Engaging Students From The Start

Buzz words and fads in education come and go through the years. There are few that remain constant overtime and one of those is engagement. It’s the focus of numerous books, articles, workshops, and initiatives in our ever demanding quest for real-world learning opportunities in schools.

*I’ll go ahead and put a disclaimer out here for this post: I’m mainly sharing my thoughts and ideas based on my experiences with middle and high school students in which I taught classes that changed every hour throughout the school day. *

As you know, there are many pieces of a lesson in which you can incorporate or design activities to target engagement. I believe, however, we often miss or overlook a key opportunity to spark high engagement and it happens everyday at the beginning of your class or lesson. There is no judgement here, but how many of you are like me in that you typically use your first 10 minutes of class to check homework, take attendance, get everyone settled, and share announcements? There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but I would like to argue that this might be the most critical time of your class period for establishing context and engagement. I want to share two ways I changed up my classroom routine that allowed me to engage students from the start.

#1) Daily Agenda On Display

Students are like us in that they need purpose and clarity about the work we’re doing. I found that students were more likely to engage with my class and content if they knew what was expected and was coming. I also found that having a daily agenda on display each day cut down on the number of the distractions at the start of class that usually sounded like this: “What are we doing today? Are we turning in our homework? Are we going to finish the video clip from yesterday?” You get the point. These questions are the start of class can rob you of critical time engaging the students with today’s lesson. You can display your agenda in many ways. Mine were simple and usually looked like this:

  • Homework review from last night / corrections & will turn in
  • Finish notes on The Great Depression
  • Great Depression banking activity-you will need your calculators!
  • Reminder: Test on Friday

One year, I wrote the daily agenda on the board with a list of upcoming due dates as well. I also have included it as a follow up in my “before the bell” slideshows (see below) and students came to expect this after completing whatever the task was for the day.

#2: “Before The Bell” Slideshow of Daily Tasks

In my last year of full-time teaching before moving into administration, I used a daily “before the bell” slideshow that had a task for students as they entered the room. This was by far my most organized year in the classroom, and this method greatly helped me with classroom management and engagement at the beginning of class. Most of the days had tasks for students to complete in the first 5 or 10 minutes. There were some days where it was something simple like “get ready for CNN 10” or “review for your test,” but, for the most part, students knew when they came in there was a task and it was usually timed. I tried to pick activities that would either review content from the day before, pull an idea or concept from their homework, and/or allow for student collaboration on topics. Sometimes, the tasks would be turned in and other times it would result in a quick 5 minute discussion. I would have this displayed on the SmartBoard as students entered, and I would remind them to check the “before the bell” on the board and get started as I greeted them at the door. You can see a sampling of my slideshow below, and you’ll also notice that the second slide after each “before the bell” featured a daily agenda. I loved this part of my daily routine, and I found HUGE success in engaging students from the start with this method.

Want to try this in your classroom? Shoot me a message and I can help!

Published by Alex Bragg

Alex is the Upper School Teaching and Learning Specialist at Woodward Academy in College Park, Georgia. She is passionate about student driven learning, the art of giving and receiving authentic feedback and coaching, innovation in the classroom, balanced and authentic assessment mapping, and school redesign.

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