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5 Teaching Strategies to Engage Students Effectively

Updated on November 23, 2017

Principles in the Selection and Use of Teaching Strategies

Students aren’t going to learn much unless they are curious to know (or it fixes a problem) and this curiosity only surfaces if there is a connection to their life and experiences. Since experience and mistakes teach us most of our real lessons in life, the teacher should pay attention to this and use teaching activities that can connect to the students’ problems and environments.

We also learn from interaction, so collaborative approaches to teaching are necessary, so as people can learn from each other and learn other social skills related to being a part of society.

Additionally, teachers need to pay attention to the different learning styles of students. A variety of teaching strategies should be used so that all students have an opportunity to receive instruction in a way that they find conducive to learning. Some students like to sit and read books, others need interaction and teamwork, others need movement and rhythm, whilst some need visual stimulation or modeling to interpret what is being taught.

Just sitting in front of a whiteboard and copying text or numbers, whilst it can have a place, should not constitute the general overall methodology of a teacher.

Teaching is both a science and an art. The scientific side of teaching is about following proven methods (the pedagogy) shown by research to yield effective learning results. The artistic side refers to the individual delivery of the method, since every teacher has their own interpretation, personality and style.

Selection of pedagogy and planning of the associated activities helps to define how the knowledge will be transferred, how students can be motivated to learn, and how the pace and direction of the lesson flows. Without planning and without proven method, the chance of knowledge being transferred is minimal and the risk of unmotivated, disruptive students grows significantly.

Engaging Students in What Relates to Their Lives

A teacher checks the work of a student on a tablet computer
A teacher checks the work of a student on a tablet computer | Source

1. The 3 P's

If you've studied education or perhaps taken a TEFL/TESOL course, you will be familiar with this approach to teaching. It is a simple proven method that is effective for teaching any subject area.

PPP stands for:

  • Presentation
  • Practice
  • Production

How does it work? When you have new learning to introduce to students you start at phase 1 (presentation) which is showing/explaining the new knowledge/concept to the students. This should be the shortest of the three phases. Typical “presentation” materials can include:

  • Flash cards
  • Realia (real life objects)
  • Written explanations / meanings
  • Diagrams, and so on.

Phase 2 is practice. During this phase the class should work together with the teacher to practice the learning. The teacher can set guided exercises, help the students, and encourage (there is still “scaffolding” supporting the students). Examples of practice activities include:

  • Course book and work book exercises, such as fill in the blanks
  • True/False questions
  • Repetition (e.g. drilling)

Phase 3, the production phase is by far the most important phase. It should be the phase the students spend longest on, but is often neglected by teachers. In this phase, the students take the new knowledge and use it for themselves for their real life situation (the teacher is starting to remove the “scaffolding”). This is the most powerful form of learning (the closer to real life, the greater the knowledge will stick). Examples of activities for this phase include:

  • Games
  • Project work
  • Role play
  • Field trips

If you're new to teaching, I recommend following the PPP method to start with. It will help you to start thinking about how your students learn and it will help you to pace out your lesson activities effectively.

The 3 Ps Can Work in Reverse!

There's a school of thought that you can actually start with the production phase first. Students work on producing something (for example, say a poster or advertisement), and then as they work, and start to encounter problems (learning gaps) the teacher steps in with guidance. The final stage is reviewing the structures and new learning (which normally would have been the presentation stage, stage 1).

Try it, see if it works for your learners.

2. Running Dialogue Technique

We're not talking about keeping a conversation going or having dialogue with your students. This method is great because it covers a number of skill sets all in one hit: Reading; remembering; speaking; listening; teamwork; writing; and logical sequencing.

It's a classic method often employed in TEFL/TESOL teaching, but it will work for other subjects where you have a process that needs to be remembered and sequenced.

How it works:

  1. Make (or copy) a dialogue (person A, Person B) or a sequenced process.
  2. Cut it up into pieces.
  3. Stick the pieces randomly around the walls of the classroom (I actually prefer outside on the classrooms exterior wall/doors); employ a few students to help you stick up the pieces of paper (it will save you time and they'll get curious). It doesn't matter if they stick them high up or low down (just as long as they are visible).
  4. Pair the students up. Give instructions then use a strong pair of students to demonstrate how it works to the whole class).
  5. So, student 1 gets up and picks any of the pieces of dialogue/process on the wall – they read it and must remember it. When they have memorized it, they return to their partner and say what they read (if they forget some of it, they can return for another look). Student 2 writes down what student 1 says.
  6. Now it’s student 2’s turn. They go up and choose a different piece of the dialogue/process, memorize it, return, say it for student 1 to write down.
  7. Students repeat until they have all the pieces of the dialogue/process. At this point, they unscramble to put the dialogue or process into the correct original order.

