Needs Focused Teaching

Student Engagement Strategies


I recently ran a competition for our Student Engagement Formula. Entrants had to leave their favourite student engagement strategies in the comment box below to win full access to our comprehensive system for encouraging student motivation and improving student engagement. As you can see, there are some BRILLIANT ideas and although the competition is now closed, you can still benefit from all the submissions. Or, if you want to join in the fun, feel free to add your own favourite strategy for getting students engaged in your lessons. It could be a starter activity you use to get students to buy-in to your lesson, a simple attention-grabber, a questioning technique, a group activity, a demonstration, a routine you've established etc. etc.

If you want to get EVEN more ideas for improving student engagement you might be interested in our Student Engagement Formula - a complete system for getting 'buy-in' at the start of lessons and maintaining participation throughout - here's the link.

Karin G says 22nd April 2012

I use secret student to help with my classroom management . I choose a student randomly and put their name in an envelope and pin it to the board. At the end of the lesson that student gets either a positive or negative phone call depending on his/her behaviour during the lesson.
Obviously, you need to have planned well and the tasks are appropriate with the nice mix of practical/demand/questioning/fun tasks.

Pamela says 14th April 2012

One of my favorite ways to engage students in a lesson is to start with a video describing what the lesson is that we are going to discuss. I also enjoy showing the class a funny (humorous) video clip before we start the session. I might ask students to provide their own funny (as long as it is appropriate for school). I use Jeopardy for helping students study for tests. I use computer programs like word walls, museum box, mimio software and much more. I play math games with the students, role play social scenarios, complete community activities, Movies, and much more. Working with behavioral needs students is definitely a challenge, but rewarding also.

Cathy says 13th April 2012

With one of my two hour groups, I found nothing I tried worked. I use a lot of active learning activities and whilst they seemed to enjoy many of these it was always difficult to get them settled and working. Then out of desperation I tried the complete opposite and created some warm up sheets of 20 quick questions, recapping basic facts (based on someone else’s homework idea). Not only did it mean that weaker students (in particular) were recapping basic maths facts, but intriguingly all of the students settled really well, all sitting down and tackling the questions with focus. So sometimes a worksheet is a great starter or is it just that I used something different to my norm? Anyhow, I’ve had four weeks of a calm start to the class and the “settled” atmosphere continues on through the session 🙂

Magalí says 13th April 2012

In the first lesson I always ask my students to make two lists: one with the characteristics of a “good student” and the other with the characteristics of a “good teacher”. Apart from getting some funny answers, this helps you to know what your students expect from you and you can also work on stereotypes (who decides what makes the perfect student teacher???). It’s also a good opprtunity for students to know what you expect from them. This activity has proved really helpful and that’s why it’s my favourite

cindi says 12th April 2012

This is an easy one I have used with elementary kids as well as college students!
SWATTER – great for reviewing vocabulary, definitions, short answer questions.
Before the activity:
2 fly swatters (I teach Science so I label them SWAT for ‘Science Was Awesome Today’!),
Masking Tape, projector & overhead or whiteboard

ª • Mark 2 ‘X’s on the floor (1 each side of the board) to indicate where 2 students will stand with their swatters
• Write or project key terms or answers on board
• Designate 2 teams
• 1 student from ea. team takes their place (X’s)

• compete against each other (whole class eventually circulates through)
• As you read the question, definition, statement students search for correct answer & SWAT
*student who swats first and CORRECTLY gets a point for their team
• Winning team has most points
This can be played anytime – as an on-going competition (last few minutes of the class/day) or each Friday, or even once a grading period.

    Rob says 13th April 2012

    Cindi you are one of our WINNERS! Congratulations and thank you for the effort you’ve put into sharing your ideas. You’ll get an email from us shortly explaining how to join Student Engagement Formula.
    Well done and thinks for sharing.

      cindi says 13th April 2012

      WQOO HOO thanks so much – love the idea of folks sharing what they do in their own classrooms. Too often teachers think what they do is ‘nothing special’ and don’t realize others would LOVE to have access to their tried and true techniques and lessons.
      Thanks for putting this ‘competition’ together and thanks for selecting mine. Your materials are an inspiration.

Kevin Hewitson says 12th April 2012

As you say Rob a huge collection and “pure gold”. Many of the idea fall into the camp I call “Welcome to my world” where sharing learning is fun, exciting and rewarding. For anyone who thinks doing something like the many ideas here is too complicated or demanding then you need to note the reward in terms of energy pay off is substantial. In fact it outweighs the additional effort many times over. I think you can tell that by the enthusiasm of those writing about their ideas. I also think it is just as important to finish your lesson well too and in a way that sparks interest for the next one.

Maria Murrar says 11th April 2012

One of my favourite activities to start a math lesson is with a few rounds of quick draw. Students have 30 seconds to look at the shape/drawing on the board and then they draw it as best they can. The shapes are usually a series of lines that represent different geometric concepts, such as parallel lines, or an arrangement of triangles. Students then share what they saw and how they drew it. They are encouraged to use their vocabulary. There is no wrong answer. The activity encourages spatial awareness, communication, and so on.

Vivienne says 11th April 2012

My favorite engagement strategy is to ask students where they see themselves in 6 months, 1 year, and five years. Another strategy I like is borrowed from Steven Covey “start with the end in mind”. He suggests that you start planning your life goals by writing your own obituary. So, I have students write their own obituary or their own tombstone epitaph or headstone inscription ala Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.

