9 Ways to Increase Student Engagement

My teaching style has completely evolved over the ten years I’ve been in the classroom.  Since starting teaching at the young age of 21, I’ve learned so much.  I’ve taught a few different grade levels.  I’ve observed in lots of classes.  I’ve met tons of fabulous teachers.  I’ve worked on several different teams.  I’ve sat through some WONDERFUL and notsowonderful PD.  I’ve had my own kids (which probably influenced my teaching style the most!).  If I could go back to those first couple of years and apologize to each and every student I would totally do so!!  The amazing thing about teaching is we get a start fresh every single year.  We get the chance to change things up, incorporate new practices, and completely start over.  In this post I am highlighting 9 ways to engage, involve, and excite your students.  I’ve gathered up 9 things that are important to me after a decade of teaching.  I think they are best practices, but honestly they are mostly my opinion.  I did include some research to show I didn’t just grab them out of thin air, ha!
So, here are my top NINE ways you increase student engagement this year:
First up, MOVEMENT.  At home, no matter the weather, I do not let me kids sit down all day and do nothing.  Normally I am locking them outside so that they are forced to get up and move ;)!  Why do we expect our students to sit in the same place all day and not move?  Our students are little people.  They need to get up, move around, and reposition themselves.  Here are three easy ways you can incorporate movement in the classroom:
1.  Scoots or I Spy activities- place the station cards around the room and have students walk around to solve problems.
2.  Working on the floor
3.  Allowing students to work on the white board, on clipboards, or in the hallway (even better… outside)
I love to play games in class.  Is it quiet?  NOPE!  It gets loud and noisy, but as long as students are involved in the game and not side conversations… it’s okay!  Have you ever been to a Bunco Night or Game Night with friends?  Even adults don’t play games in silence!  Why do friends and family members gather around and play games together?  Because it’s fun!!!  Let’s have fun with our students :))
When looking for pictures of water in the classroom I actually came across a ton of pictures of my own children with water in their hands.  Almost every single time we leave the house I say, “Grab your water!”  Why?  Kids get thirsty, ha!  Did you know that there is actually a lot of research out there about how drinking water throughout the day increases performance?  Let students keep a water bottle with a spill-proof lid on their desk and you may see increased focus and performance!  If you want to go a step further… Allow time for snacks during class.  These can be healthy snacks they bring from home.  The last thing we can expect is for our students to perform well if they have hungry tummies.  I mean, I can’t go all day without snacking so why should I expect children to be different??
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Y’all.  It’s time to throw the worksheets out the window.  Empty out those filing cabinets you have had for 10 plus years.  Fill up those recycling bins.  Set fire to the worksheets!  I might be a little dramatic ;)! I do believe there is a time and a place for worksheets.  I am guilty of using them in the past.  As a mom, I loathe seeing worksheet after worksheet after worksheet come home in my child’s folder.  Why?  Because I know those worksheets meant nothing to her.  I know she wasn’t challenged.  I know she wasn’t engaged.  And guess where those worksheets end up?  THE TRASH!  Why don’t parents keep the memories of their child’s worksheets throughout the year?  Because they don’t show anything about their child other than they can answer a question.  Over the past few years we have changed the word “worksheet” to “printable” to make ourselves feel better.  Let’s just call it like it is… a worksheet is a worksheet is a worksheet.  Do students need to be writing and have an organized space to show their work?  Absolutely!  Is it okay to use pencil and paper in the classroom?  You bet!  It’s more about if that printable or recording sheet is meaningful.  What are the children getting out of it?  Am I using it as a way for students to show their work/record their answers, as an assessment, or just for busy work?  Asking ourselves these questions could help us totally transform our classrooms just by cutting out some of the time we spend at the copy machine ๐Ÿ™‚
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 I get that some of you can’t incorporate food into your classrooms.  I know there are certain laws and rules we are supposed to follow.  Even if you don’t allow your students to eat the food during class, they still have fun using it for their activity.  Maybe you can send it home afterwards.  Or maybe you could just close that door, teach that awesome lesson, and let your students indulge in a snack every once in a while, ha!  Let’s ask for forgiveness rather than permission every once in a while ๐Ÿ˜‰
Manipulatives can be loud.  Most are made of plastic (Bless the companies that started using foam).  Providing our students with manipulatives helps them to touch what they are learning.  It allows them to manipulate the problems and numbers.  It allows them to construct and compose.  It gives them a concrete experience that will help build those foundational skills.
I’m no extraordinary singer.  I’ll do a chant over a song any day!  Thank goodness for YouTube.  I promise you can find a song for almost any subject or skill if you search hard enough!  Put motions to that song or chant and it’s even better!!!
There is just nothing better than a good read aloud.  I love showing books that I find online (mostly because it gives me a five minute break to do something else).  You just can’t replace the teacher with a screen all the time.  The discussions and deep thinking that happens during those moments when the children are sitting by your feet are irreplaceable!
So many people ask me, “How do you get away with the crafts and drawing?   My principal doesn’t allow fluff!”  As long as the craft, drawings, or art involves academic content… It’s not fluff.  Plus, if the kids like it… and we are hitting standards… why not?  Why not give them ten minutes to create something?  I bet that if your administrator knew the WHY behind the activity then they would feel differently about it.  Plus, these are the kind of treasures that parents will save.  These are the things they will pull out on graduation day, the first day of college, or when their children get married to reminisce the good days!!!
So there you have it!  Those are my top nine ways to increase student engagement.  There are SOOO many more that I could add to it, but I wanted to showcase my favorites.  Are these things you are already doing in your classroom?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Hi, I'm Amy

Hey, yโ€™all! My name is Amy Lemons and I am passionate about providing students with both engaging and effective standards-based Math and ELA lessons.


