Teachers love when students engage in class discussions, ask follow-up questions and show a genuine interest in the material they’re learning. On the days when this happens, teachers feel like they’re on top of the world, living out their purpose in life.
However, the reality is there are days where getting a single response feels more like pulling teeth. To work through these moments, it’s nice to have some tricks up your sleeve to infuse engagement, enthusiasm and enjoyment back into the learning environment. You can use these tips at the beginning of a new semester when students feel more like strangers than classmates, or down the road when you need to switch up the pace because everyone seems to have the mid-semester “sleepies”.
First off, don’t be afraid to rephrase your questions if students seem puzzled. Just because something makes sense to you does not mean it clicks for everyone. You can even try asking clarifying questions like, “What do you think I mean by this?” or “Can you explain what I just said?” It may take the whole class working together to decipher the point you are trying to get across, but that’s okay. This is just the kind of collective engagement you are trying to foster!
Using probing questions is another great way to get students to engage in the lesson. Here are some examples that could be used across subjects:
- “Why do you think this is the case?” This will incite opinions and critical thinking–both of which are gold mines for engagement!
- “What alternatives do you think there are?” Let students play devil’s advocate. It will help foster healthy arguments.
- “What is another example that can illustrate this point?” This gives students a chance to relate the content back to something they are passionate about.
- “When did you last encounter something like this?” This helps them understand how the concept may relate to their lives.
- “How might changing one variable affect the result?” This helps them attack the problem/question from a new perspective.
You can also create problems for students to tackle together. It’s especially fun for them when they join forces to challenge your ideas. After setting up your own argument, tell them to prove you wrong. This can become an educational adventure that encourages both camaraderie and learning!
Lastly, investing in classroom culture is essential. Start your classes with fun icebreakers and group activities to create a comfortable, open environment. Games, like a classroom version of Jeopardy!, can make learning exciting. Students will have to talk to each other (and you) to answer questions, which breaks down barriers and makes everyone think. Plus, a little competition can turn even the quietest students into active participants.
Creating an engaging classroom environment is a collaborative effort between teachers and students. By embracing these strategies, we can transform the classroom into a safe place where interactive curiosity and intellectual growth foster an enriching learning experience for all.
American College of Education offers a variety of education programs to prepare you to lead a classroom.