Watch out for cheats, copying, and kids not speaking to their partner. Do not allow them to go up to the wall with a notebook. I had a student once taking pictures of the text on her phone and coming back to write it down!

3. Make a Book

Why get students to make books? There are many benefits, so we’ll name a few:

  • It’s fun (as long as the book is manageable for their age and ability)!
  • It supports students during the writing process - using minimal text for example is a relief to reluctant writers.
  • It makes it easier for a student to organize their ideas.
  • Bookmaking gives students an authentic reason for writing.
  • Their books can be shared with classmates providing a real audience.
  • Students will feel a sense of ownership and pride.
  • Their books are a reference for them too look back on and review.
  • It engages students in stages of the writing process: Organizing and expressing their thoughts; spelling; grammar; and editing.

There are many types of books students can make. Many can be made from a single piece of A4, or even recycled paper, so there’s often no cost attached.

There are many types of books you could try: Accordion, flip books, mini-books; folding books, etc. It’s up to you to search for one that’s appropriate to the level you are teaching – in other words, you’ve got to plan what you think might work and then go and try it out in the classroom.

A couple of my personal favourites are the mini-book and the weave book. You'll find many templates for mini-books on the internet or you can easily follow the template in the picture below from a piece of A4. For the weave book, "merryfwilliams" can guide you through how to make them, and you can see a picture below of some made by my high-school EFL students.

Simple Template for Making a Mini-Book

Examples of Card Weave Books

Weave books made from two pieces of different coloured card
Weave books made from two pieces of different coloured card | Source

4. Gallery Walk Technique

Do you have kids that can’t sit still? They’re always coming up to you for no particular reason or they’re bothering someone at another desk. It could be they’re bored or they just want attention, but the chances are they’re the kind of learner that needs to move or interact in order to learn effectively. A great lesson to engage these kind of learners (and usually the rest of the class too) is to use the gallery walk technique.

You know what an art gallery is right? So, the principle is the same – you set up the classroom like a gallery or an exhibition. This takes a significant amount of planning and preparation from the teacher, but the benefits are worth it.

Plan your “stations” – these are your exhibits, which will be whatever activities suit what you are teaching. For example, if you’re teaching maths, you could put up sums, puzzles or written questions around the class. Try to include some fun stations too – maybe one station could be roll a dice 3 times and add up your scores, highest score is the winner (you can think of something better I'm sure, but you get the idea).

The order the students go round the room isn’t normally important (but if you have a large class, better to fix the groups and the direction they should move), and it isn’t usually critical that the students have to complete all the stations (but you might find that if they haven't finished, they want to continue next time they see you).

In my personal experience, I have tended to use a mix of subject related activities and fun activities during a gallery walk lesson. For example, I might have a station with pictures of objects for vocabulary, then a station with a hangman game the kids play on their own, then a station where they piece together a simple word based jigsaw, then a station with a grammar exercise, and then a station with a little craft exercise, and so on. The key is that the students are up and out of their seats, working with friends, moving about - they will tend to pick and chose what takes their attention most.

I remember the favourite exercise I made – it was called “Can you follow instructions?” I stick up a list of instructions, and at the top I write “Read everything before you start.” So, for example, 1. Draw a heart, 2. Write your names inside the heart, 3. Draw 5 triangles anywhere… and the last instruction is always: “Now you have read everything, only do instruction number 1”. It gets them every time!

I normally have about 10-15 stations and get the students to work in groups of 3 or 4 (with one notebook). They walk around the class and record answers for exercises that require a written response or complete the practical task/game. I’ve tried setting a rough time for each station and then getting the class to rotate say in a clockwise direction to the next station – works okay for younger kids. Older kids and adults can manage on their own to move to a free station.

