Teaching Tip: Keeping Students Engaged

Student engagement in your classroom can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. One day the children are working and active in their learning. The next you are getting glazed looks and maybe even some drool on the desk.

Educators know how important it is to differentiate lesson strategies for different levels of students, use alternate assessments such as rubrics or exit slips, and find out preferred learning style types using surveys or specific learning centers.

Strengthening our classrooms that are characterized by how well we are individualizing the contents, processes, and products are definitely something to strive for.

But in the real world, pulling it off consistently can be a struggle.

Sometimes teachers just need simple solutions to keep kids paying attention.

Keeping students engaged throughout your lesson can definitely be a challenge we have all faced. See this post for some ideas to keep them on track!

An Easy Activity to Promote Engagement

I received a question from Carly.  She wants to know:  “How do you keep students engaged during reading and math lessons?”

I have an old school way of doing this, which may or may not work in your classroom, but it’s always worked for me in my 3rd grade classroom in the past.

Basically get a cup, get some Popsicle sticks and write your students’ names on them.  That’s it.  

As you are going through your lesson, simply, every so often stop and pick out one. Use some washi tape and write the student name on it, that was it.

I will have the student name usually on one end of the stick.

Write the student name on one half, and keep all the student names up, so whenever you pick out one you call on that child, then you put their stick back down the other way.

That way you know who has answered a question for you, who is staying on task, and who is not.

I know I’m going to get the question about what to do with the students that just say, “I don’t know,” or you feel like you’re going to embarrass them, because they are very shy. 

I don’t want to put any child on the spot at all, but what I do want to do is get them involved, and get them knowing that “she may call on me at any point in time.”  They can tell I’m not playing favorites here, everyone is going to get their name called at some point.

For the “I don’t knows” I give them probably 20 seconds to come up with the answer, and if they really don’t know the answer, “Okay, why don’t you phone a friend?” Or, “Why don’t you ask somebody around you just for help?”

They can work with the students around them and hopefully someone can help them by giving them the answer.

It’s up to you whether or not that student then counts as having answered the question to your satisfaction, even with help. You could leave their name back in there, say, “Okay, well, next time I want you to do it by yourself. I love that your friends helped you, and I love that we are all learning and we are a team, and we’re helping one another. Hopefully next time maybe you can help someone else too.”

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Put their name and leave it up still, so it’s a chance that they’re going to get their name called again, until they get a question answered on their own.

Anyway, that is my little easy tip for you.

I just call up my Popsicle stick cup, it’s not fancy. It can be a coffee mug, it can be a paper cup, or it could be a tin, I think I got this one at our favorite Target.

Just grab some colorful Popsicle sticks, start writing student names on there, and that’s an easy way to keep them engaged.

They know that you’re going to be asking them something about the lesson, so they have to pay attention, and it makes it a little bit more fun whenever they can help one another. You just pause here and there throughout your lesson to check for understanding.

What are some other ways you keep students engaged?   We would love to hear more great options in the comments below too!

Talk to you soon,


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