Educator profile

How to engage students through extracurricular activities

how to engage students

Bobby is a principal with a background in history and social studies. He first traveled with EF Educational Tours in 2010 to Rome and Paris. He believes young people should experience life outside of their communities, and that understanding other cultures is imperative to solving global challenges.

I once worked for a principal who would conclude his back-to-school assembly each year by encouraging students to get involved—be it in a sport, a club, or any other extracurricular activity. His contention was that school would be much more enjoyable if students had something to look forward to each day.

As a principal myself, I hope my teachers are designing meaningful and engaging lessons each and every day and thinking about how to engage students. I realize, however, not every student is going to wake up eager to learn about the water cycle or the Pythagorean Theorem. Extracurricular activities are important for a number of reasons, and they help teach our students everything from collaboration to responsibility.

What is often less obvious is the impact that these activities can have on a student’s performance and level of engagement in the classroom. Many teachers, when in traditional classroom settings, fail to capitalize on a student’s enthusiasm, knowledge, and leadership skills gained through extracurricular participation.

The following tips can help you create this engagement in your classroom by drawing on these extracurricular experiences:

Attend student events
To say teachers are busy is an understatement. There are always papers to grade and lessons to plan. Not to mention teachers occasionally like to have a life away from school. However, there is no greater way to build a meaningful relationship with a student than by showing up to one of their events. Having trouble making a connection with a student? Attending a sporting event or school play may be the ice-breaker you’ve been looking for. You will quickly realize that students pay attention to this and appreciate it. It’s one of the best investments you can make with your time.

Monitor social media
I understand that attending every ballgame or concert may not be possible. However, following the school team on Twitter is. Social media allows you to be informed about what’s going on with your students while they’re not in your classroom. The basketball team may be beating their biggest rival while you’re home in your pajamas grading papers. No matter what the event may be, you can follow the action and keep yourself looped in on what excites your students. The key is to follow up with students the next day in class. A “congrats on the big win” goes a long way in building student rapport.

Make connections in the classroom
No matter the grade level, or the subject matter, you can find some connection in your classroom to nearly every extracurricular activity. Use examples in class that are relevant to your students’ lives. Talking about wavelength in science? Bingo! Use your band and orchestra students as examples. Introducing the concept of dialogue? Give examples from the recent school musical (that you were at or read all about on social media)! When you make the content relevant to students and learn how to engage students, you will increase their interest in learning. And you’ll show them how what they’re learning in books and on paper also applies to and impacts real life.

Allow students to share
Clubs and extracurricular activities can allow students to become “resident experts” on topics ranging from archery to debate. Allow these students to share their knowledge and expertise in the classroom. Likewise, the captain of the soccer team will potentially have leadership skills that you can put to work in the classroom. Students walk into your classroom each and every day with a life full of experiences and knowledge.

Sponsor, coach, or start your own club
While cheering on your school’s quiz team is terrific, coaching them is even better. As a young social studies teacher, I coached a variety of activities, including the football team and the scholar bowl team. I loved this diversity of coaching because it allowed me to connect with different students. Not only did I have a deep connection with the athletes in my classes, but I also could talk with my scholar bowl kids about 19th century English literature. Do you have a passion you could share with students (i.e. chess, foreign languages, cooking), but found there isn’t a club that relates? Then speak to your principal about starting a club! I’m sure he or she will be more than happy to help assist you in sharing your passion and talents with your students.

Extracurricular activities play a huge role in helping to engage students. Don’t squander the opportunity to bring that level of engagement into your classroom. By following these five pieces of advice, you’ll understand how to engage students with your lessons – and, above all else, show them that you personally care.

You’ve taught your students about the world—now make the world their classroom. Take your students on one of our educational tours and connect with them even more.


Editor’s note (2020): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.

Bobby M.

Bobby is a Principal with a background in History and Social Studies. He first traveled with EF Educational Tours in 2010 to Rome and Paris. He believes that young people should experience life outside of their communities, and that understanding other cultures is imperative to solving global challenges.

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