Looking for more ways to increase student engagement, especially during this challenging teaching days in the classroom? This second blog post in the series gives even more great student engagement strategies.
In the first post on ways to increase student engagement (find it here), I mentioned some of the most challenging days/times of year in most any classroom. These include
- the day of Halloween and the day after
- the day/week before and after Thanksgiving break
- the week before and the week after winter break
- Valentine’s Day
- the day before spring break & the days after
- after testing
- the last few weeks of school
The following ideas work anytime of year, and they’re especially effective during the really tough times.
1. Plan ahead for the tough teaching times.
I mentioned this in the first post (find it here), and I wanted to make sure to mention it again because it’s just that important. Take a few days during summer or on a weekend and really think about your most engaging units/lessons. Either save them for the tough times or create lessons like them to use when you need them.
2. Save a simulation to increase student engagement on tough days
Save a simulated activity for these times. Break kids up into groups, give them a goal, and set the parameters. Then set them to task. For example, in teaching social studies, we learn about geography and its influence on where people settled. I have students group up and give them a map with geographical features.
With the knowledge they’ve gained from previous lessons, they need to convince the other members of the group to settle in one area and give specific reasons why. They must consider the challenges of living in that area. They can design a shelter based on the geography (popsicle sticks, cardboard, construction paper all work), topography, and vegetation, think about how’d they get food, water, and stay warm.
Since you know the week before or after a break will come, think about where you’ll be in your curriculum and develop a simulation. Look at other examples of simulations and think about the elements involved:
- there’s usually group work
- there’s a challenge
- there’s a goal to meet
- there are tasks to do along the way
- there may be consequences for choices (positive or negative)
- there may be some end reward
Some simulation ideas I’ve done include
- artifact digs
- early human survival
- Greek city-state challenges
- Mock Olympic Games
- Types of government re-enactments (by students)
- Roman social class re-enactment
- Beginning of civilization
- Building an irrigation play
Above you see an artifact dig. It’s a 2-day simulation. Simulations can be a day or two, a week, several weeks, etc. I’ve had students enjoy the simulations so much that they beg for it not to end. AND, I’ve even had students make up the next challenge to complete. Again, it takes thought and planning, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate.
3. Do a science experiment to increase student engagement
Prep students by telling them your expectations and the behaviors you need in order for the experiment to proceed. Each day they’ll learn a bit more about what the experiment is about, show the equipment, explain the challenges, and have a packet of work for those students who can’t meet the expectations you’ve set, and rooms to send them to if needed. When you make a lesson engaging and have an end activity, students are far more likely to want to stay in the classroom and participate. Building anticipation is key.
4. Time your units to the calendar and increase student engagement
Make it so that your high-interest unit will start with enough time to allow it to end the day before the break. OR, you can prep students all the way up to break to anticipate the engaging activity that will start the day they return from break. This is a great idea because they return excited to see what’s going to happen.
5. Students are the experts for the day
Offer the opportunity for students to be the expert and teach a lesson. This is great for the last two weeks of school. Prep ahead of time asking which students want to be teacher for the day and what it will take for them to teach their lesson. This takes monitoring of students and previewing what they’ll be doing, but classes are generally more easily engaged if a fellow student is presenting.
The pre-work on your part includes giving students an outline of a lesson plan that they can fill in. Make sure they have the materials they’ll need and maybe give them a trial run-through so the kinks can be worked out. It’s probably best to not do too many presentations in a day, as you don’t want students to burn out on listening. Check out this blog post on tips surviving the end of the school year.
6. Student/Group presentations keep students engaged
Presentations and/or culminating projects are a great way to keeps students engaged during tough teaching weeks. If you’ve been working on a project, these days are perfect for the end project. It could be a book project, a research project, a science project, etc. Don’t forget an activity to do when students are done. Color by code activities are perfect. Find them here.
7. Debates are naturally engaging for students
Debates increase student engagement like almost nothing else. Set students up for a debate. Perhaps you do a short lesson on whether school uniforms should be mandatory. This one is almost overdone as an assignment, but it works great as an example for outlining the arguments for and against, finding experts, quoting statistics, etc.
Bring up a controversial issue (not necessarily political) and having students pick a side. They then research it in order to not only defend their position, but also to understand the arguments they’ll hear from the opposite side of the issue.
I love using the topic of eating bugs. Bugs are eaten around the world, but not so much in many western countries. The topic is engaging, easy to find information, and you can even purchase edible bugs for students to sample. Check out this list of possible debate topics:
- Should kids be allowed to participate in extreme sports?
- What type of ruler is best for a society: strict and harsh or understanding and flexible?
- Plastic or paper? Which should be used in grocery stores?
- Which animal makes the best pet? (sometimes it’s great limiting it to dogs or cats because they are so familiar and the discussion gets lively)
- Homework or no homework?
- Should team mascots change if the image/name is cultural insensitive?
- Leashes or no leashes? Should dogs have be on a leash?
- Fast food or slow food? Is there benefit to one or the other?
- What’s the best phone?
- Should we eat bugs as a regular part of our diet?
It’s really endless. Ask your students for possible topics.
There are so many topics you can pick, just have a list ahead of time, know where you’ll find research material, and prep students for how to debate, speak respectfully and disagree, bring up substantial counter points, etc.
Again, this takes prep work, but you know these low energy weeks are going to happen, so think about it and prep ahead of time. If you’re consider debate, I have a unit that’s all about speaking and listening skills. Find it HERE.
These are just a few ideas. Don’t forget to read the first post in this series where I discuss Some relatively low prep, like dressing up as a character, and others you want to plan ahead of time, like literature circles, debates, simulations, and science experiments.
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