Kim Dammers says 11th April 2012

I teach EFL in the Third World. I start almost all my classes with an ice-breaker — when-ever possible with some-thing tied to the lesson [For example, if we are going to talk about animals, I might ask the riddle about what animal is always at a baseball game, or what animal is at almost every baseball game (bat and fly, respectively)] but usually with-out explicitly making the connection. Ice-breakers are particularly important for FL classes, since students generally come in thinking in their native language and need an unstressed time to re-adjust to the sounds and “neurology” etc. of the target language.

Probably my favorite ice-breaker is a moebius strip [ms] demonstration. I show a ms and a ring, both of white paper. If students are unfamiliar with ms, it is fascinating by itself, but I take it further, especially if the students are familiar with ms. I then ask what happens if the ring and ms are cut. (Here, issues of cutting across or along can be played with, depending on time available and the class’s mood.) Then the ring is cut (This can be omitted, but I think its mundane character heightens the interest.). No big surprise. Then, after guesses have been made and anticipation and curiosity heightened, the ms is dramatically cut lengthwise, with the Ss giving a drum roll at the last moment. The result is pretty surprising and really interesting. But I have one more trick up my sleeve. I have a colored ms (If I already know Ss’ favorite colors, I will have chosen one of these; other times I quickly ask Ss their favorite color until I get some-one who names this color — or if no one names the color of the ms, I might give them a raspberry and tell them that, e.g., yellow is a magic color. I show them the colored ms, and I cut it, with appropriate S drum rolls. Voila! The yellow ms cuts into an entirely different configuration. Gasps! Laughs! Comments in English (e.g., it’s not really magic, how did you do that?, you tricked us).

This has the class started on the right track. I can now go into the content of the lesson with or with-out a transition, such as (depending on the level of the Ss and the topic of the lesson), “Well, we’ve seen the magic of yellow. Do you want to learn other colors?” or “We’ve been talking about ‘observation’ this week. How observant were you? How can you ask questions about observation to uncover this magic?” Alternatively — especially if it is a conversation class, I can let the class simply build on the ice-breaker.

Oh, you might want to know what happened with the ms? Well, for the actual configurations, you’ll have to make and cut some yourself. But the trick of the yellow ms is that instead of cutting down the middle, meeting the opening incision in one complete revolution, I cut a third of the way from an edge, passing the initial incision the first time and only meeting it and completing the cutting at the end of the second revolution.

    Rob says 13th April 2012

    KIm you are one of our WINNERS! Congratulations and thank you for the effort you’ve put into sharing your ideas. You’ll get an email from us shortly explaining how to join Student Engagement Formula.
    Well done and thinks for sharing.

Mary says 11th April 2012

One of my favorite ways to engage students is through music! I teach students with emotional/behavior disorders in a self contained classroom. I have used recorded music to introduce content lessons (We Will Rock You for the rock cycle, ABC, 123 for spelling and dictionary skills). I’ve even sung parts of the song “It’s Friday, Friday” to start our Friday mornings! I also use movement like having a paper snowball fight where I divide the room into 2 groups and toss several paper snowballs around, give the students a set time and have them throw the balls over to the other side. At the end of time, they open up the snowballs and read the clues or questions if it is for review- this gets their blood pumping and excited to join in the lesson.

Jody says 10th April 2012

When I was in the classroom recently, I used the Secret Student strategy. The children seemed interested the whole day. At the end, they celebrated the success of one boy. As I presently sub until next year, they were anxious for me to come back again in order for them to be the secret student.

Rebecca Hart says 10th April 2012

I love to get my students moving first thing. They are alway in their desk I find its the best way to get everyones attention and get them focused. Each of my students has a speical motivation or watch word they have given themselves and they call out there watch word as a reminder of what they are striving to accomplish that day. Then they say a type of stretch for the class to do. After stretching we sit back down in our seats close our eyes and call out 1 sets of tables together as a class, calming everyone down. Then we are ready to being the lesson.

Jennifer Ward says 10th April 2012

Playing games adds so much to my lessons and improves student engagement. When we have friendly competitions when reviewing information. This competition and team support reinforces the information the students have learned.

I use signs and signals for checking understanding. This technique through positive peer pressure forces everyone to be engaged. I use American Sign Language for yes and no and the alphabet for answering mulitiple choice questions. Children learn a new way to communicate and give answers.

springdancer says 10th April 2012

A great ice-breaker and warm up activity is “I like people who like…”. Form a circle where everybody has a chair, except the teacher who starts in the middle. The teacher then says “I like people who like (choose something eg wearing socks)”, then all the people who have/like the chosen subject have to change seats, just like in musical chairs and they can’t go back to their own seat. The teacher takes one of the students chairs and this leaves a student in the middle. This activity can be adapted to be subject specific or as a relationship building tool. It’s a great way to find out your students interests without being intrusive as they either think up an idea or respond to someone else’s. Try it out!

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Great idea – like you say it’s very useful for finding out student interests without being intrusive. Thanks.

Robin Robinson says 10th April 2012

Hi Rob,
I haven’t been to log on to get the Student Engagement Formula, and rely can’t afford it so this is provident.

