5 Quick and Easy Hacks to Engage Students Tomorrow

This article includes summaries of hacks from Hacking Engagement

Keeping your students engaged is the most important part of teaching everyday. Engaged students are actively involved in their learning while demonstrating higher levels of motivation, focus, and participation. When students are constantly engaged they develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for their education, leading to improved academic performance, critical thinking skills, and a lifelong love for learning. Keeping students engaged and eager to learn is more challenging than ever. Use these five hacks to boost engagement in your classroom tomorrow. 

Hack 7: Create A Movie Trailer For Your Class

Every year you do the same things on the first day. You hand out a syllabus and go over the class rules. Students probably have remarkably similar experiences in their other classes. By seventh period on the first day of school, many overly indoctrinated students are ready for winter break. How about trying something new?

Instead of being part of the predictable teacher herd on day one, craft an engaging trailer for your class. Yes, this trailer can include classroom procedures, but the main focus should be on building curiosity and enthusiasm. An additional benefit of the class movie trailer is that it can be easily shown to parents. Maybe you could send a promotional email, or enlist your students’ help. The goal is to generate significant parent engagement and enthusiasm for what you’re doing with their tender offspring.

You can screen record a PowerPoint or a Prezi and do a voice-over or use a program like Moovly. On both Moovly and Prezi, you can insert sound files. Once you’ve blended your voice with the presentation, upload the video file to YouTube. Then, anyone can access your trailer.

Hack 10: Show Them What's Possible

Do you remember looking through a textbook as a student? The very beginning of the book seemed to be filled with problems that looked easy to do because the concepts were familiar. Then you would flip to the back of the textbook and think, how in the world can I ever do these problems? By the end of the year, will I really be able to do these problems? The future seemed daunting and impossible, but pat yourself on the back. If you continue to recall, by the end of the year, the problems that seemed impossible became practically second nature. 

Take the unit you’re studying and create an example that demonstrates what’s possible. Examples of former students’ work serve this purpose well. Students might recognize some of their older peers' names and be amazed that their friends were able to do something like that. Or, you could preview what’s coming by displaying examples in the form of images, an interview in a language that students can’t yet read or speak, a brief science experiment, poetry, music, artwork, or equations. Pretend you’re reassuring your third-grade self on the first day of school: “You can do this. You’re going to be amazed at how easy it will be.”

Hack 20: Ride The Podcast Tide

Anyone who has had guest presenters speak to students knows how much students get out of hearing an expert speak. It’s not always easy to find someone willing or able to speak to your class about your subject matter. With the upsurge in podcasting, you can almost always find a relevant and interesting speaker online.

Experts from around the world are at your beck and call 24/7, and free of charge. When students are asking for background or further information on a topic suggest a podcast that delves into the content. Podcasts are mushrooming in popularity. Let’s ride this tide.

You might be wondering, how can I find good programs? Sign-up for iTunes and do a basic search. If your school blocks iTunes, you can easily find shows with Google. Another powerful option is to sign up for Listenwise at listenwise.com. Listenwise is a massive sorting mechanism. If you search a topic, you’ll be treated to high-quality material. If you buy a subscription, you’ll gain access to outstanding lesson plans that go along with the podcasts. After you’ve found podcast gold, you can refine your treasure by prompting students with engaging activities.

When integrating podcasts into your lessons try giving students Prime the Pump prompts. While students listen, have them think about the content and note some thoughts so that they remember information that they can discuss or use later.
Prime the Pump Prompt 1. Record something that surprised you.
Prime the Pump Prompt 2. Record something new you learned.
Prime the Pump Prompt 3. Record a question you desperately want answered.

Hack 23: Become A Grand Inquisitor

Many teachers will ask a good question, but then not allow the kids the time to formulate a response. At some points in your own class you may have asked your students a question and then nervously answered it yourself without giving the students a chance. You have to be patient and let the answer evolve.

Sometimes teachers ask questions that demand a regurgitation of trivial facts. These questions have no depth; they’re boring to listen to and answer, which leads to student disengagement. Obviously, there are times when you have to ask such questions. There are times when facts, data, or yes or no answers are required, but they certainly shouldn’t dominate. Questions have more potential than just rote responses. Don’t poison the well with too many drab prompts!

Asking great questions is part of the equation. It’s also essential to ask them strategically. Let’s say tomorrow your students are working in small groups. Formulate questions this evening in preparation. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy Pyramid as your question creation template and aspire to climb to the apex. Here are a few sample questions you can use:

  • Analyze: “How can you demonstrate the difference between a plant and animal cell?”
  • Evaluate: “Which is better, reading an eBook, or a physical book? How could you convince others of your choice?”
  • Create: “You’re required to teach a peer about the Han Dynasty. What could you produce to enlighten your classmates?”

Each lesson should be driven by a few essential questions. Evaluate these questions, or if necessary, take a step back and determine what they are. Great questions will help determine if kids are on point. Not only should you create these questions, but you should also decide when you are going to ask them and how you will react when students respond.

Hack 32: Engage As You Grade

When teachers hand back exams or papers the final score is at the top and that is what students focus on. They will take a look at the grade and whether or not it was a good one shove it into their backpack without taking the time to go through to see that you, the teacher, left tons of helpful comments! Aside from feeling ignored, a concern is that these suggestions are wonderful opportunities for student growth that the kids are missing.

Voice grading engages students because it allows a teacher to communicate so much more than written comments do. There’s no tone or inflection in written comments. There’s no laughter or warmth in written comments. Of course, there’s the ALL CAPS RANT, but that seems more threatening than encouraging. The human voice can communicate encouragement so much more effectively than a written exhortation will. Here are the basic steps to voice grading:

  • Students submit an assignment electronically. A simple way to do this is through Google Docs.
  • Teachers highlight a section of the student’s submission and record voice comments.
  • Students listen to the comments and then record voice replies. Students then make alterations.

Voice grading fosters dialogue between a student and teacher as students record responses to the feedback and teachers reply to them. Writing becomes more engaging, more collaborative—more of a process. Voice feedback could revolutionize the way you and your students perceive grading. If kids get accustomed to listening and responding to your comments, writing prompts will become collaborative, fostering engagement.

Explore more engagement hacks in Hacking Engagement and other James Sturtevant books. 

Main post image by Tumisu via Pixabay

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