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10 Fantastic Student Engagement Strategies To Keep Students Focused

Try these 10 fantastic student engagement strategies to keep students focused.Transitional periods can often lead to distractions and decreased focus in students. That’s why it’s important to have student engagement strategies that keep students engaged, focused, and learning – even when they might be excited about an upcoming school holiday or the return to school from a school holiday. 

Whenever a school break approaches, Lesa from SmithTeaches9to12 makes sure she has some activities in her back pocket that can capture and keep students’ attention as well as have them practicing skills new and old. Kristy from 2 Peas and a Dog has a similar approach to planning lessons close to a school break. 

Lesa and Kristy have teamed up to provide teachers with 10 fantastic student engagement strategies to keep students focused around a school break.

10 Fantastic Student Engagement Strategies To Keep Students Focused

Dig into Poetry (Lesa)

Poetry in bite-sized (and digestible!) chunks is a go-to option because there is just so much that can be done with poetry. The variety in topics and form – as well as the flexibility with lesson ideas and timeframes – makes this a game-changer when a school break is on the horizon. 

Check out this free poetry e-book that includes a list of suggested poems for every month of the year, along with activities that are adaptable to any poem. Provide a variety of ways for students to get into poetry by using different levels of questions; these 20 questions are a great starting point. Or students can do a poetry pass activity (grab this freebie!) where they sample a bunch of poems in a short period of time and record their thoughts.

Another option is to add ‘colour’ to your classroom with poetry activities specifically for winter. Or embrace modern online poets that focus their craft on short but high-impact pieces on social media, such as rupi kaur, Bryan Bilston, or Lang Leav, among others.

Teach Real-Life Skills (Kristy)

When considering student engagement strategies, the weeks leading up to or back from a school break are a great time to teach students real-life skills like email and resume writing. Students will be engaged because they can see a purpose for these lessons – sometimes, students might not see the value of other forms of writing until later in life. Other great skills to teach would be fake news and digital citizenship

Get Moving (Lesa)

Anything that gets students moving, within reason, is a winner. The first option is a poetry walk. Students take charge of the design and then implement it. 

Pick a theme. Find poems. Colour code them (print one path on one colour). Post around the school. Provide an observation sheet and have students follow each others’ paths to discover the theme/connection. This also provides an option for other teachers/students to use for their own students’ poetry walks.

Extend the activity with an analysis of any of the poems using a TP-CASTT format in a graphic organizer. (TP-CASTT = Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude, Shift, Title (again), and Theme). Walk students through the process with this activity, which includes suggested classic and contemporary Canadian poems.

Another option is to create an in-school field trip to the library, gym, or other accessible and available space and tie a lesson/activity to it. It can be as simple as having students complete a descriptive writing passage of the space using new vocabulary or focusing on adjectives of a certain kind (only use ones that feature your first or last initial). 

Even a change of atmosphere can be the impetus for some time to choose a book and to spend some time reading independently. 

Here are some other ways to get students moving in the classroom

Try Digital Escape Rooms (Kristy)

Digital escape rooms are a great tool to use with students to build classroom community and have fun while learning and/or reviewing content. Digital escape rooms are very similar to traditional ones and are the perfect item to add to your student engagement strategies toolkit. 

You know where you and your friends get locked in a room and have to solve a series of challenges so you can escape? That’s exactly what a digital escape room is, but it’s all digital, which means it can be used in the classroom or online for digital learning.

The digital escape rooms created by 2 Peas and a Dog are hosted in Google Forms and are self-checking. Students cannot move on to the next challenge until they have successfully completed the one they are currently working on. 

Try this free Movie Night Digital Escape Room or this free Pet-Themed Digital Escape Room with your students today. Your students do not need to have a Google account to play these digital escape rooms. Learn how to easily use digital escape rooms without a school Google account.

Bring the Outdoors In (Lesa)

Use the outdoors for students to compete in a figurative language rumble. Bring in a bowl of snow, a bough from a branch, a pinecone, or any other items that are easily located in your surroundings. (Alternatively, you could print photos of outdoor things and locations to use as inspiration.) 

