Did you know that according to Brain Balance Centers “a reasonable attention span of a child is two to three minutes per year of their age?”
So for instance:
2 years of age = 4 to 6 minutes
4 years of age = 8 to 12 minutes
And so forth.
This can be a frightening thought while considering student engagement, especially as a new teacher.
In fact, this was exactly why in my first year of teaching I tried to incorporate every student engagement strategy I could find.
I thought that if I just threw in a bunch of engagement strategies into my classroom, my students would stay engaged and I would have little to no behavior problem.
But boy, was I wrong!
It felt like no matter how hard I tried it always seemed like:
- There was a lack of interest from my students.
- My definition of “fun” wasn’t the same as my students.
- I was constantly struggling with motivating unmotivated students.
And so on.
It wasn’t until one day, that it hit me.
My students were engaging with me, but not in a meaningful way. The strategies weren’t fixing the problem, they were just temporary bandaids.
But the question was, is there such a thing as engagement strategies that also build relationships with students?
The answer is… yes!
The more research I did the more I realized that:
- I was not alone with this problem. In fact, many people struggle with student engagement strategies.
- Engagement strategies can help build community and relationships with students as well.
So if your story is anything like mine you are in the right place. You are not alone and there is a way to get your students to engage and build a relationship with your students at the same time.
And let me tell you, it’s not that hard to incorporate these. In fact, you might be doing a lot of these – just not in the right way.
So today we are going to talk about:
- What is student engagement?
- Why is student engagement important?
- Top Student Engagement Strategies That You Can Use in 5 Minutes or Less
And if you want more strategies check out “The Ultimate Guide of Student Engagement Strategies For The Primary Teacher.”
This guide is jam-packed with 30 Student Engagement Strategies that you can use in the next 5 minutes.
It also has a variety of engagement strategies specific to face-to-face, hybrid, and virtual learning.
(This post may contain affiliate or external links. Meaning I get a commision if you purchase anything through my links at no cost to you. Read full disclosure here.)
What is Student Engagement?
Alright, so the first thing you might be thinking is “what is student engagement?”
According to Ed Glossary “student engagement is the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show while learning.”
In other words, it’s how “into” the lesson your students are.
And I don’t just mean keeping their eyes on you. There are three kinds of student engagement.
The first one is behavioral engagement. This kind of engagement is whether or not students are participating or if they are conversing with their peers when you ask them to.
The second form of student engagement is emotional engagement. This kind of student engagement is when they are reacting or having positive feelings towards the activity, lesson, school, or teacher. In other words, are they reacting or have a positive mindset or a negative one when it comes to school.
The final form of student engagement is cognitive or intellectual engagement. In this type of engagement, students decide whether or not they are motivated towards learning.
All of these play a crucial role when it comes to your relationship with your students.
Therefore, if you have good student engagement in the classroom then you will most likely have a positive relationship with them. And vice versa.
Why is Student Engagement Important?
There are several reasons why student engagement is so important.
As we mentioned at the beginning, students only have a couple of minutes where they are attentive due to their attention span.
That’s why it is so important to make what time you do have their attention count.
Student engagement is important because:
- It leads to higher grades
- Students perform better in school
- Their attendance might be better
- It might lead to students liking school
- Students will be more excited about your lesson.
Student Engagement Strategies That Help Build Relationships
Now that we have talked about what student engagement is and why it is important, let’s talk about how student engagement relates to relationships.
It can feel like you are doing all the engagement strategies in the world. But for some reason, they are still not working.
- Your students are still acting out.
- They are not willing to participate.
- You’re exhausted trying to find something that all of your students will relate to.
Let me give you a scenario.
You get to a staff meeting and your Principal has you do a team-building exercise. You hear everyone groan because the principal wants you to share three things about yourself. Or they make you stand in a corner that you most relate to.
While these have exercises have good intentions, a lot of us dread them because:
- They are used WAY too often.
- The Speaker may not care about our answers.
- We just want more coffee or time to grade.
My point is if we feel that way about them, imagine how our students feel.
We can avoid this by being authentic, impactful, and genuine. We want our students to know we care about their answers.
That’s the difference.
With all that being said let’s go over a couple of strategies and how to go about them the right way.
That way your students are engaged and you build a meaningful relationship with them.
Don’t Assign Morning Work. Do This Instead!
I don’t know about you, but in my first year, everyone was telling me to do morning work.
So I assigned a worksheet for my students to work on as soon as they got into class.
Well, eventually my students dreaded the mornings and I honestly felt like my morning was missing that connection piece I was looking for.
So I started implementing “Question of the Day” in the morning.
