Saturday, February 21, 2015

Engaging & Empowering Students

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Students?  Great question!  I believe that our positive relationships, leadership, enthusiasm for each subject/activity, questioning/discussion techniques, and engagement strategies will excite students to learn.  Once we have them excited it is easier to empower.  We need to model empowerment and show students what it feels and looks like.  Charlotte Danielson suggests the following within Domain 3 of our teacher evaluation process:

-Allow students to assume the responsibility and take initiative to modify learning tasks to make it more relevant to them.
-Provide extensive choice in how students can complete a task.
-Allow students to suggest modifications and/or additions to the materials being used.
-Provide an opportunity for reflection and closure on the lesson to consolidate understanding.
-Allow students to help establish the evaluation criteria.
-Provide an opportunity for students to monitor their own understanding, either on their own initiative or as a result of tasks set by the teacher.

These examples all sound like empowerment.  So, the question asks… Should we be engaging or empowering students?  I believe we need to do both with the ultimate goal of empowering them to be life-long learners.

Below are some techniques that many of our teachers are using to support student engagement:
Tell a friend     
Have students tell a friend before asking for a classroom response.  Sounds simple… because it is!  It’s equally important to teach students the signal to redirect class back to teacher.  Create an anchor chart on how to be a good listener.

Turn and Talk   
Answer questions, have discussions, etc. with turn and talk partner before answering to the class.  This encourages 100% participation and active discussion. Consider having A/B partners during turn and talk, giving each partner a task to the discussion.  Create partners by proximity, ability level, o’clock partners, etc.

Article, story, textbook reading, etc. is divided into sections.  Put students into groups.  They are responsible for becoming the “expert” on their particular section.  Then, regroup students so that each group has one member from each original group.  Students (topic experts) share out - creates 100% participation and each student is responsible for dissemination of information.

Say Something
Consider the most important point from the article, story, chapter, video, read aloud, etc...
Say something:
-           Which I agree
-           Which I disagree
-           That puzzles me
-           I am reminded of
-           That was new to me
-           I wish the author had said more about
Place on chart paper and allow students to utilize post-it notes to display thoughts.  This can also be used with Google docs and/or Kidblog.

Chalk Walk       
Utilize chart paper with 5-7 specific questions related to the target learning (1 question per chart paper).  Put students into groups.  The groups should have different color post-its or markers when commenting and answering questions on the chart paper. This can also be an individualized silent task to encourage independent thinking. Again, Kidblog and/or Google docs could be utilized to answer questions instead of chart paper.

I wonder... I noticed     
Jot down a wonder and notice (use as exit slip, journal entry, post-it, etc.) during an article review, video, student presentation, teacher lesson, etc. This will enrich classroom discussion and raise level of concern.   Furthermore, it is great for staff meetings and professional development.

A/B Pyramid    
Partner A faces the board/Partner B faces away.  Partner A describes the word (science/SS vocab/spelling word, etc.) or concept on the board without using the actual word.  Partner B has to guess what it is.  (Think $25,000 Pyramid).  Great for a review.

Think, pair, share, square
Students think...pair with another student... share with that student... then move into a square with 2 other students to share with them.  At the end - one person from each group of 4 provides info to the entire class - group of 4 picks the speaker.
Sample Anticipation Guide                       
When reading, create a couple statement questions - have students agree/disagree with statement, see if they were correct after reading, provide page number and evidence – students can provide responses in a journal or any another format that would provide evidence of understanding.  Allow students to help establish the evaluation criteria.
Questions are launched at the front of the room, and learners join through their personal devices.  In real-time, and with gaming elements to increase engagement and motivation, learners answer questions and teachers get an overview of the current level of knowledge as a formative assessment.  Fun and engaging!  Check it out!

Story Circle of Thoughts          
Put students into groups after reading a story.  Students must discuss the story, taking on the point of view of different characters from the book, creating a society within each group. Students will then share out with the group or write a summary of ideas/thoughts.

Quick Draw
After read aloud - have students do a quick draw of setting, character trait, big idea, prediction, etc.  Supports active listening during the story.

5 minute quick write
Take 5 minutes to summarize, predict, defend, compare/contrast, etc. after classroom discussion, story, activity, etc.  Time bound assignments can raise level of concern and enhance engagement.

Connect, Extend, Challenge     
Teacher will write Connect, Extend, Challenge in columns on the board.  Give students three sticky notes to answer the following about an article, video, chapter, story, classroom discussion, etc.
  • Connect - Make a connection with another text, idea, etc.
  • Extend - How has this article (video, chapter, story, idea, etc.) helped you to extend (grow) your thinking?
  • Challenge - What challenges or questions do you still have that you would want answered?
Students will put name on back of sticky note and place under the words Connect, Extend, and Challenge.  Teachers can be creative in the delivery and use of this idea.  This concept increases engagement and empowers students to Connect, Extend, and Challenge their learning.  It is also a nice formative assessment that provides teachers with immediate information to drive the next steps within the learning process.  

Exit Slip
Post "I learned" and "I loved" and “I can” columns on the board.  Have students place each post-it note (name on back) under each column.  This can provide teacher with good formative information regarding student learning and engagement to the target objective.    

After reading an article, a section in a book, or discussing a topic as a class - have students create a headline to summarize the most important part.  They should try to style the headline as it would read in a newspaper. It should be attention-grabbing and support the target learning.

CSI (Color, Symbol, Image)
Fold paper into 3 sections:
1.         Chose Color that represents a big idea that stood out for you.  Color section one.
2.         Draw a symbol to represent a big idea in section two.
3.         Sketch an image to represent a big idea.
Students should be prepared to discuss the reason for the CSI.   They can even write one or two sentences explaining each section.

6 learning methods
Additional engagement strategies/methods:  
-           Inquiry-Based Learning
-           Problem-Based Learning
-           Discovery Learning
-           Cooperative Learning
-           Authentic Learning
-           Project-Based Learning
Check out 6 Learning Methods Every 21st Century Teacher should know via @medkh9

Remember, don’t try everything all at once.  Pick one or two that will support 100% active participation and build your repertoire of engagement strategies.  I hope you find this helpful, supporting a new idea or something you want to get back to using.

Feel free to comment and share some of your engagement strategies, let’s learn together!

Enjoy teaching, engaging, and empowering your students!  


  1. These are excellent engaging ideas. I also like how so many of them encourage discussion. Way too often classrooms sit in silence, but learning is social!

    1. Thanks! They are all strategies I see each day from our teachers. So true... learning is social!!! Thanks for the comment!

  2. Keith, these strategies are all excellent! They all require active learning and/or demonstration of learning, which moves our students away from be passive participants in a classroom. These strategies also encourage community in a classroom, which sometimes is missing at the high school level. Thank you for sharing these!

    1. Thanks! I find that these strategies transition nicely to the secondary level and even staff professional development sessions. I appreciate your comments and sharing with others. Have a great week of teaching and learning!

  3. Use this Engaging Questions guide as a resource for ideas, checking your question writing style or discovering how to make your inquiry more accessible for your community.