I specialise in ‘at risk’ teens, mostly boys. I usually start lessons simply with a “Hallo, hope you’ve all had a great day. If you haven’t I hope I can make it better.” They like nothing than to talk about themselves, who doesn’t, and so I listen. They also don’t often feel anyone cares to listen. Usually this five or ten minutes in exchanged communications is when we wait for stragglers anyway so it isn’t wasted. I find the lessons start on a positive note and are deeper, with students actually thinking and putting in their own thoughts and knowledge. However, you have to be genuine and honest about them and interested hearing what they have to say for this strategy to work. I have been accused of being too close to students, not enough ‘the teacher’.

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Hi Robin – excellent points – “They like nothing than to talk about themselves, who doesn’t, and so I listen. They also don’t often feel anyone cares to listen. However, you have to be genuine and honest about them and interested hearing what they have to say for this strategy to work.”

Fiona says 10th April 2012

One strategy that worked great for me last year was playing a short ‘competition’ (nobody really wins, but children become more active and engaged). When we are going to work on a new theme I divide the class in smaller groups and tell them a key word/s, for example ‘shops around the city’. I ask children to talk about all the shops they know in the city. This way, quieter children or those who are less secure get to listen to others or even dare participate in the discussion since less people are involved. Then we get back together and I ask the group in general what they discussed. It’s amazing how many more hands come up, not only the usual hands.

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Good strategy Fiona, thanks.

Chae says 10th April 2012

For a more engaging variation on the brainstorm: I like doing ‘brainstorm bingo’ at the start of the new topic – students brainstorm what they already know about the topic in their books; I call out relevant terms/ideas and they circle ones they have written; first one to get 5 (or whatever) calls out ‘bingo’ and wins

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Nice one Chae

Susan says 10th April 2012

I love starting out with either a unique item for students to guess about, or a game. These are great attention grabbers and really get students participating.

Andy P says 9th April 2012

As a science teacher there is nothing better than a good explosion at the start of a lesson and the promise of another, maybe bigger, explosion at the end if everyone pays attention. This beats, in my opinion, any game, video or other regular teaching strategy. A good case of electrocution (not fatal of course) also works a treat. In 15 years of teaching I have found no better way of guaranteeing student engagement. Seriously.

Apologies to colleagues who cannot facilitate this in your lessons. (Although I have heard of non-science teachers using theatrical thunder flashes.)

    springdancer says 10th April 2012

    haha i agree, nothing grabs attention like sodium and water!

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Brilliant Andy! I remember our science teacher building a very simple (non fatal) ‘electric shock’ machine which he cunningly disguised as a ‘test your strength’ machine. He presented it as a competition at the start of the lesson – obviously all the boys wanted to be included – so he had our attention right away. The squeals could be heard down the corridor – hilarious!

Kerstin Karlsson says 9th April 2012

My favorite strategy to start class with student engagement is called The Power of the First Two Minutes. When students enter the classroom they get a small scrap of paper to answer the clue on the board. I like to use MAD GAB a lot. The kids love trying to figure out the saying! Then they enter their slip to win a small prize. This gets them excited to learn and to class on time (if they want to participate). I’ve had a lot less tardies this year!

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Love it – I used to use that too – do you use the online version?

Floyd French says 9th April 2012

Sorry to post this here, but I wanted to find out more about the Student Engagement Formular. I’m not seeing the video preview or whatever it should be and I thought the competition would have more information on it. I hardly win lottos and such competitions so I’m interested in having a preview of the product before I consider purchasing it. I don’t know if viewing the video link in the promotion email is an issue based on my location in the Caribbean.

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Hi Floyd,

    Change your thinking buddy! – “I hardly win lottos and such competitions” – you never know!!! This is available to anyone and everyone.

    Anyway, the preview video should work, no matter where you are. You can try viewing the recorded webinar on – it might work better. Also try updating Flash – that should work.

    A better solution would be to post a really, really good engaging strategy here so that you stand a good chance of winning! 🙂

Jillian Marconi says 9th April 2012

I have a word of the day on my board in my English classroom the first activity I do is get the students to write a sentence using it and then one that links to our topic. This settles them and let’s me have a simple activity to link to the rest of the lesson. In the computer room we usually start with a speed and accuracy test and end with a fun typing game. these generally work well. I also have a starting routine in both rooms of bags away, grab needed materials then we get into the starter.

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Routines are good, settling starters are good too – thanks Jillian

Colleen says 9th April 2012

I am always keen to try simple (but effective) strategies to engage students and I lead a faculty who is fortunately open to a little madness and risk! They are always keen to share ideas that work (and why some didn’t and how they can change them to hopefully make them work better).

I love some of the ideas that have been posted and I apologise if some of the following have already been described :

1. Give each student a piece opf folded paper that could have part of a sentence, key term, description on and tell them to keep it closed – adds to the dsense of mystery. They are then asked to find their match or build the picture etc. Can be pitched at any ability of group and can be used to introduce key facts, what they already know, link to a big picture etc.

2. Image on the board – what led to this? What do you think this has to do with the lesson?

3. Partial or distorted image (can make it into a catchphrase type activity – use questions to reveal) – can you tell what it is yet?

4. Instead of the usual yes miss to the register – students respond to their name with a key word from the topic (can make it more challenging by asking them to explain what it means/why they chose it). They must listen carefully as they are not to repeat any that have been said previously – you need to reverse register order so that it is a fair process next time for those further down the register.

5. We also love Quiz quiz trade activities – can use individually or split into teams and get the competition hotting up.

