Creating an Engaging Classroom

Creating an Engaging Classroom

Student engagement is one of the most challenging problems a teacher has to overcome. According to research, when students aren’t engaged, they’re more likely to disrupt class, less likely to accept challenges, have lower grades, and aren’t confident in their ability to learn.

It’s also become clear to me that a teacher can’t teach someone who’s bored. In a study of high school students, 66 percent said they were bored in class every single day.

There are ways to dramatically increase student engagement at all grade levels. The first thing that needs to be done is that a teacher has to define what student engagement means to him or her. In other words, what does it look like in your classroom? For the purposes of this blog, engagement means getting students to accept challenges and to be involved in classroom activities.

So let’s talk about how you can increase student engagement and create excitement around learning!

Try Low-Risk Engagement Activities


One method of increasing student involvement immediately is to start with low-risk engagement activities. Try this right away. Put a question up on the whiteboard that involves students answering something about themselves that may help lead into the lesson of the day.

For example, as an earth science teacher, I would put a question or a statement on the board such as, “Tell me about a time when you were caught outside in a thunderstorm and may have been concerned about lightning.”

Another such statement for a language arts teacher may be something like, “Tell me about a time when you were upset about a friend not living up to your expectations or letting you down.” Students love to talk about or write about themselves. There are many lessons that this could lead into.

What you’re attempting to do is to make it safe to answer and to take away the fear of not getting an answer right. Low-risk activities are a great way to begin getting students involved. This activity works great as an opening to stimulate interest in what you’re about to teach.

Encourage Student Interaction

Another tactic to get students engaged is to have students interact with each other. Many students will engage with other students before they will engage with teachers.

Once students have worked on the activity mentioned above, have everyone in the class stand up, hold their paper in one hand and their pen in the other, and go around the room and share their answer with someone. Give them about two to three minutes and have them write down key points their classmate shares.

Now, have them rotate and find another classmate to share with; about three rotations is all I recommend. These interactions usually generate some excitement in the classroom.

Student interaction is also a great tool to incorporate into other instructional lessons that lend themselves to student sharing. For instance, as an earth science teacher, I may ask students to share their opinion after a lesson about why more hurricanes form in the Pacific Ocean than in the Atlantic, which can lead to great class discussions later.

There are other versions of getting students up and moving, such as having students travel with partners, or my favorite—having them travel in groups of three. For some reason, a group of three really seems to get more ideas flowing and generate much more excitement.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Surveys

Engagement can mean different things to different teachers. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, consider asking the students what method they might like to use to help them engage in the class the way you want them to be.

Survey your students on paper and list the various ways you engage students. Ask them to rate the activities you use and then ask them if there are other types of activities you didn’t list that they feel help them to engage more.

Study the surveys and try incorporating the activities they feel best help them to engage, keeping in mind the need to vary activities on a regular basis. This survey is also a great tool for seeing how students in your class best learn, which can be a bit different than being engaged.

List the various ways you present information to students, then have them rate those activities on how they best help students to learn or retain information. Remember to ask them if there’s a method you don’t use that would benefit them. Use the results of both these surveys when constructing your lesson plans.

Leverage Technology to Your Advantage

There are some things a teacher can do that never fail to involve all students. For example, using technology is a great way to get students involved. Some ideas are:

  • Having students work on computers.
  • Putting short videos up on the whiteboard.
  • Using YouTube lessons the students create which are also great for review or to help those that are absent.

Technology can be a powerful tool when it comes to engaging your students and supplementing your lessons!

Learn More about Creating an Engaging Classroom

As you approach the idea of making lessons more engaging, it’s important to take the key concepts that are important to teach and create engaging and fun activities around them. Don’t do an activity simply because it’s fun but has little to do with what you’re teaching.

The key is for the teacher to be excited and involved. If the teacher is enthusiastic about what he or she is teaching, that enthusiasm spreads to the students. Enthusiasm is contagious!

If you’re looking for more ideas about creating an engaging classroom, join me in Pittsburgh at the Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh Airport on March 25, 2019 for my “Creating an Engaging Classroom” seminar.

It’s going to be great fun and you’ll leave with a plethora of ideas to get your students excited about learning! Visit the seminar section on my website for more information.


Brewster, C. and Fager, J. (2000) Increasing Student Engagement and Motivation: From Time-on-Task to Homework. Portland. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Macklem, G. L. (2015). Springer briefs in psychology. Boredom in the classroom: Addressing student motivation, self-regulation, and engagement in learning. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

About the Author

Larry Bell, a Citadel graduate, is a 30+ year veteran in education. Fifteen of those years were spent as a classroom teacher where he was nominated for the National Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award. As a teacher at Gar-field High School, a school with over 3,000 students speaking 36 different languages, Larry was recognized for his innovative classroom strategies that allowed his so called “Tough Kids” as well as his “Gifted and Talented” to excel!