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Dr. Tisha Shipley has been in education for over 23 years. She has taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, Gifted and Talented 3rd-6th Grades, Dr. Shipley was an elementary principal, a cheer coach, and was on...
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Ten Ways to Engage All Students

As we begin the new school year, stop and reflect on what new things you want to try. Ask yourself how you can make your lessons more engaging or hands-on. Do you need to try new ways of differentiation? What about researching engaging ideas online or observing colleagues? Is there a professional development you have been wanting to attend?

At the beginning of each new year and after each teaching day, I like to reflect on what worked well and what I need to change. I would observe my colleagues, ask for new ideas, attend professional development workshops, and scour the internet so I could be as creative as possible. Here are ten ways that I engaged the students that worked for me, and I challenge you to try them also as you begin your new year!

1. Thematic Units: These are based on what children already know or are interested in. If you don’t know---ask them!

2. Centers: that coordinate with the thematic unit and serve as a practice time for skills that you are teaching and working on in the classroom. We know children learn through play, and centers can serve just this purpose (hands-on manipulation, play, role-play and practice, free choice, cooperation, and decision-making).

3. Using Children’s Literature: to teach concepts and lessons—these should be hands-on and engaging, with materials to manipulate and practice set up in a center situation after you have used the book during your lesson. Children’s literature can teach many concepts (rhyming, counting, sequencing, and whatever else you decide to add).

4. Classroom Mascots/Puppets: Children love these, and I challenge you to try them.

5. Cooking with Children: When you cook with children, they are using a different part of their brain to learn. They are following directions, learning rules, math concepts, practicing fine motor skills, collaborating, practicing oral language acquisition, and you are teaching them how to make healthy choices (click on a classroom mascot to find recipes to cook with the corresponding letter of the alphabet).

6. Allow them Free Choice: of fun and engaging ways to present new ideas and concepts. Children usually choose the learning activity that allows them to engage with their preferred learning style. Allow free choice in center activities; ask them if they want to work alone, in pairs, or in a small group.

7. Make and Take Books. : If you allow children to make something and show ownership, they are more likely to engage in and partake in the activity or lesson.

8. Building a Classroom Community: where mistakes are made and learned from. Children help set expectations, have jobs in the classroom, and collaborate and help their peers. When a child feels like they belong in that classroom, they are more calm, stress-free, more engaged in their work, and willing to take chances and learn from them. Children have jobs and a daily schedule they follow.

9. Procedures, Routines, Schedules, and Transitions: are taught, consistently used, and students know what to expect. The classroom is organized, students can freely participate in the classroom environment, and they understand what to do and when to do it.

10. Be present and engaged: I worked with each child one-on-one, in small groups, and in a large group setting. I got to know my students; I asked questions, I knew what they liked and what they did outside of school, and I treated each one like I would want my child to be treated. I built a lasting relationship which is what really engages children in their work. Young children want to please adults; they want to show us what they know.

I tried my hardest to be creative, to come up with projects that would engage children and spark their interest. I wanted to build on prior knowledge so that they could construct new knowledge and concepts as the year progressed. If you think about the ten things listed in this article, you are probably already doing most of them. But this year, how can you do it better? How can you do it differently?