6. Find someone who….. similar to human bingo – can use it as an ice breaker in a new group so that they learn
about each other or can use it to emphasise key aspects/learning from topics.

7. Use did you know facts or true false comments and give them to students who then lead class discussion – they like it because they are the expert…

These are a few of my favourites at the moment which I find work well.

Just want to add a big thank you as well as last year your engagement strategies and behaviour management suggestions saved my sanity after I moved to a new school (very different from my previous one) as they helped me to think through new ideas for a very different intake of students (and set of school systems).

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Wow! Huge effort there Collen – thanks a lot. I like the way you use ‘did you know?’ facts – great strategy and #1 on your list – simple but effective. These are all great. And I love the fact that your faculty is open to madness and risk – that’s where the magic happens!! 🙂

    Rob says 13th April 2012

    Colleen you are one of our WINNERS! Congratulations and thank you for the effort you’ve put into sharing your ideas. You’ll get an email from us shortly explaining how to join Student Engagement Formula.
    Well done and thinks for sharing.

Deb says 9th April 2012

I have been working as a mentor for first and second year teachers for 2 years, after 18 years as a special education teacher. I have bought myself a subscription and have been able to share strategies with my teachers that “come from an expert”. Thank you for all the great resources. Just the other day I had a conversation with one of my Science teachers about getting the students engaged in the subject and passed along some ideas from your last webinar.

Next year I will be taking on a new challenge, north of the Arctic Circle, and will continue to tune in to learn new things and to refresh myself on the “old” things.

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Thanks Deb – very grateful. Good luck up there!

Chocaholic says 9th April 2012

I teach EFL and ESOL. In the first lesson I like to get the learners to complete a form with information about themselves such as food they love and food they hate; hobbies and passtimes; countries they have visited; favourite band or singer; special talents (I’ve had uni-cycle riders and jugglers). This leads to great discussions about people’s interests. I like to display the forms in the classroom and we can come back to different topics during the course.

Learners love to talk about themselves and their families so I usually start lessons off by asking questions like “What did you do yesterday?”, “What are you going to do at the weekend?” or “What would you do if …. ?” This gives the opportunity to practice different grammar topics and share news.

My lessons are three hours long so having lots of short and varied tasks helps to keep the learners engaged. We will do some group discussion, Q & A, listening or reading comprehension, gap fills, anagrams, word searches which relate to a topic that is relevant to their lives, eg holidays, food, daily routines. Young learners enjoy producing art work that relates to the topic such as drawing a beach scene with images of things that you see or do at the beach. This is a great way of learning vocabulary and practising grammar – “The boy is snorkelling in the sea”;”Someone is climbing up the cliffs” for example.

I have found some excellent games ideas in books or on the Internet. One that I love is called “Your neighbour’s cat” which was created by Jim Scrivener. It’s a great way of learning new and exciting adjectives. Another great Jim Scrivener game is “Yaroo” which helps students develop skills in creating sentences. A few of good games to buy are “Banagrams”, “Boggle” and “Pass the Bomb” (although this cannot be played with ESOL classes as anything related to bombs could be very sensitive so you have to adapt it by using an egg timer and passing a different object round). You can play the latter two for a particular length of time and “Banagrams” takes about 15 minutes to play.

I use “Pingu” DVDs to get learners to practice grammar such as modals – “Pingu should have …..”, “His mum might have ….” etc. They are good for vocabulary too. There are many, many other exercises that can be used with these or other videos. I particularly like “Pingu” as there is no actual speaking in it so the learners have to think very hard and work together to complete any tasks.

Sorry, Rob, this isn’t exactly brief, is it?

    robplevin says 10th April 2012

    Thanks Chocaholic! It sounds like your classroom is a hive of activity and engagement. I’ve not come across JIm Scrivener before so thanks for sharing that. 🙂

    Rob says 13th April 2012

    Chocaholic you are one of our WINNERS! Congratulations and thank you for the effort you’ve put into sharing your ideas. You’ll get an email from us shortly explaining how to join Student Engagement Formula.
    Well done and thinks for sharing.

robplevin says 9th April 2012

I’ll second that karen – thank you to everyone – there are some great ideas coming through! You’ve touched on one of the essential ‘framework’ strategies we cover in Student Engagement Formula – building a positive, welcoming environment – and that’s a great technique you’ve mentioned (frequent written feedback).

Karen says 9th April 2012

Thanks everyone for sharing your strategies! One thing I do which really helps long term engagement is to write personal comments in students’ books as frequently as possible. This is particularly effective with those students who don’t like to be singled out in class or get embarrassed with verbal praise in front of their peers. It also means I can ensure I pitch the next lesson correctly to meet each student’s needs, and the students know I am pitching it for them individually. Finally, I can use this to ensure students know they are succeeding and making progress each lesson (ideally this is also done verbally with each student, every lesson, but with up to 36 students in a class it is to possible to have meaningful one-to-one conversations with every student!).

Chelsea says 9th April 2012

Good Morning~
I work on a Native American Reservation. Often motivation and “buy-in” are very difficult. Often I use stories from the Native culture to illustrate the lesson, such as kindness, caring, community-building, etc. The students are much more engaged and open to the rest of the lesson when they feel that their culture is valued. Also used is hands-on activities, such as story illustration or craft creation. This helps with many of our students who learn through a kinesthetic modality. The internet has opened up the world and given the students a “bigger picture” aspect as to what other Native cultures do, learn and share.
Thank you for all of the wonderful resources!

