Engaging Students in Learning – Tips and Ideas

By | May 29, 2022

A brain-based classroom is a classroom in which students are actively involved in learning. What exactly does it mean for students to be actively involved? It certainly isn’t about students filling out worksheets, answering basic questions, or taking notes on a lecture. Take a minute to ponder the definitions of these two words. The word active means moving, working, participating, being full of energy and acting. The word engage means to make use of/occupy, to attract and hold attention and to involve. Thus, when students are actively engaged, they participate and work actively, full of energy and movement, and they are involved and interested in what they are learning.

Wow! Is that a lot to ask of our students, or is it rather a lot to ask of us? This type of learning requires a lot more work and effort on our part to be more meaningful to the students. It’s much easier to read the chapter, answer the questions at the end, and fill out a ready-made worksheet. However, there is hope! Many of the new textbooks now available include activities that actively engage students in their learning. Does your textbook include these tips and ideas in the teacher’s edition? If so, do you ever use these activities in your lesson plans? Next time you sit down to plan the lesson, review the activities provided and consider how you can incorporate them into your lesson. If you don’t have a recent textbook or are simply looking for other ideas to actively engage students, the following tips are for you.


Have students create their own game that applies the concepts and/or skills learned for a specific unit. This activity also integrates writing as students need to write down the instructions. Take some time to look at existing educational games and analyze them with your students. Help them see the elements of a board or card game. Look at how the instructions are organized and written so students have a model to follow. One of my students made a colony game as a project for our 13 colony unit. She was able to show all her learning by developing this game.

There are also many excellent games these days that you can use to practice reading, spelling, math, science, and social studies skills. How might you use Monopoly, the Allowance game, Scategories, Scrabble, Mastermind or Taboo in your classroom? While students may think they are simply playing a game, they are actually applying important skills/concepts they learned in class. Then, to take full advantage of this learning opportunity, have the students discuss the different skills they used while playing the game. Did you learn something new? This type of debriefing makes connections between playing the game and your curriculum. Without the debriefing, the students were just participating in a fun but meaningless activity.

scavenger hunt

Create a scavenger hunt using clues, phrases, or questions, and have students read through the chapter to find the answers. It’s more of a learning experience when the answers aren’t immediately visible, especially for older students. Have them read the chapter to answer the questions or find the clue. The ability for students to work in pairs or groups adds an extra element of fun to this activity. Again, take some time to review the activity and results with the class when everyone is done.

Another variation of this activity that requires more thought on the part of the students is for them to read the chapter first and then create their own scavenger hunt. Then the students exchange the papers with each other and let a partner complete their scavenger hunt. Have pairs of students discuss the positives and negatives of the scavenger hunt they created. What was too easy? What was challenging? Were the questions/instructions misleading or clear?


Again, this activity works great with reading textbooks. Have students work in pairs or groups to turn a historical event, textbook chapter, or story into a play. You can also have students work together to explain a concept or skill through a skit or play. Writing the script brings writing skills into the classroom and gives you an assessment tool.

A variation of this activity is for students to rewrite as a children’s story the events or concepts read in the textbook or recently learned through face-to-face instruction. This type of activity requires students to think at higher levels. Comprehension, analysis, application and synthesis are all involved as students must understand what has been read and be able to explain and apply it in a short children’s fictional story.

learning stations

You don’t have to be an elementary school teacher for learning stations to work. Take your unit and think of five to six different activity or reading stations for students to complete. Write directions for each station and tape the page onto construction paper. We laminate ours to make them last. Next, create a checklist for students to use as they travel to each station. This will help them know what to complete each time. To set up, simply place the instructions and materials on a group of desks or table for each “station”. When you’re done, place the laminated instructions in a manila folder and label them. Then stick it in your filing cabinet for next year. I actually laminate reading passages, checklists, etc. so I can use them over and over again each year. This type of activity is also a great way to incorporate other subject concepts and skills into your lesson/lesson.

With all of these activities, it is important that you monitor the entire time to keep students on track. Ask guiding questions to help students complete the task and get the most out of the activity. You must also take the time to discuss your expectations for behavior and academic results before each activity. This reminder, along with constant monitoring, helps keep student misbehavior to a minimum. It is also very important that you take the time to discuss or debrief the activity with the students. This type of discussion makes connections between the activity, the overall goal, and the lesson goal for your curriculum. Don’t settle for time fillers. With just a little preparation and sweat, you can get your students moving, engaged in their learning, and enjoying every minute of it!

Copyright 2007 Emma McDonald

Thanks to Emma Mcdonald | #Engaging #Students #Learning #Tips #Ideas

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