If you haven’t seen them, they are typically a “yes” or “no” question that students answer about whether they like something.
While this was a little more connection with my students, they weren’t that engaged. Plus half of them didn’t care and would just vote randomly.
That’s when I decided to create my own “Questions of the Day.” They are much like the ones you find on Teachers Pay Teachers, except this time they are open-ended.
And my kids LOVED it!
These are amazing because it allows your students to start writing and share their ideas with others. On the other hand, it also gives your students a chance to talk about what they are passionate about.
Here is a sample of some of the questions you could ask:
- If you could open up your restaurant, what food would you serve and why?
- What are three things you are grateful for and why?
- If you had to have one thing to eat every day what would it be and why?
Pro Tip: Have your students explain “why” to hit more standards and practice explaining their thinking!
A great thing about this activity is it also allows you to:
- Get to know your students more.
- Make your students feel more relatable
- Validate that your students’ uniqueness matters and should be celebrated.
Yes, They Can Handle Choosing
Another mistake many teachers make is thinking that their students can’t handle having choices in the classroom.
You may have heard some teachers say things like:
- “Kindergarten students can’t handle that.”
- “If I give them choices then I won’t have any control of my class.”
- “How am I supposed to figure out who’s doing what all at once.”
I know it can be scary, trust me. But I am here to tell you that your students actually CAN handle choices.
For example, a great way to do this is with choice boards.
If you’re unfamiliar with choice boards, they are a chart where students get to pick which activity they might do next.
And it works!
You see the more often you incorporate a “Choice Board” into the classroom, the fewer behaviors you will see.
This is because students can get frustrated by the lack of choices they have in their day.
By incorporating Choice Boards as an engagement strategy your students might feel like:
- They have a say in what their day looked like.
- Your student have more control over which activities they could do.
- They can pick whatever activity made more sense to their learning style.
Let’s Hype Up the Content!
One of the hardest things about teaching is getting your students excited about a subject that you aren’t particularly thrilled about teaching.
In the post “How To Get Your Students Engaged With Reading” we talk about how the biggest mistake teachers make is assigning a book and a comprehension packet and calling it good.
It’s hard for students to enjoy reading when they know the only reason they are reading the story is to fill out that worksheet that was assigned to them.
That’s why it is so important to hype up the content you teach!
In the article, we talk about how you can involve your students in the content of the book by involving their 5 senses.
Some examples of this are to:
- Decorate the classroom.
- Make the book the theme behind all of your activities for that day
- Bring artifacts from the book to life for your students to experience
By bringing content to life you are guiding students to use their imagination to help build student engagement.
Let’s Incorporate Choices Into Brain Breaks Too
Another student engagement strategy that will help you build relationships is to incorporate more choices.
One of the ways you can do this is by letting them choose their brain breaks.
The other day I saw a reel on Instagram that talked about how crazy it is to let your students pick their own GoNoodle.
When I finished watching the reel I was very confused.
Why shouldn’t we let our students choose their brain breaks?
The worst that is going to happen if you have the right systems in place is they will pick the same one over and over again.
Baby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo… Just me? Okay, nevermind.
Allowing students to pick their brain breaks allows them to feel like they have more say in what they want to do in their day.
This can help eliminate behaviors in the classroom.
One way to incorporate this so it’s fair is to put everyone’s name on a popsicle stick.
When it’s time for a brain break, pick a stick and that student gets to choose. When all of the sticks are picked, you can start all over again.
Download the guide on how to incorporate these engagement strategies while teaching face to face, hybrid, or virtual learning.
Yes, Choices for Seating Too
The next student engagement hack for building relationships is to let students choose where they sit.
Yes another choice, imagine that!
This student engagement hack is so important because it allows students to choose how they are sitting while also tailoring to those who have a learning disability.
Some examples of flexible seating could be:
- Bouncy balls
- Rubber bands
- Therapeutic discs
These are amazing because they are easy to clean and students can move while learning.
This is especially helpful for students who may have an attention disorder.
In the morning you can let your students choose what they would like to sit on for the day. However, if they are all taken you can let them have that one tomorrow.
Allowing your students an option on seats can help them feel validated and their needs are being met.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope this article gave you some amazing ideas on what you can incorporate into your classroom to increase your student engagement.
Overall, in this article we talked about:
- What Student Engagement Is
- Why Student Engagement Is Important
- Top Student Engagement Strategies That You Can Use in 5 Minutes or Less
Also, don’t forget to download the free guide here or down below to learn more amazing hacks for student engagement that builds relationships in any learning model.
I know that student engagement can be so overwhelming. Just know that you are exactly where you need to be.
“Together we are stronger.”
The Present Teacher