Student Engagement

Do you feel like you have to practically put on a circus to achieve student engagement with your lessons?  Before you bring out the lions, tigers, and bears, take a step back and see if one of these small changes might be the missing piece in your student engagement puzzle.

8 Tips to Supercharge Student Engagement for Elementary Teachers


Make It “Doable”

Can your students see themselves as potential “doers” of the task you are presenting to them? Do they see themselves as potential owners of that knowledge?  If someone told me that over the course of the next hour I would become fluent in Russian, I would immediately check out.  That is so far out of my reach that I’m not going to bother engaging with it.  To help your students see themselves as potential “doers” of the task:

  • Break Tasks Down- Smaller steps or chunks seem more “doable” than huge tasks
  • Differentiate- For some students, a scaled-back task is appropriate. A student who struggles with writing may be willing to engage in writing three sentences while the rest of the class is working on a paragraph.
  • Adjust your Objectives- If your lesson bombed, maybe students need some review or a boost to their background knowledge. Just because the curriculum you follow says your students are ready for something, doesn’t mean they actually are.

Make It Relevant

Do your students see how engaging with your learning activities will benefit their lives?  My parents are the type of people that never make a big purchase without tons of research (probably a salesman’s worst nightmare).  I remember so many trips to look at electronic keyboards for my mom before my parents finally pulled the trigger and bought one.  Those shopping trips were mind-numbing for me because they had nothing to do with me and didn’t benefit my life.  I was not engaged.  In contrast, when it was time for my parents to buy me a real bicycle, I was all about listening to what the salesmen had to say, trying bikes out in parking lots, and weighing pros and cons.  This time it definitely benefitted me so I was engaged!  Help your students see the link between what you’re presenting and their life.  And I know, it’s HARD sometimes…espeically when teaching things like parts of speech…

After you present your learning objective, tag on a little bit about why it matters to THEM.  It might sound something like this:

Today you’re going to learn how to __________________.  This is important because:

  • it will help you understand what you’re reading.
  • it will help other people understand your writing.
  • it will help your know you got the right change back at the store.
  • you’ll sound very grown up if you use these words.
  • it will help you solve math problems in your head.
  • you can use it to double a recipe.
  • it will help you get a job in a bank/with computers/with animals etc.

Make Them Feel Safe

Before engaging, students need to know that they can attempt a skill without fear of being ridiculed if they are incorrect.  This is not to say that teachers should accept wrong answers.  I think most teachers are already pretty good at this already, but what about your students?  Train your students:

  • to give each other wait time
  • in how to react to wrong answers from peers, practice it with role-playing
  • to know that risk taking and effort is valuable even if the answer is wrong
  • to know that mistakes are learning opportunities

How amazing would middle school PE class be if I could have tried things without fear of ridicule?!  Well, that’s a story for another therapy session ; )

These ideas come from Brian Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning.  I hope they can help you supercharge student engagement in your class!


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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.