This ‘rumble’ is a gamified way to learn or review figurative language. What’s more, is that it encourages students to collaborate and build their teamwork skills. Plus, it almost always incites laughter while students are learning.

Add Variety To Your Teaching Strategies (Kristy)

Many of us teachers are guilty of using the same repertoire of teaching strategies that we are familiar with. But, the weeks leading up to a school break are a great time to try something new with your students. 

It can be a challenge to come up with new student engagement strategies or assessment methods on the fly – so check out these three lists to help you plan out your next lesson: 18 Effective Teaching Strategies, 32 Fun Project Ideas That Aren’t Overused For Middle School Students and Best Creative Student Projects Ideas.

Dream of Other (Warmer) Places (Lesa)

If you’re in a cold place and the next school break seems oh so far away, consider this free warm ‘vacation’ creative writing activity. Students use an image to prompt writing. These could be set up around the room so students can collaborate to build a vignette about a place and time. 

If you need a quick research project, have students research a sun destination and create a poster that encourages people to vacation in their chosen location.

Turn on the TV (Kristy)

Have you considered adding digital or media literacy lessons to your ELA program? I cannot remember a more exciting time when I was a student than when the teacher would bring in the reel-to-reel projector or the TV/VCR on the rolling cart. We can bring this same excitement to our classrooms sans “vintage” technology. 

Lucky for us, the internet was invented because pushing those TV/VCR carts was heavy! Digital and media literacy are topics that can sometimes be pushed aside to focus on reading and writing. Taking the week before or after a holiday break to examine these topics is a great way to educate students on real-world literacy.

Try one of these two free media literacy lessons with your students: Meal Kits or Dog DNA Tests.

Want more information on teaching media literacy? Check out Why Teach Media Literacy? An Awesome Guide For Teachers.

Keep things fresh with desk swaps (Lesa)

Keep things simple but fresh by switching up desk locations. Check out this post with some details on training students on different desk setups.  Sometimes, the most simple of changes can have a profound effect since it’s the novelty that works for students. The bonus to doing this in the week leading up to a break is that nothing is set in stone and can all be reset the week after the break. If students don’t work well in a certain configuration or with particular classmates, it’s easy enough to revert back or change to something new. 

Check out this blog post, 7 Creative Ways To Make Partners and Groups in the Classroom, for ideas on how to make the seating plan for new desk arrangements. And, get these new configurations working for you with a discussion cube activity like this one that can be used with any TED Talk you want to share with your students (there are tons of talks to choose from but here’s a list of six as a great starting point.)

Don’t forget about podcasts (Kristy)

Finally, podcasts are another underused medium. Some great podcasts and podcast segments can be used by teachers to add more student engagement strategies to their lessons. In this blog post, 11 Creative Ways To Use Podcasts With Students, 11 teachers share a variety of ideas on how to use blog posts with students. Ideas range from instead of a novel study to a mock trial.  

Grab this free podcast lesson about subscription boxes that show up at our doors each month. This lesson will help students reinforce students’ listening, writing, and critical thinking skills. 

I hope you have gotten some inspiration on student engagement strategies for the next time your school is about to go on a break. 

Lesa has taught English in Toronto, Canada, for 15 years. She uses pop culture, technology, and rigorous reading and writing strategies to ensure students think creatively and critically about all kinds of texts and the world beyond them too. At the heart of it all, though, is a desire for students to be curious and to follow that curiosity, even if it’s down a rabbit hole of Wikipedia clicks! Outside the classroom, she spends time with her young daughter, catches up on the latest must-watch, and mass-consumes audiobooks and London fog lattes. She shares teaching ideas on her website, SmithTeaches9to12, and sells teaching resources on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Kristy has taught ELA and other subjects to middle school students for over 17 years in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, Canada. She is guilty of always having a book in her hand – even at the dinner table! She shares teaching content on her website, 2 Peas and a Dog, and sells middle school education resources on Teachers Pay Teachers or Shopify.

Looking for more subject-specific student engagement strategies? 

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