Engage your students. Don’t just stick your toe in the water! Jump right in with relevant, active learning. As students engage in learning activities, classroom climate improves, discipline problems decline, and you begin to really enjoy teaching. Let’s take a look at some ways you can make your teaching more engaging.
Ms. Sneed Learns to Engage Her Students
When she was a new teacher, Ms. Sneed pretty much just followed the textbook. As she became more experienced, she tried new teaching strategies. When were students most engaged? Surprisingly, not during crafts or games. Instead, her students focused best when presented with active, challenging learning experiences.
Engage Students in ELA
Over the years, Ms. Sneed developed a system for helping her fourth graders understand the nuances of different forms of text. She engaged them in the two sides of writing. If her students could understand that fiction generally uses a story arc while nonfiction is structured like a hamburger, they would read and write better. Over and over again, Ms. Sneed stood in front of her class with arms stretched wide. Then she asked them to explain where a particular text fell on the continuum – and why.
Ms. Sneed found that using hand and body motions engaged her students. Additionally, using analogies (like the hamburger) and repetition helped them remember and understand.
Ms. Sneed organized her literature units around genres. She began a unit with short picture books. This allowed her to introduce elements specific to the genre. Then she moved into a novel. In addition, Ms. Sneed asked kids to write in that genre as well. Some of her favorite units included fables, fairy tales, realistic fiction, historical fiction, mythology, and mystery. Using overarching themes improved student engagement and learning.
Ms. Sneed also found a set of standards-based literature units for her fourth grade class. These really did the trick.
Adding informational text to the reading block was a challenge. Sure, she could add another genre unit, biography. But what else could she do? Finally, Ms. Sneed realized that many of the nonfiction skills should be taught in applied subject areas. If she taught the standards during her science and social studies blocks, her students could directly apply their skills. Ms. Sneed learned the power of interdisciplinary learning.
As she worked with young writers, Ms. Sneed found five fundamental actions kept her writers engaged.
- Start simply. Ms. Sneed started the year with simple stories and paragraphs.
- Build from there. Once her students showed that they could write short pieces, she helped them build to longer, more sophisticated pieces. With every piece they wrote, Ms. Sneed asked them to use new strategies.
- Use models. Ms. Sneed pulled out all the stops to provide models of good writing. Sometimes, she used picture books and short stories. Other times, she wrote original pieces herself. Ms. Sneed found that writing in front of her students and writing collaboratively added a huge amount of engagement. Of course, seeing other students’ work really perked them up.
- Keep it social. When kids were asked to read and respond to one another’s writing, excitement grew. Everyone tried a lot harder.
- Share. Ms. Sneed asked her students to share finished products with one another and with other classes. She displayed their work all over the school. They even bound their writing into books.
As mentioned above, Ms. Sneed started simply. Kids first wrote a fable. They looked at plenty of model texts first. Then, using this short, familiar, straightforward story structure, they practiced using a story arc, establishing character traits, and writing dialogue. Every year, their fables shined; they were pleased with their efforts.
From there, Ms. Sneed asked her students to write more and more sophisticated narratives. They wrote in many genres, for different audiences, and for a variety of purposes. “Shaking it up while building their skills,” Ms. Sneed says, “keeps them truly engaged.”
Surprisingly, students began with constructed response to literature. Writing a topic sentence, supporting details, and a conclusion provided the foundation. Ms. Sneed saw that kids could easily transfer this process to more sophisticated pieces.
From there, they learned to elaborate. Just as in reading, Ms. Sneed used the hamburger analogy. Here, she used a craft to better engage her students.
Throughout the year, Ms. Sneed asked her students for longer, more involved pieces. They integrated texts, researched, and collaborated. Sometimes their teacher used problem-based learning to encourage critical thinking and teamwork.
Opinion and Persuasive Writing
For this form of writing, Ms. Sneed began with a simple structure. It was easy! They didn’t even mind when she asked them to switch up their word choice, elaborate, vary sentences, add transitions, or work on beginnings and endings. Ms. Sneed used plenty of modeling, and their writing blossomed.
Once her kids got the hang of one-paragraph essays, Ms. Sneed moved them along to five- and six-paragraph writing. These crazy kids loved trying to persuade others to buy into their opinions. The most engaging part was writing for a real audience (for example, talking their principal into giving them a snow day).
As you can imagine, not much time was left for language. Ms. Sneed decided to teach mechanics by analyzing and correcting a few sentences per day. With just ten minutes of morning work each day, she taught all the necessary language standards. When she kept it brief, focused, and social, students stayed engaged.
Speaking and Listening
“Kids,” Ms. Sneed likes to say, “are social animals. The number one way to engage them is to let them talk!”
Over the years, this teacher worked on adding collaboration time to every subject. First, she tried science lab groups. Once she gave everyone a separate role, things ran smoothly. Next, she implemented literature groups during novel studies. Ms. Sneed developed strategies for think-pair-share. Each new group activity required new methods of classroom management, but it was worth it! When kids were allowed to collaborate, engagement skyrocketed.
Engage Students in Math
Just like her college professors said, Ms. Sneed’s students learned better when they moved from concrete to abstract. And just like in the other subjects, kids became more engaged – and learned better when learning was scaffolded and social.
For math, Ms. Sneed learned that she needed a huge bag of tricks. No one strategy worked all the time. Sometimes her students used manipulatives or models. Other times, they learned through games. Ms. Sneed used task cards and even songs. “The key to engagement in math,” Ms. Sneed said, “is continually changing it up. You need to have your finger on the pulse of the class – knowing right where each child is. Every day adjustments must be made.”
Engage Students in Science
Ms. Sneed found that she did not like learning from a science book. Instead, she implemented a set of hands-on, minds-on science activities. When she was a new teacher, there was a big push for the scientific method. Later, her standards focused on using a fair test. Sometimes her class explored science through centers. These simple activities, Ms. Sneed realized, could be staged to promote scientific inquiry. Through STEM activities, her students embraced the engineering design process. Each and every one of these strategies let kids do science and greatly increased engagement.
Lessons in Engagement
Throughout her career, Ms. Sneed learned some valuable lessons about student engagement.
- Student engagement is not all fun and games. Instead, when students are immersed in serious learning – and they succeed – the joy of learning occurs.
- When learning begins at that “sweet spot” then scaffolds, everyone’s happier.
- Students learn better when it’s social.
- When students are engaged, the teacher is engaged too. And that right there is what makes you enjoy teaching.
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.