Bobby is a Principal with a background in History and Social Studies. He first traveled with EF Tours in 2010 to Rome and Paris, and now leads a student tour every summer. He believes that young people should experience life outside of their communities, and that understanding other cultures is imperative to solving global challenges.
Brand new teachers and veterans alike often struggle with the same problem – engaging students. Let’s face it; it can often be difficult to capture the interest of every student while dredging through the endless wars, kings and popes of medieval Europe, or while exploring the intricacies of Calculus.
Oftentimes, a lack of student engagement can lead to a multitude of problems in your classroom. For instance, most classroom management issues arise from students not being engaged. New teachers will often shuffle seating charts, call parents seeking support, or simply “worksheet” students until they dream about them falling from the sky, all in an attempt to get students to listen, or to behave. But the real culprit is that the students simply aren’t interested in what is being taught. And it’s not necessarily a result of who Johnny is sitting next to, but rather a question of why Johnny is not interested in what you’re teaching. It’s important to keep in mind, like most things in education, that there is not a magic solution or easy fix for classroom engagement. Student engagement is largely dependent on the teacher’s own enthusiasm for the subject and their ability to make connections and form relationships with the students.
The following strategies will attempt to offer some advice on how all teachers, from those who are right out of college to the most tenured teacher on staff, can engage students in their classroom.Make the Lesson Relevant
There is perhaps nothing greater a teacher can do to increase classroom engagement than make the lesson relevant to the student. The universal question that many teachers hate to hear is, “why do we have to learn this?” Some teachers have no answer for this question, because they were likely thinking the same thing while planning the lesson, but great teachers hope a student will ask this question and are fully prepared to answer it. As a principal, I attend many conferences, trainings, and meetings, and, like any student, the meetings that have relevance to my job keep my attention much more than those that do not. So how do you make the lesson relevant to your students? First, the teacher must know his or her students. What are your students interested in? What are their career aspirations? Can I make it connect with something that is current and well-known to the students? If the teacher can’t answer the “why” question, then the better “why” question to consider is, “why are you teaching the lesson?” If you don’t’ know, your students won’t either.
Build Relationships with Students
I currently work in a school where building relationships is key. We serve a large number of low-income students who are yearning for attention and love. If the teacher has not built a relationship with the students then how do you expect them to listen to you? Try and recall your favorite coach or teacher growing up. Did you want to work hard for that person because you felt they didn’t like you? Did you love going to that favorite teacher’s class each day because they were rude and sarcastic with you, or never asked you how things were going? My guess is, probably not. If a student thinks you don’t like them, how on earth do you expect to teach them anything? Poor relationships equal poor student engagement.
Being enthusiastic about the content of the class is vitally important to engaging students. If you’re teaching a unit or lesson that is not necessarily exciting, you need to find a way to make it exciting. As a former social studies teacher, there were many topics that I wasn’t very interested in, but I never let my students know that! The American Revolution, the Neolithic Revolution, latitude and longitude…I acted as if every one of them was my favorite! I could be equally as excited about amending the Constitution as I could be about the Mayflower Compact. If the teacher is bored with the material then it only makes sense that the students will be as well.
Try Something New
Do you make a PowerPoint for every single lesson? Do you always have students answer the questions at the end of each chapter? Do something new and different! The internet can provide a plethora of innovative ways to teach every lesson imaginable. If you’re still having trouble finding creative lessons, utilize teachers in and outside of your building. Also, don’t forget about technology. As most buildings are moving closer to a 1:1 computer model, the opportunity to engage students with technology has never been greater. Can’t get your entire class to the local museum? Try taking them on a virtual field trip. Learning about current events? Research what papers across the globe say about the same incident. There is an endless number of possibilities to make your lessons fun, exciting, educational, and yes, engaging!
Student engagement is the key to managing your classroom, increasing critical thinking, and teaching your students to enjoy learning. It’s important to understand that student engagement is not something that just happens. It is going to require you to try, and sometimes fail at implementing, new ideas, lessons and strategies. But once you find what works, you’re going to be a much happier and more impactful teacher.
Looking to engage students outside the classroom? We’re giving away a free trip to anywhere EF travels. You could open your students’ eyes, expand their perspectives and help them discover the world around them. Enter to win!