Dan says 9th April 2012

The primary students with whom I work love to be able to touch something. Having a prop that relates to the lesson, perhaps not obviously at first, that they can pass around and handle, really seems to keep their attention.

Andreea says 9th April 2012

Hey Rob, unfortunately, I don’t have favourite engagement strategies yet because I’m a student myself..a student-teacher so to speak…and I am learning day by day what does it mean to be a teacher, especially because I am in my terminal year at the university(I have 21 years) and I work intensely for my diploma paper (Dealing with disruptive behaviour- EFL learners). I am very excited that I found your site because it’s actually extremely useful for me as a future teacher-to-be, I’ve learnt sooooo many wonderful things and I really look forward to implementing it. Unfortunately, in my country, Romania, it’s very hard to get a job as a teacher because the system is very corrupt and the wages are miserable, especially in the first years of teaching(150-200 Euros), but I hope I will stand up from the crowd and I will become a great teacher, because this is my dream. It’s gonna be a huge struggle in the first years but I am willing to get through this. I know I have the call for doing this, I realised that when I was in practice. I taught English and German to classes from 5th grade to 11th grade. It was the most wonderful experience ever. But since in this comment I have to speak about a favourite strategy for getting students engaged….I will speak about a something that I’ve tried in my practice period. It’s certainly not one of my favourites activities since I don’t have much experience, but it worked. It was something veeeeery spontaneously. So…….. one day, I was announced, at around 8 o’clock PM, that I have to teach German language the very next two days from 8 o’clock AM to 14 o’clock PM, in a very prestigious highschool in my town. I was terrified!!! I was so pissed off that they didn’t announce me earlier to have more time to prepare myself, that I didn’t have a textbook or something to help me find out those students’ level at German… I was so afraid to fail and embarass myself in front of the students, especially because I had to deal with this alone, on my own, my tutor from the university couldn’t come, my colleagues couldn’t come to support me either…so it was just me and the students for 2 days in a row, 6 hours per day. I want to tell you that, unfortunately for me, I don’t look quite as a teacher…I have only 1.55 m in height and I look like a little girl myself:)) And I was petrified thinking that I wouldn’t be able to deal with the students, especially with challenging students. But, fortunately, except with the 11th grade, I’ve managed to deal quite remarcably with the other classes. So, after I found out that I have only 12 hours until I teach to 6 classes that day, I burnt the midnight oil pretty hard that night:)) I wanted to prepare something interesting for them, and not give them the chance to “throw me out of the window”. It was very hard for me to find something interesting…in the end I found some things for every class. I will not speak about what I did at every class, don’t worry. But one thing that I did, which was quite engaging, was with the 9th grade- I did some research on the internet in order to find interesting quotes in German, from famous different authors…and I did find extremely interesting quotes, some of them actually funny but with an interesting substratum…so I was thinking to do a sort of puzzle quote, I mixed all the words from a quote and I had my students to put it together in order to find the original quote, then we translated it and afterwards we discussed the quotes that the students found most interesting. Perhaps this activity seems quite silly, but the students actually enjoyed it, they were struggling so hard to find the correct order of the words in order to discover that quote that they weren’t misbehaving at all. And after we “discovered” each and every quote, the discussions were awesome. Everyone had something to say about it, everyone had his/her opinion. It was great. And in order to test this activity, I did it at the 10th grade too, and it worked. I’m thinking that such activity might not work if the quotes are just famous and boring, it has to be intriguing, humorous, etc. The students were thinking and thinking, trying to compete with each other in order to be the first to figure out the quote; this way they learnt new vocabulary items, then they managed to discuss freely about those quotes and they also discovered famous personalities from the German culture (Goethe, Schiller, Adenauer, Bismarck etc). I don’t know if this activity has a name, but I will call it “puzzle-quote”. I know that I wasn’t quite briefly in my comment and I want to apologize for that, but I really, really wish to be one of the three winners. I want this Student Engagement Formula sooo badly but I don’t aford it. I know it has a very afordable price but I don’t have a monthly salary, I only have a scholarship of 60 Euros per month, and I don’t always receive 60 Euros because of the holidays. When there’s a 2-week holiday in a month for instance, I receive 40 or sometimes 45 Euros, so it’s very hard for me to aford some things. So….I hope you liked my on-the-spot strategy- “puzzle-quote”. I’m sooooo anxious to find out the three lucky winners. I truly hope to be one of the lucky ones on the Easter Eve. I wish you all the best Rob, and a wonderful Easter with your beloved ones. Happy Easter!!!

Carilyn Alarid says 9th April 2012

One really engaging activity is to put a few objects related to the lesson in some way into a paper bag and have a student reach in and pull out one of the objects and have the class guess what the relationship too the lesson is. Then another student pulls out the second object, followed by more guesses from the students. This is done until all the items have been revealed. Great fun for the kiddos! The teacher then explains what the lesson will be and goes on from there.

Amelia says 9th April 2012

I like to start the class with a brain teaser or puzzle of some kind. As I walk around looking for correct answers, I’ll say something like, “I haven’t seen the right answer yet,” or “I’ve seen the correct answer 3 times already.” The students love the competition of being one of the ones who “got it.” After a minute or so I go around and give specific feedback: “Almost,” “Too much,” “You’ve got it!” etc.

julie says 9th April 2012

I like to start with a question that has many answers (responses) and most students can come up with at least one answer.