Sample a day of Rooted in Reading with these lesson plans and activities for Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, and Grammar!

21 Responses

  1. I have gotten in trouble so many times for allowing too much art. I refuse to give it up. The only rule one of these I don't use is the water at the seats. I've had too many spills and massive puddles of condensation to deal with that anymore. I do have a fairly liberal drink policy, so my students are well hydrated. I only restrict drinks during my limited whole group teaching time.

  2. Great reminders, Amy! We all need them at this time of year, especially in the Northeast where our first few weeks are HOT with no A/C! I'm proud to say I've found all of these strategies in my first four years of teaching, with SO MUCH THANKS going to you and other bloggers out their who share their best practices and help others improve their teaching. You're an inspiration! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. These are great suggestions and SO early childhood friendly. With such an academic push in our lower grades, (kindergarten especially) we can still keep it developmentally appropriate with these wonderful suggestions and meet the learning needs of all our little students. Thank You!!

  4. I would love to hear more about how you move away from worksheets for homework. I'm totally guilty of being the teacher that sends home worksheet after worksheet for practice homework. If you have ideas for homework routines that are more meaningful and less paper-wasting, please share! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I was just about to post about my Worksheet Free Wednesday in a 3rd grade classroom. Hoping to eventually move to more than just one day a week, once we get into a great routine. Im like you and loathe worksheets..My only problem is, and maybe you can help, is taking grades other than test grades, and prepping for a sub. Any tips and tricks for that??

  6. Amy,

    This is an awesome list. What a great reminder for all of us. I agree with you…I'm a better teacher now that I have children of my own! ๐Ÿ™‚

    “Socialize” would be the last thing I would add to the list! Kids need time to socialize and interact with their peers, other than recess and lunch. Let kids work with a partner on activities throughout the day. Centers & work stations provide opportunities for social interaction as well. Let them talk- before school, in between activities, anytime you can! They learn so much from each other. I was just thinking back at I school I once taught at. When students arrived early before the bell rang, they would have to sit in the hallway in complete silence and read a book until the bell rang. We had hall monitors to monitor the silence. Ah!! I wish I could go back and change the way things were done to let those sweet kiddos talk to their friends & SOCIALIZE!

    Thanks for an awesome blog post! Sharing it with my teacher friends now! ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. Amen sister!!! I love your engagement strategies! We need to remember the DEVELOPMENTAL aspect of teaching! These are children–not college students. Children need to move and play–THAT'S HOW THEY LEARN! I really enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for the encouragement.

  8. Great blog post Amy! Thanks for sharing your passion for education with your fellow teachers!! Sometimes we often have to be reminded of the best practices that make the learning process fun and engaging!! Great Sunday read!!
    Keisha Bolling

  9. Great blog post Amy. Thanks for sharing your passion for education with your fellow teachers!We have to often be reminded of those best practices that engage students in meaningful learning!
    Keisha Bolling

  10. I feel the exact same way– I need to apologize to my first few classes years ago!! My goal for this year is to incorporate more movement because you are absolutely right…they need to “play” and jump around a little!! Great post! Thanks.

  11. I use all of those student engagements and my kids love it. I am really trying to also get use to the noise level in my class. I love all the things you are showcasing! Thanks for your excitement and knowledge.

  12. This is crazy, but about 6 years ago I attended a workshop and one of the main topics was how H2O influences the brain. Since that workshop, I have allowed students to have water in my classroom. There is research that shows when students are dehydrated they are less focused, tired, and retain less info. That was all the proof I needed. So, now I am all about letting them drinking it up! Of course it has to be in bottles with lids that are spill proof! Thanks for sharing.

    Teaching Tidbits and More with Jamie

  13. I am currently a senior at Chadron State and I need all the help I can get as I get started! Thank you so much for all your helpful tips. These are tips I will keep close by to help me when I get started teaching!

  14. I have always said that I want my classroom to be a fun learning environment but I've struggled with how to make that happen and my students being independent. I teach 1st grade and it seems they have a problem, question, or some kind of comment that they feel as though I need to be informed of. They do have a consequence for interrupting my small group if their interruption isn't REALLY IMPORTANT but to many of them it's more important to whine. The school I'm at is very low socioeconomically and I know they crave attention. Any suggestions? I'd love to make things more fun but struggle with how immature this group is? We have a “procedure” for if a student is in a small group and something stops working (cassette player, technology, or whatever it may be) but they still seem to come to me with a lot!