George Lucas Educational Foundation

What are the Dos and Don'ts of an Engaged Classroom?

What are the Dos and Don'ts of an Engaged Classroom?

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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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Jennie Wagner's picture

I would like more information about "signaling" to answer questions and the "fairness cup" as well, please. It is intriguing, but if I add another PD book to my stack, I will have a nervous breakdown. Cliff's Notes?

Marc Petrie's picture
Marc Petrie
Seventh grade Math Teacher, Santa Ana

What is a Fairness Cup. It sounds like a great idea.

I do not have rules in class, only expectations. Rules are meant to be broken, especially by middle school students.

We are instituting CHAMPS this year as part of Safe and Civil Schools. I am very excited about the system.

Jennifer Pollock's picture

I have found that hands-on activities are a must, especially in my standard classes or those with several special education students. My students just love to get their hands dirty, no matter what the situation. This year, we have worked with Play-Doh, eggs, water, beans, etc., and they always want more. They work bell-to-bell, and they do the assigned work and more. Surprisingly, these are juniors and seniors! My tenth graders see them enjoying the class, and they beg to be allowed to do the same activities.

Luz Marina Arboleda Spanish teacher's picture

Learning Spanish is fun for students is you keep grammar at the end of a fun activity. I'm a native Spanish speaker teacher and I know grammar is the less important thing to learn. Students have to 'acquire' the language to be able to communicate. That is the goal. Grammar is the 'learning" about the language that is to worry for them. I sing in Spanish (salsa, merengue, mambo), I do a lot of STPR, which is wonderful for visual students. I'm never in the same place. The setting in my classroom change every week. And they never do the same activity for more than 20 minutes. By the way, my name is Luz and you can reach me at if you want to share something else.

Paradigm_Shift75's picture
1st Grade ESL Teacher from Houston, TX

Elana, that was a great list. I would like to see real examples of the suggestions listed, though (i.e. What is a mind warm-up? Please give three examples of each: minimal supervision tasks, mind warm-up, and teamwork tactics that emphasize accountability). The whole list sounds great, but I don't know how or what some of those are. As teachers we can give lots of advice on what to do, but not always how to do it. I am one that would greatly appreciate some how to advice. Thanks in advance!

MELPRIMEK-6's picture

I believe that if you teach a lesson and are having fun the students will have fun. I am a pre-service teacher and my copperating teacher told me that I should just have fun with the students. The next time I was with the students I had so much fun as well as the students. They even asked my ct if they could do my activity when they had free time. So my tip would be to HAVE FUN.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Connecting with students is key, and letting them connect with you as a person.

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard is from a teacher who gets her class to help develop the ground rules for the classroom at the beginning of the year. The kids actually tend to be way more strict than the teacher would be one their own (and sometimes the rules have to made a bit more realistic), and the kids have a sense that they are participating and agreeing to what's expected. It seems to tone down and reduce later issues, because everyone is clear about what's expected from the very start.

Lynda Pielow's picture
Lynda Pielow
substitute teacher

I agree with you, Jason. Students especially enjoy the time spent to impress a substitute teacher with their thoughts, I've found. They like to know that someone besides their regular teacher is interested in them. I like to walk through the room and ask where there are in their task and how it is they have anything they need help with? Sometimes our conversations may lead into another aspect of student life, such as making new friends, or complaining about school work and how to manage the load better. Even though I'm a sub, I think we are accomplishing something that can only benefit their attitude for when the teacher returns to the classroom. This way I don't "drop the ball", and get some reflection and new perspectives that I can journal for the returning teacher.
I also like to ask the students at the beginning of the day to go over the classroom rules with me, as if they have a say in it, which they do. Through verbalizing appropriate behavior, they become owners of it.

Kevin Mason's picture

Terrific do's and dont's that you guys have posted! I have experimented with some of them myself and for the most part, they do work well at keeping students engaged. However, anymore that you guys may come across, please inform us! THANKS!

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