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How to Involve and Engage Students

Student misbehavior isn't always about bad attitudes and "keeping reps" (reputation). Many times student misbehavior in the classroom happens because of boredom. When students are bored in class their brains begin to wander and they start thinking, "I wonder what would happen if I" Then the little disruptions begin. The little disruptions pile up and turn into large disruptions. This scenario can go on and on until everything is out of control. What can we do about this kind of behavior?

Keeping students involved and engaged in activities is the very best solution. When students are excited about their learning, they are motivated to pay attention in class. You get excited because your students are actually paying attention. The students sense your excitement and get even more motivated to stay in your class. The positive effects continue to pile up. However, it isn't always easy to keep students involved and engaged. Below are a few tips and ideas to help you along.

First of all, paper/pencil worksheets are not engaging activities. Do they keep students busy? Yes. Are they motivating? No. Reading the textbook aloud and then answering questions at the end of the section is not an engaging activity. Does it take up the whole class period? Yes. Is it motivating and exciting to students? No. While these activities deceptively look like they keep students involved and engaged, in reality they do not. In fact, you can generally meet the same goals and objectives with different activities.

Activities that involve and engage students are ones where they are manipulating the information physically and mentally. Students need to be moving around, working in groups, and discovering information for themselves. Reading along, taking notes, listening to a lecture, or copying vocabulary words are all passive learning activities. Instead you want to get students actively thinking and moving. How can you accomplish this? You need to start thinking "out of the box."

Do you have a lot of worksheets in your school/district curriculum? How might your students gain the same information in a more engaging manner? Break students into groups and give each group different questions from the worksheet. The group must answer their questions, create a half-poster that illustrates the answers, and then present the information to the class. Students could use graphic organizers such as a web, Venn Diagram, or T-chart to present the information. Your students might want to create a rhyme, poem, or song to help other students remember the information.

Do you have chronological information that students must remember? Type out the information and cut it up into strips. Give each pair or group of students an envelope with the strips. Have them work together to put the events in order. This could also work with the steps of a math problem or science experiment. Let students paste the strips onto construction paper.

Have students retell a section of the textbook as a short children's story. Tell it from the point of view of one of the elements or participants. Use a round-robin story. Break students into groups. Each group is assigned a section in the chapter. One student starts writing the "retelling". After a minute or two, pass the paper to the next student who continues the story. Keep rotating the paper around the group until the entire section is retold in a story. Set a timer to help everyone stay on track.

Create mobiles that represent information. When students read a novel or a section in the textbook, have them draw pictures that illustrate the concept or events and hang it on a mobile. Make a class paper chain of information. Each student writes one fact on a strip of construction paper. Have the class stand in front of the room. The first student reads their strip and then folds it in a circle while you staple it. The next student reads their fact and then attaches their strip to the chain. Continue through the entire class.

Give students "clues" to look for items in the classroom that relate to your topic of study. Put students on a "scavenger hunt". Once they find the item, they must explain why it is on the scavenger hunt. Let students go on a road trip. Place different stop signs around the school or classroom with an activity or reading passage. Students must "travel" to each place and complete the activity (idea courtesy of Beaver Elementary). Give students a "passport" that must be stamped at each "stop" on their trip.

Let students make artifacts from a culture they are studying or give a speech as a famous historical person or a character from their novel. Give students the opportunity to act out 5 plus 3 or 10 divided by 5. Create centers for students to visit and complete an activity that meets one of your learning objectives.

These kinds of activities get students moving both physically and mentally. Before you know it you'll hear complaints like, "Is it time to go already?" and "I'm not finished," from your students. But those kinds of complaints are music to the ears. It isn't easy to create these activities and plan out the details. You have to provide structure and you have to constantly monitor and guide students as they work. You won't have perfect products in the beginning and will have to stress the importance of turning in work that reflects "personal best." It takes time and it takes effort. But when you start hearing those complaints, you'll know that it was well worth doing.

Reprinted with permission from the "New Teacher Advisor Column" written by Emma McDonald and published by Education World.

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