***This content is based on a webinar presented by Reading Horizons Reading Specialist, Stacy Hurst. ***
Some might think that direct instruction involves simply getting in front of the class and teaching the required material. But direct instruction can be so much more than that! We, as teachers, need to be doing more to get our students engaged in taking an active role in their learning. Research shows that students whose teachers spend too much time talking are less likely to be engaged during direct instruction.
List of Engagement Activities for Students
The good news is that there are many activities that will enable you to spend less time talking and more time getting your students engaged in the classroom. Here is a list of fourteen student engagement strategies from Reading Horizons Reading Specialist, Stacy Hurst, that you can use to increase student engagement in your classroom:
1. Pretest with a Partner
This is a great activity, especially for ELLs. Before handing out the pretest let your students know that the test will not be scored, that way we can lower anxiety and increase engaged learning. Pair students up for the pretest, then have them use the same set of materials for that pretest. If it’s on the computer, simply have them share a computer between the two of them. During the pretest walk around the room so you can gauge your students’ needs and adjust the lesson accordingly. Make sure that the pretest is very similar to the posttest so you can see how much was actually retained during the direct instruction.
2. Stand Up Sit Down
Teachers can use this to help students differentiate between any two categories. For instance, when a teacher is trying to help her students distinguish between common nouns and proper nouns, she would give an example then instruct them to either stand up if it is a common noun or sit down if it is a proper noun. This is a great way to see how much of your class is actually grasping the material. It’s also a great way to get your students’ blood flowing to keep them alert and engaged.
3. Thumbs Up Thumbs Down
I do this when I do teacher trainings all the time. You instruct students to put their thumbs up if they agree or put their thumbs down if they disagree. It’s a very quick way to see how students are doing. However, when students have a low energy level (i.e. right after lunch) Stand Up Sit Down may be a better alternative. On the other hand, if you need to maintain your students’ current energy level Thumbs Up Thumbs Down is ideal.
4. Secret Answer
I love this activity because it’s great for students that might not be as confident in their answers. These students are the ones that if you were doing Stand Up Sit Down or Thumbs Up Thumbs Down as a class, they would be looking around the room to see what other students’ answers are before they would answer it themselves. To do the exercise properly, have your students place their hand near their heart (physically) and hold up the appropriate number of fingers depending on what their answer is. This way, especially if all the students are facing the teacher, it is difficult for students to copy their neighbor’s answer.
5. Response Cards
This is another great way to get your students involved during class time. And frankly, sometimes it’s nice to just mix things up a bit. You can use Response Cards for any number of responses, including: agree/disagree, true/false, yes/no, greater than/less than, multiple choice, and emotions. For example, while reading a book together as a class the teacher may pause and ask her students what they think the character is feeling right now. Then the students would be able to select happy from their personal stack of cards.
This activity is a great way for students to be able to pause and process what they have just learned. Ask the class a question that they must first consider by themselves then give them the opportunity to discuss it with their neighbor. Once they’ve discussed the question, students are then invited to share their answers with the class. By giving them this time, you are enabling them to be more engaged in their learning.
7. Quick Writes
Studies show that the proper ratio of direct instruction to reflection time for students is ten to two. That means that for every ten minutes of instruction teachers need to provide students with two minutes for reflection. This activity is a great way to provide students with that much needed reflection time! In this activity, the teacher asks a question about a topic or concept that has just been taught. Then the student produces a written response and either shares it with a neighbor or is invited to share it with the entire class.
8. One Word Splash
Although this activity is one that most teachers are pretty much unfamiliar with, it’s a very effective way to help students process what they’ve already learned. After explaining new material, ask your students to write down one word to sum up that material. Now, you might think that writing down one word is overly simplistic but it actually requires higher processing skills that will help your students digest their learning. This can be done either with a pencil and paper or a dry erase marker and personal whiteboard for each student.
9. Quick Draw
This activity is great, especially for visual learners or students that aren’t quite writing yet. After learning a new concept or topic, have your students draw a picture about what they’ve just learned. For example, after reading part of the story: Jack and the Bean Stalk, have your students draw what has happened in the story up to that point. Then a student may draw a picture of a boy planting seeds with a bean stalk growing in the background.
10. Gallery Walk
This is another great activity that will keep your students engaged and their energy level high. After having your students write or draw their responses, and have a Gallery Walk and allow your students to look around the room and see other students’ responses. Because students seek approval from their peers they will put more effort into the exercise.
11. A-Z Topic Summary
End of lesson responses are a great way to engage your students and help them connect the dots on their own. I love having my students do an A-Z Topic Summary either as individuals or in pairs. If it is an individual activity, I’ll have my students write either a word or a sentence having to do with the lesson for each letter of the alphabet. For example, if we learned about baking they would write a sentence for A such as: “Always preheat the oven before baking.” If we do that activity in pairs, I’ll usually assign a letter to each pair and have them write a sentence rather than have them do the whole alphabet.
This activity is very quick so it’s perfect when you’re pressed for time but still need to give your students a chance to process the material. First you’ll have them write three facts they learned about the topic. Next, two questions they still have about the topic that might not have been covered in class. Finally, have your students write one opinion they have about the material.
13. Find Your Match
This is another activity that will get your students up and moving. Hand out one card to each student in the class and then have them get up and find the other student with the matching card. You can do this with many topics including: rhyming words, uppercase/lowercase, antonyms/synonyms, words/definitions, problem/solution, and words/pictures. I especially like doing this with math problems and solutions for older students and words to their matching pictures for younger students.
One of my very favorite activities is Dictation! It is highly effective in engaging students because it is multisensory—involving: auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile senses. Having a multisensory approach increases working memory and integrates all language skills/modalities. To do Dictation have students listen to a word, repeat the word out loud, write it out on paper, and then have them read the word out loud again.
If you found this helpful, view our list of reading strategies >
How can I apply this in my school?
Download our free student engagement resource kit which includes:
An infographic listing the above engagement activities for future reference
An article describing the four elements that make up effective instruction that will boost student engagement
Early Literacy Resources
Share Your Story:
What activities improve student engagement in your classroom? Share your story by posting under the comments section, who knows, your ideas might just help a teacher in need. We’d love to hear from you!