Carol says 9th April 2012

Hi, I am a secondary school art teacher who teaches across three year levels 7, 8 and 9. My students love to play hangman. I use this as a random reward for following my expectations of appropriate behavior, staying on task and working to their best ability.
The student who guesses the word and spells it correctly on the board gets a lollipop. I use vocab words from the unit of work I am teaching. Words they have seen in class and nothing new to them. The students have to guess a letter before they can have a go at guessing the word.
I have found all the students even the disengaged want to participate. Sometimes we might get through a few words and sometimes they don’t guess the word. They really enjoy the challenge and of course the reward.
I am the one choosing the students and am able to ensure the majority of students have a go and get a chance to win.
As I said it is random, at the end of a lesson and students look forward to playing so with that they have an incentive to engage, behave and achieve in my class from the beginning. The novelty never wears off even at year 9.

Julia says 9th April 2012

As I teach a lot of young children I like to grab their attention with a bit of mystery. I have two favorites. My first is to put a piece of realia related to the lesson in a bag or under a cloth and give all the children a chance to feel it, and then they can guess what it is. Of course you then use the piece of realia to introduce the structure for the day, or review some previous language or something. Another one I like is to hide either flashcards or realia around the room and get the students to hide and seek them. It’s great for learning new vocab. and also gets the kids up and moving around so they can start the class on an energy high.

Shari says 9th April 2012

Traditional vocal warm-ups are a great way to wake everyone up, stretch your body, breathe and use you voice appropriately at the start of class. Ask your school’s music teacher how to do a 5 minute vocal warm-up and watch your class perk up!

Claire says 9th April 2012

I use QR code activities to pique interest – for example making flashcards with an image and a QR code on them, sticking them around the room and students have to go around scanning the codes to decipher the vocabulary (could also be used with historical images and facts, mathematical equations and solutions, poems and annotations, scientific diagrams and explanations…etc). From the moment they come into the room the students are curious about what they are going to be doing! The fact that students have to scan the code to find the Spanish word for the image (I teach MFL) introduces an element of mystery. The students also enjoy the fact that they can move around the room, the competitive element of seeing who will finish first, and the ‘cool factor’ or being able to play with their phones in class! Hope that helps


    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Wow Claire you’re up there in terms of bringing technology into the classroom – well done! Just one question (and it’s most certainly not a criticism as we have included QR codes in session 2 of Student Engagement Formula) – what do you do about students who don’t have a mobile that can read QR codes/don’t have a QR app?

      Kim Dammers says 11th April 2012

      What is a QR code?

        Claire says 13th April 2012

        I have asked students to work in pairs (one to scan and one to write) and to match themselves up – this has worked so far. I have heard though that we have some iPads available for use in school so next time, or if I was after students working individually, I might try to book these out to fill in any gaps. It is definitely something to be aware of though – thanks for the reminder 🙂

        Claire says 13th April 2012

        It is a picture that mobile phones/iPads/webcams can read (with the help of an app) that links to another website, image, word etc. They are very easy to create and there are loads of sites that will do it, here is one example

          Rob says 13th April 2012

          Claire you are one of our WINNERS! Congratulations and thank you for the effort you’ve put into sharing your ideas. You’ll get an email from us shortly explaining how to join Student Engagement Formula.
          Well done and thinks for sharing.

Patti K says 9th April 2012

The posts here have many great ideas! I teach technology to grades k-6, and I see each grade 2x per week for 40 minutes. Not much time in the grand scheme of things, especially with the topic I teach (requires direct instruction alot), so I’d love to get some more ideas from your material! Maybe I need an alter ego or cape when explaining how to do a task on the computer!?

    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    I have a spare cape if you’re interested. 🙂

Mrs H says 9th April 2012

I like to keep things topical – as an RE teacher I can usually find a news article or clip which relates to the topic we are studying (especially for exam classes) – helps students to realise that what they are learning is relevant!

    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Again Mrs H, you’re bang on the money with ‘relevance’ – so important – and topical news items certainly do the job

yuetching says 9th April 2012

Well I don’t have any tips/ engagment strategies yet, but I find that kids that pose a challenge respond more positively to u, if you are friends with them and don’t look down on them; though one problem I face is that they find it very empowering to challenge the teacher. Thank you!!!

    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Classroom community and positive teacher-student relationship is a key part of the Student Engagement Formula – thanks for that Yuetching. Take care with ‘being friends’ with them – be ‘friendly’ rather than trying to be their ‘friend’ as it can make the teacher appear weak if they are seen to try too hard to get students to like them.

      yuetching says 14th April 2012

      Yep. I try to have a friendly face, instead of trying too hard to be their friend, coz it feels like it’s taking away your own power. But the reason I am trapped with trying to be friendly, is because they are kind of sulky throughout all subjects. How do you get authority with them? Like get them to follow your punishments. The only punishment they follow is detention, and it works very well. But getting them to write reflections and so on, it’s quite hard. And I dun give detention that often. THank you!!!

Peter says 9th April 2012

Where it relevant I try to sometimes kick off with an annecdote of a personal life experience that incorporates a need for the skill I am introducing. For example, when discussing the metric system I’ve related how our new carport was placed in the wrong location because of confusion between centimetres and millimetres. The children visualise me having to dig up newly cemented posts and have a laugh, but soon realise the value of understanding metric conversions!

