How to Keep Students Engaged

Companies deal with it, colleges deal with it, parents deal with it…the quest to keep the attention of their audience. Likewise, every teacher knows the struggle to get students to engage and to keep them engaged—it’s a never-ending battle to present material in a way that minimizes dead time (or time when no learning is taking place) and that students think it is important. There are multiple ways to capture students’ focus, including the unconventional ones that follow.

Start class with a mental puzzle.

Assign random groups at the beginning of class—nothing complicated, just quick groups.  Then, have them work together to solve the mental puzzle or mind warm-up activity.  The first group to solve correctly gets a very small prize. 

Mix up the way you teach.

There is value in training students to know what to expect from you as a teacher.  But, at unplanned times, mix up your teaching method. If you start each class with a concept to be learned, instead of telling the class come up with a word scramble for the concept and list the points underneath for clues to the concept for the day. Be creative in how you start and end class on a few chosen days.

Train your students to ask two people for directions, answers, etc. before asking you.

By expecting your students to seek information from their peers and not just the teacher, you are teaching them to work together. 

Have a firm method for giving instructions.

Ensuring that all attention is on you when you give instructions minimizes the “What were we supposed to do?” questions. Once the students know what to expect, be consistent in what you require when giving instructions.

Use movement to redirect focus.

Sometimes all it takes is getting your students up and moving to refocus. Any type of marching in place, clapping, or echoing a movement can get their minds working again. 

Seating Structure.

Plan seating so that those students who have consistent difficulty with focusing are closer to the teacher and in the line of sight.

Offer Choices

Offering choices give some control to the students. For instance, during a learning activity, the student might be able to choose from 3 assignments, sit where they want and choose one person to work with. 

Consider that intentional time allotted to a concept is more instructional than giving too much time with no plan. Using teaching time for an interactive lesson followed by questions and answers, modeling feedback and demonstrating how to accomplish the task assigned usually results in productive seatwork. The teacher who understands that what works for one student may not work for another, and so plans effectively and is flexible.

Dead time is also known as “Time on task”, or time that is used efficiently for learning.  Reducing the amount of dead time in the classroom requires some forethought and planning, but when you find strategies that work, it will be worth the effort. 

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