4 Proven Teaching Techniques to Engage Students

Updated on January 23, 2019
Brandon Jarman profile image

Brandon has extensive research experience in education technology and implementation. Specifically, in K-12 and university environments.

Among the most challenging aspects of being a teacher are students who obviously understand the material we’re presenting but refuse to engage with the information in meaningful ways. Every teacher eventually runs into these students during their tenure. So what can we do about it?

There are three common solutions.

  1. We can encourage their participation in class discussions. Sometimes social encouragement and positive recognition are all these students need. Other times, we can call on these students until we’re blue in the face and they still refuse to rise and meet their potential.

  2. We can give up on the student and hope they get their act together as the school year progresses. Sometimes this is tempting, but let’s face it, this approach rarely works, and it goes against why we got into teaching in the first place.

  3. We can adjust our lessons to encourage greater engagement among all students. This means extra legwork for us, but it’s also the most utilitarian approach to helping insubordinate students and their peers learn the lessons in meaningful ways.

    The third option is obviously the best approach. But designing engaging lesson plans is tricky, especially for less interactive subjects like history or civics. To help you get started, here are eight interactive teaching techniques to help your students engage with your lessons.

Promote Active Learning

Active learning is a fundamental feature in most K-12 programs, but there are always ways to better incorporate the concept throughout your lessons.

Let’s say your school invests in a documentary streaming service that you use to teach a lesson on the foundations of evolution. You can design effective evaluation strategies to encourage the students to absorb the documentary. This can include hands-on activities and experiential learning events related to what the film discusses, brief question-and-answer sessions, or pausing the documentary and giving impromptu writing assignments. Each of these methods forces the students to pay attention and act on the information they just learned.

With any active learning lesson, the University of Washington emphasizes it’s crucial to set clear expectations for the students and provide them with helpful feedback.

Make Subjects Personally Meaningful

A study published by the American Educational Research Association highlights how students choose to not fully engage in learning activities when they don’t consider the information or activity worthy of their time and effort. The study discusses how vague, generalized lessons are inferior to activities that challenge and engage students in a personally meaningful way.

Making every student feel connected with their assignment is a huge task, especially when we have 25 students to a class and six classes a day. But there are a few simple techniques to foster this personal connection.

Among the methods the study authors recommend are asking students to connect the lesson at hand to their previous knowledge or personal experiences. If applicable, they can then share that information with the class to foster a sense of community and shared human experience. Another option is to demonstrate why an activity or lesson is worth pursuing by highlighting when and how it is used in real life.

Create Healthy Student-Teacher Relationships

In the book, Eight Myths of Student Disengagement: Creating Classrooms of Deep Learning, by Jennifer Fredricks, she discusses how healthy, positive student-teacher relationships are a crucial component in student engagement. Fredricks highlights this relationship is particularly important for students who have unstable family lives or come from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds. Teachers become surrogate parents for many disenfranchised students, which puts us in a powerful position to positively affect their educational career and life path.

An article by Edutopia discusses how students who form close and caring relationships with their teachers are “fulfilling their developmental need for a connection with others and a sense of belonging in society.” This connection motivates students to try harder in the class and engage more in the teacher’s lessons.

The Edutopia article recommends teachers build relationships with students by:

  • Caring about students' social and emotional needs

  • Displaying positive attitudes and enthusiasm

  • Increasing one-on-one time with students

  • Treating students fairly

  • Avoiding deception or promise-breaking

    These concepts are fundamentally simple but complicated to execute well. If you’re noticing a student who is struggling to engage in class, take the time to engage with them using this formula. It’s unlikely they’ll open up or reciprocate immediately, but you can earn their trust over time. As many of us learned in school, one teacher can make an enormous difference in our lives. This can help you become that teacher.

Use the SCAMPER Checklist

SCAMPER is an interactive learning technique, developed by Alex Faickney Osborn and Bob Eberle, which encourages students to think outside of the box and grow their subject knowledge. Here’s how students can use the SCAMPER model.

  • Substitute: What materials or resources could you substitute to improve this project/idea/item without changing its core identity?

  • Combine: Can you merge two parts of the project/idea/item to make it better?

  • Adapt: What else can the project/idea/item be adapted to do?

  • Modify: Can you change the project/idea/item in some way to further improve it?

  • Put to Other Uses: What are all the ways you can use this newly improved project/idea/item?

  • Eliminate: What extraneous feature can you eliminate from the project/idea/item?

  • Rearrange/Reverse: What happens if you rearranged the order these steps are in or reversed the process in some way?

Ultimately, the goal of these techniques is for you to think about how you draw on students’ personal experiences, ideas, and beliefs. Using these methods, you can encourage students to take ownership of their education and see you as a valuable resource throughout that journey. Have any favorite methods we didn’t discuss? Let us know about it in the comments below.

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    © 2019 Brandon Jarman

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