th grade English teacher

I love these tips and will

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I love these tips and will implement them in my classroom.

Just a thought

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Eric, I think that the question is there to highlight a structure and to plant a main idea in the students' minds (which can help to anchor them while they're learning new things). It doesn't seem to be about collecting questions...but rather helping students to get the "big idea" out of each single lesson. So maybe the surface objective of a lesson is to know how to find the area of a circle, but it could then be tied to a more applied question that the students should be thinking about the whole time that helps them to understand "why" they might need to know this.


This is terrific! These are

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This is terrific! These are strategies for engaging ALL learners. I would like to emphasize the importance of movement. When we move, we get oxygen to the brain. And we need oxygen to do everything including thinking. When we move, we make a physical shift that can also help make a mind shift and create insight and help with problem solving!! Here are some resources to help teachers with creating productive movement in their classrooms: www.recessitate.com and http://www.actionforhealthykids.org/game-on/access/step3_challenges/chal....

Keep them moving and enjoying learning!

Congrats on your achievement!

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I wanted to congratulate your school on these successes! It is a testament to the tenacity of teachers and administrators and will be evidenced in the lives of these children. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. I could not agree more with the 10 key elements of your lessons, particularly those that focus on student engagement. Our students need to make a connection with the materials and need to see a clear purpose for what is being presented to them. Best wished for continued success.

AP English Literature Teacher at CheongShim International Academy, Korea

Weak Article

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This article seems to ask more questions than it answers. Just for number one: Why do students need a question? What kind of question? At the end of the year when students have 180 questions, what does that mean? What is the purpose behind a question? How about math questions? What is the question for finding the area of a circle, other than finding the area of a circle?

The other tips ask more.


online classes

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How do these tips transfer to teaching 100% online?

Principal at Cochrane Collegiate Academy a Charlotte Mecklenburg School

Allen490 Please feel free to

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Please feel free to send me an email at joshua.bishop@cms.k12.nc.us

Managing Editor and Producer

Re: I've been searching for the

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Hello Allen490, I would be happy to pass your note on to Cochrane's principal, Josh Bishop. Please stay tuned...

I've been searching for the

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I've been searching for the Headmaster, John Bishop's,e-mail address in order to make contact. Our school has very similar problems and both management and staff are frustrated and the morale is low. The model used to change their school around seems workable for us. I will appreciate it if someone can assist.

A very good presentation

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A very good presentation where the author has strived to give a workable solution

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