Creating Student Engagement Opportunities

Student Engagement 1.png

Direct Instruction is a pivotal component of a teacher’s lesson.  It is when teachers are explicitly teaching their students new information, which is exactly why every student needs to be an active participant in this learning process.  Often times during Direct Instruction, we see teachers asking questions, a handful of students raising their hands, and teachers calling on students one at a time.  But what’s wrong with this picture?

First and foremost, there’s only one student engaged at a time! What about the students raising their hands and not selected? Perhaps they are thinking about what they want to say rather than listening to the answers that others are sharing. How about the students who aren’t raising their hands at all? Are they confused, or just not interested in participating? How do we fix this problem?

The answer is simple: provide everyone with engagement opportunities throughout instruction! Examples of such opportunities in an elementary classroom are: using nonverbal signals and giving students time to talk to a partner.

Using nonverbal cues is a quick and easy way to get everyone involved.  For instance, during a math lesson, I might write 4+2 on the board and say: “You have 10 seconds to think about this addition problem.  If you know the answer to this, give me a thumbs up.  If you can tell me how you know, put both thumbs up.”  Every child is held accountable not only for solving the problem, but for using some type of strategy.  If I had simply asked for individual hands, some students might not have even attempted to solve the problem!  I also might have seen the same few hands of those particularly eager students, rather than 100% of hands.  With nonverbal cues, everyone’s expected to think and participate.  

Let’s face it - our youngsters in elementary school LOVE to talk and it is our job to give them the opportunity to do so.   After the above scenario, I typically scan the room (looking for thumbs up) and say, “Now please tell the person next to you the answer to this problem and how you know.”  While students turn and talk, I circulate and listen in on conversations to check for understanding and to decide who will share. I may also take this time to visit any students who did not put their thumbs up, as this might signal some type of confusion.  After the “turn and talk”, I then select students to share.  Sometimes I like to challenge them by asking to share what their partner said, always holding my students accountable for actively listening and participating.  

Engagement opportunities such as using nonverbal cues and giving time to talk to a partner allow our students to be active participants during instruction.  If we are constantly giving our students some way to demonstrate their thinking, they are more likely to be on task and meet the learning objective.

Next Steps:

1. As you plan your next lesson, think about what your students will be doing (other than just sitting on the carpet!).

2. Pick at least 3 places that you want to engage your students, using the above strategies.  

3. Mark your lesson plan with a * or post-it to indicate where you will stop to engage your students.

4. Practice out loud what you will say by yourself or with a buddy teacher (or coach) before saying it in front of your students.