August 13, 2012

Student Engagement: 5 Ways to Get and Keep Your Students’ Attention

Keeping students engaged is easy. Not!

Using unusual information to capture “situational interest” keeps students guessing.

It’s hot! But…the dog days of summer are almost gone. Did you know that the brightest star in the night sky was once believed to have caused the sultry heat of July and August?(Now, take a three-second pause).

Think back to your days in science class: Sirius is also called the “Dog Star.” Ancient Greeks thought this bright star, part of the constellation Canis Major, was the reason for the hot sultry days of summer and the reason for the flooding of the Nile River. Interesting. (Three-second pause).

Yes indeed! Students and adults are captivated by unusual information. Why? (Three-second pause)It triggers situational interest. Teachers who deliberately plan to trigger and maintain their student’s interest can increase situational interest in students.

Students who are interested learn more. Why? (You know what to do here!) They are better suited to attend to the instructional activities occurring in class. Research findings regarding engagement and student achievement show an average gain of 27 to 31 percent.

To increase student engagement, take time to incorporate the following concepts, from Marzano’s Art and Science of Teaching, into your lessons:

1.High Energy
The same part of the brain that processes movement also processes learning. When planning lessons, find ways to incorporate movement. It doesn’t have to be dramatic—using three different colored highlighters to highlight different types of information is still movement. Allowing students to “vote with their feet,” by strategically placing answers around the room and having students walk and stand by their answers is a great way to add movement.

2.Missing information
Curiosity killed the cat, and it also increases student’s “appetitive” state. Academically focused puzzles and games whet the “mental appetite” and provide an element of anticipation. Incorporate academic games into your lessons. They are great previewing and reviewing activities for students.

3.Mild Controversy and Competition
Students enjoy problem-solving with their peers. When controversy is not too strong, it can enhance learning by adding excitement and fun into classroom activities. Incorporate structured debates and group competitions to enhance student achievement. Inconsequential competition can be PowerPoint-based “Jeopardy” and “Clue” games. Be mindful to ensure that all students are part of a “winning team.”

4.The Self-System
The self-system is the system that controls what we decide to attend to. Everything we find personally interesting and valuable. Take a general inventory of your students’ likes. Plan critical input experiences that reflect the learning goal, and things that give your students enjoyment, satisfaction, and pride.

5.Mild Pressure
Students are smart; they look for patterns in our behavior. Keep them guessing and also attentive. Students will raise their level of attention if there is a moderate chance they will be called on. Mild pressure can be generated during questioning. Don’t stop calling on students once someone has given the right answer, and get several points of view to sharpen students’ thinking.

Don’t forget to provide adequate wait time before calling on the next student. Allow at least three seconds before calling on the next student. Build a bit of anticipation and tension with the three-second-pause rule for students to respond to questions. Works every time!

If you read this far, now you can explain the “three second pause.” Have fun and enjoy.

Got tips and tricks for keeping students engaged? Share them with us in the comments section. Or pose us a question and we’ll be happy to answer.

For resources on lesson planning for student engagement, see Dr. Marzano’s book, The Highly Engaged Classroom.





I really like the idea of voting with your feet!  I teach middle school and this sounds like a great way for them to get some of the “wiggles” out.  I also like the 3 second rule.  It’s an easy way to pace the questions.

By Stephanie Shepherd on 2012 08 16

It’s great to see how teachers are engaging students today. I only wish my own childhood teachers had the resources and encouragement you decribe.

By Macey on 2012 08 22

Great article.  I agree with all of the points provided, and below are a couple of ways that I incorporated some of this into my classroom.

I love the Jeopardy idea. When I was teaching Middle School Science, I used to do my exam reviews with powerpoint Jeopardy type games for extra points for the exam projected onto the screen from my computer.  I would ask questions similar to the exam, with multiple choice answers, and each team of 3 or 4 could guess using a small dry erase board and hold up their answers. For each 4 or 5 correct answers they could earn 1 extra point on the exam.  They were kind of competing against other teams, but not really too harshly, because every team could answer correctly and earn the points.  So, the competition was really just to get the most bonus points for the exam, and of course to beat the other teams. My bonus was getting them to think through the questions and get a good review at the same time!

Of course movement was essential in the science labs.  The students loved to move from one station to another with different hands on experiences at each lab, even something as simple as an energy lab, that had sound, light, heat , etc and they had to explain every type of energy that was exhibited at each station. They especially loved the one where they could snap rubber bands at the front of the room (towards the board of course), which they were never allowed to do in a regular classroom.  Wave labs, with tuning forks, tubs of water, and slinkys were always my favorite to have them do.

By Estelle Lischalk on 2012 08 24

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