    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Nice one Peter. I’m visualising a big photo of you on the whiteboard covered in mud, digging up posts with a very frustrated expression on your face – a sure way to get their attention at the start of the topic and see the point in what they’re being asked to learn. 🙂

Rosie Alcock says 9th April 2012

As an art teacher I often struggle when yr 9 pupils who haven’t chosen art as an option lose interest in the subject. What I try to do is find interesting short videos or animations that relate to the lesson that are visually exciting. For example, there is a great video on YouTube of this guy who photographed his face every day for 6 years. These photos are shown as a fast animation. It’s great for grabbing their attention as they come in the room and they usually are very curious about why he did it. This then leads into a focused lesson on facial proportion. 🙂

    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Nice one Rosie – I have seen a similar video if not the same one – sure to grab their attention and very nicely linked to the content of the lesson.

Kim Francisco says 9th April 2012

I teach 6th grade special education. In English class, we concentrate on written language. A popular entry activity is five or ten minutes of journal writing to a prompt. What promotes the “buy in” is sharing. If they know they will get to read their journal entry to the class, their enthusiasm increases dramatically.

This age group is terribly self concerned and any activity that allows them to share their thoughts and experiences is much more likely to be successful.

    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Thanks Kim. What a great way to build classroom community too.

Andy says 9th April 2012

Two that have worked really well for me:

(a) Teacher-in-role. This works best if you give some visual clue, e.g. putting on a hat or cloak (stop sneering, secondary colleagues! I used to use this to great effect in secondary, though I do now work in primary). When kids get to realise that you’re in role, their whole attitude changes. You can extend this to encouraging kids to be in role too. It doesn’t have to be restricted to the tried-and-tested drama techniques like hot-seating and conscience alley – though kids love these activities of course – but can be a simple attention-grabber. The prop (e.g. the hat) doesn’t have to relate to the theme – you could use any, but something unusual like a trilby or a wizard’s hat is good. The kids soon get the idea. Examples in secondary might include being an author looking for an illustrator in Art, a record producer scouting for session musicians in Music, a Brazilian politician proposing a housing project in the Amazon rainforest in Geography. This should come with a warning – you and the kids can easily get so drawn into what was supposed to be a 2-minute pre-starter that before you realise, half the lesson has gone by.

(b) Whisper. How many times do we find ourselves shouting over the noise? Often, we want to encourage the lively hustle and bustle of a busy classroom, but end up so caught up ourselves in the excitement that we end up unwittingly raising the noise level by shrieking above it. Train kids that on a certain signal (I like to use lights off rather than a sound), they turn silently to look at you. Whisper the next instruction or piece of info. You get a real ‘magic moment’ and it nearly always works. It is a show-stopper if you’re being observed and is the most effective strategy I have used in 20 years of teaching in primary and secondary settings.

I have a few other effective ones but these are perhaps the best.


    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Andy these are great – thank you on behalf of all readers for sharing them both. The role-play idea is a favourite of mine (must be the show-off in me) and I find kids LOVE it – secondary as much as primary. And your simple explanation of the whisper technique is brilliant.

    Rob says 13th April 2012

    Andy you are one of our WINNERS! Congratulations and thank you for the effort you’ve put into sharing your ideas. You’ll get an email from us shortly explaining how to join Student Engagement Formula.
    Well done and thinks for sharing.

Kathy Sanderson says 9th April 2012

I teach first grade and I must start the lesson in an exciting way in order to grab their attention. The students must become interested in what is about to take place. I like to pull something from the lesson that is tangible that will help to build their background knowledge. For example, if the story is about a birthday party, give the students a little birthday candle. As they hold the candle the students could turn and talk to their neighbor about a special birthday.

    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Nice use of props Cathy. Giving them a prop each and then getting them to discuss/share ideas and opinions is a great activity.

Karla says 9th April 2012

Well, definitely games or competitions are the best way to start a class. I love to use them, specially jeopardy. Everything you have to do is to prepare a set of questions related to the last topics you saw in your class, going from easiest to hardest and give the answers points, from one hundred and up. I start with three topics, three questions each, going from one to three hundred. They love this game!! I also like to do the statement auction. Which is very easy. Just write on your board a set of statements, I usually prepare just five, make sure some have slight mistakes on them or represent not too obvious false factsn and only one is correct or perfectly stated. Then give each student a set of fake money and “sell” them in a public auction. After the auction is over you discuss with the class who made the “best investment” and explain why. Both starters are kinda noisy, but I guarantee they will be a success and will engage your students specially if you use these to introduce something about your next lesson.

    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Nothing wrong with a bit of noise in a motivated classroom Karla. 🙂 Statement Auction – not come across that one before but I really like it. Thanks for sharing!

    Pearl Nitsche says 10th April 2012


    Here’s another lively review game to start or end a lesson;


    All of the students have a piece of paper and a pen or pencil in front of them.

    The teacher asks a review question.

    All of the students who believe they know the answer to the question stand up. Any student, who doesn’t know or isn’t sure of the correct answer, but is willing to risk being called on, can stand up too.

    The teacher calls on up to 3 students per review question:

    If the first student knows the correct answer, all of the students standing up give themselves a PLUS on the piece of paper lying in front of them. If the first student doesn’t know the correct answer, this student enters a MINUS on his paper and sits down.

