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The New Teacher Advisor

How to Involve and
Engage Students


Student misbehavior isn't always about bad attitudes and "keeping reps" (reputation). Many times student misbehavior in the classroom happens because of boredom. When students are bored in class, their minds begin to wander and they start thinking, "I wonder what would happen if I..." Then the little disruptions begin. The little disruptions pile up and turn into large disruptions. That scenario can go on and on until everything is out of control. What can we do about that kind of behavior?

Keeping students involved and engaged in activities is the very best solution. When students are excited about their learning, they are motivated to pay attention in class. You get excited because your students actually are paying attention. The students sense your excitement and get even more motivated to stay in your class. The positive effects continue to pile up. Keeping students involved and engaged isn't always easy, however. Below are a few tips and ideas to help you along.

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Paper-and-pencil worksheets are not engaging activities. Do they keep students busy? Yes. Are they motivating? No. Reading the textbook aloud and then answering questions at the end of the section is not an engaging activity. Does it take up the whole class period? Yes. Is it motivating and exciting to students? No. Although those activities deceptively look as though they're keeping students involved and engaged, in reality they are not. In fact, you generally can meet the same goals and objectives with different activities.

Activities that involve and engage students are ones in which they manipulate information, physically and mentally. Students need to be moving around, working in groups, and discovering information for themselves. Reading along, taking notes, listening to a lecture, or copying vocabulary words are all passive learning activities. You want to get students actively thinking and moving. How can you accomplish that? You need to start thinking "out of the box."

Do you have a lot of worksheets in your school/district curriculum? How might your students gain the same information in a more engaging manner? Break students into groups and give each group different questions from the worksheet. The group must answer its questions, create a half-poster illustrating the answers, and then present the information to the class. Students could use graphic organizers such as a web, Venn diagram, or T-chart to present the information. Your students might want to create a rhyme, poem, or song to help other students remember the information.

Do you have chronological information that students must remember? Type the information and cut it up into strips. Give each pair or group of students an envelope with the strips. Have them work together to put the events in order. That technique also could work with the steps of a math problem or science experiment. Let students paste the strips onto construction paper.

Have students retell a section of the textbook as a short children's story. Or tell it from the point of view of one of the elements or participants. Or use a round-robin story. Break students into groups. Assign each group a section in the chapter. One student starts writing the "retelling." After a minute or two, that student passes the paper to the next student who continues the story. Keep rotating the paper around the group until the entire section is retold in a story. Set a timer to help everyone stay on track.

Create mobiles that represent information. When students read a novel or a section in the textbook, have them draw pictures that illustrate the concept or events and hang the pictures on a mobile. Make a class paper chain of information. Have each student write one fact on a strip of construction paper. Line up the class in the front of the room. Invite the first student to read his or her strip, and fold it into a link. Staple the link. Then invite the next student to read a fact, and attaches his or her link to the chain. Continue through the entire class.

Give students "clues" to find items in the classroom that relate to your topic of study. Engage students in a "scavenger hunt." When they find an item, they must explain why it is on the scavenger hunt list. Invite students on a road trip. Place around the school or classroom stop signs containing an activity or reading passage. Students must "travel" to each place and complete the activity (idea courtesy of Beaver Elementary). Give students a "passport" that must be stamped at each "stop" on the trip.

Encourage students to make artifacts from a culture they are studying, or to give a speech as a famous historical person or a character from a novel. Give students the opportunity to act out 5 plus 3 or 10 divided by 5. Create centers for students to visit and complete an activity that meets one of your learning objectives.

Those kinds of activities get students moving both physically and mentally. Before you know it, you'll hear from your students complaints like "Is it time to go already?" and "I'm not finished." Those kinds of complaints are music to the ear. Creating those activities and planning out the details isn't easy. You have to provide structure and you have to constantly monitor and guide students as they work. You won't have perfect products in the beginning, and you'll have to stress constantly the importance of turning in work that reflects "personal best." It takes time and it takes effort. But when you start hearing those "complaints," you'll know that it was well worth doing!

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