A simpler variation on this methodology is, if you are working from a course book and the kids are getting bored of sitting down, you can put up a few pictures around the class related to what you are teaching and the students are free to get up and use the pictures as supplemental to what's in their books. For example, I was teaching "describing people's appearance" recently and the book exercise was choose one of the pictures of the people on page x and describe them. I put up other pictures of more interesting people around the classroom and gave the kids a choice - they could use the pictures in the book or get up and choose one of the pictures from around the classroom. About 90% of the class got up to look around and were began taking notes standing up looking at the supplemental pictures. It doesn't make for a quiet ordered classroom, but your students will be engaged and motivated.

Easier Ways to Create Movement in the Classroom

There are easier ways to get the students out of their seats and moving around. Do you ever use true or false questions or multiple choice question exercises? You can divide the classroom space up so the left side represents true and the right side is for false (or use the four corners for multiple-choice questions). Get your students to move and stand by the place in the classroom that they think represents the right answer. Wrong answer sits down whilst correct answer continues the game.

5. Simulation

Have you ever learned CPR? What did you use? A dummy right, and you simulated mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the dummy. This simulation was about as close to real life as you could get, unless perhaps you practised on a fellow trainee?

So, the closer you can get to real life, the more likely learning is to stick. Simulation is often the closest we can get in practical terms, so think about how you can recreate real life situations in or around the classroom.

Simulated teaching is role playing in which the learner performs a role in an artificially created environment or scenario decided by the teacher. Some examples could be:

  • a pretend shop or market (buyers and sellers)
  • a pretend train station (travelers, ticket office staff, ticket inspectors)
  • a pretend airplane journey (check-in staff, travelers, cabin crew)
  • a journey into space (engineers, scientists, launch control, astronauts)

The list could go on, but the key is to think about what you are teaching and how it is used (and by whom) in the world outside. Take some time to have the kids prepare some props or set up (fake money and fake products for a pretend shop, for example) as this will give them more ownership of the task.

Don't forget to set your boundaries for the scenario, otherwise the students might take things in unexpected directions (e.g. the airplane cannot get hijacked!).

Games Can Be Used in Simulation Method

Simulation requires students to consider the implications of their choices and actions. I played Monopoly (actually it was Schoolopoly where the properties were things like the Headmaster's Office, school canteen, and the toilets). Anyway, the point is the students had to consider the pros and cons of investment (and what to invest in) versus potential return on investment and managng their finances. Games can simulate life in a safe way for students.

Games Deserve Special Mention

You don't have to use games to be an effective teacher, but they sure can be useful. Think about those dry topics you've got to teach. Is there no way you can liven them up through a little game?

Games can help build students' confidence and remove some of the shyness of quieter students. They can also help to drag up the slower learners who might otherwise have given up on listening to you.

Games also bring out creativity in students - you'll be surprised with the stuff kids come up with whilst playing games in the classroom.

In my experience, the key is for the teacher to first imagine what might be fun for the kids of the level and ability you are teaching, then to build the subject material into a game. Some of your games will fall flat on their face, but that's part of the learning process as a teacher. You never know what kids will like and what they'll think is stupid.

If you want to read more about games as a teaching methodology, this PDF from Susan Boyle explains things better than I ever could.

This Is a Digital, Technological Generation. Don't Get Left Behind.

Kids these days are growing up with digital technology all around them. It's a huge part of their lives. If a teacher can't use digital technology in teaching, I think it's a bit poor and I wonder what message it sends to students if a teacher can't use even simple software in teaching, like PowerPoint.

My advice is try to keep up, even just a little bit, with using digital technology in the classroom, otherwise I think your methods will look outdated to this generation of kids.

Start with PowerPoint - plenty of free PowerPoint presentations floating round the internet, just download them and edit to your needs. Prezi is an alternative to PowerPoint and it's also well liked by students in class.

I also recommend downloading the The Hot Potatoes software suite which will allow you to easily make interactive HTML quizzes and crossword puzzles (it's easier than it sounds).

Lastly, Kahoot is great. You and your students will need devices with internet access in class in order to play, though. As a teacher, set up an account on Kahoot.com - you can make your own stuff or bookmark other peoples creations on just about any topic you can think of. If you've never tried Kahoot in class, you've got to - the kids go crazy for it!

School Girls Playing Kahoot on Tablet Computers

Source

© 2017 Murray Lindsay

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