    The teacher asks the second student the same question. If the second student knows the correct answer, he and all of the students who are still standing get a PLUS. If he doesn’t know the correct answer, he enters a MINUS on his sheet of paper and sits down.

    If the third student also doesn’t know the answer, she and all of the other students who are still standing get a MINUS.

    The teacher asks the next question, etc.

    A student can change a MINUS to a PLUS by answering a question correctly.
    The students who don’t stand up, get neither a plus nor a minus.
    If a student collects 10 PLUS on his sheet of paper, the teacher gives him a PLUS in her grade book.


Lucy says 9th April 2012

I think there’s only a trick to keep students engaged: show you care about their learning and starting the lesson with anything related to their lives (an ad, a popular song, a new film)- almost anything can be somehow related to the lesson topic.

    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Absolutely Lucy – relevance is incredibly important – as is showing we CARE. Nice one.

Jewel says 9th April 2012

I love using videos in class, either ones that I made myself or ones that I found in the Internet. At the start of this school year, I made a short slideshow/video for my students to get to know me better. It shows them who I am, where I am from, my family and friends, my teaching career and my interests. I always get requests for it to be played every lesson as the students loved it so much. I found that students like knowing more about their teachers. They even tell other classes and their siblings or parents. For English, I try to find videos relevant to the topic to start off the lesson. For example, we were going to read and discuss an article about palaeontology. I found this really cool music video about what a palaeontologist does. It was a hit! The students were so interested with the topic afterwards. They were even requesting to see the music video the next day and weeks after that. I also found a nice video about Persuasive Writing once and used it to introduce what Persuasive Writing is. Students loved it as the video used popular songs as its sound track. I just love using videos in class. They make life easier for me as a teacher. 🙂

    robplevin says 9th April 2012

    Nice one Jewel (nice name too :-)) You’re absolutely right – video is a fantastic teaching/learning tool. sadly, it is used as little more than a ‘fill-in’ activity in many classrooms or just a means to ‘occupy’ a difficult group. I will be covering some very creative ways to use Youtube and other video sites in Student Engagement Formula but would love to see some of your videos too. If you win one of the prizes we’ll certainly be expecting to see a link from you. 🙂 Thanks for sharing…

      Jewel says 9th April 2012

      Yay! Thanks, Rob! I am definitely willing to share (if I win, hehe)! 🙂 More power to you! Your work has been and is an inspiration!

        Rob says 13th April 2012

        Jewel you are one of our WINNERS! Congratulations and thank you for the effort you’ve put into sharing your ideas. You’ll get an email from us shortly explaining how to join Student Engagement Formula.
        Well done and thinks for sharing.

          Jewel says 14th April 2012

          Yayyyy! Thank you very much, Rob! Will wait for the details. So excited! Thanks again!

    Pearl Nitsche says 10th April 2012

    Hi Jewel,

    Have you ever used Photo Story from Microsoft?

    It’s a free application that allows users to create a visual story (show and tell presentation) from their digital photos.It allows you and your students to add narration, effects, transitions and background music to create a Windows Media Video movie file with pan and zoom effects. The best part is that it’s really EASY to use – and the kids love it. I had them make movies to introduce themselves to the rest of the class. It’s a great way to raise self-esteem. And, of course, Photo Story can be used for any other theme as well.

    A great video tool in the classroom.

    All the best,
    Pearl (Our names have something in common, don’t they 🙂

      Jewel says 10th April 2012

      Hi, Pearl! I’ve heard of the software from my colleagues, but I’m so used to that I haven’t used Photo Story yet. Might as well give it a shot I guess. 🙂 Thanks for that!

      {beauty.full names. beauty.full people.;)}

    Kim Dammers says 11th April 2012

    So what was the paleontologist video?

      Kim Dammers says 11th April 2012

      And what was the one about persuasive writing?

      Jewel says 11th April 2012

      For the palaeontologist video:

        Jewel says 11th April 2012

        One of my students actually wanted to be a palaeontologist after watching this music video. 🙂

          Kim says 12th April 2012

          Thanks. [I’m an archaeologist and an EFL teacher.]

robplevin says 9th April 2012

Thanks for kicking us off Brian. I love Charades – great game to get them warmed up at the start of a lesson. I used to get my students to spend 10 minutes or so writing film and book titles on squares of paper and then put them in a hat. It gives you a good stock of popular titles to play the game for the rest of the term without having to think on your feet. Games like this are good for unmotivated groups as they are a fun, low pressure way to get them involved in thinking processes. Some teachers have difficulty making the transition from ‘fun activity’ to actual lesson content and formal learning but I don’t see this as a reason NOT to start off with a game – they are more responsive once you’ve got them in a positive mood.

    SusanW says 14th April 2012

    I agree Rob. My students love playing games before a lesson. It gets them focused and ready to transition into our lesson. I also want to thank you for all you do to help teachers with CM. I’m a 3rd year teacher of 2n graders and I wouldn’t have mad it this far without wonderful guidance. You’re awesome!!

Brian says 9th April 2012

My favourite way to get students interested and engaged at the start of lessons is to start off with a game. I use different games but there are some I use more than others. One game my students really enjoy is charades – we play a few rounds just for fun where I get ther students to guess film and book titles not related to the curriculum and then I give them words and phrases that are lesson-related.

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