Click play below to hear ways to boost engagement during group lessons:
As you’re approaching the end of the school year, it can be an exciting time, as the pressure of tackling major content is gone. However, there’s still topics to be taught, which requires engagement. And let’s be honest, engagement from students any time of the school year can be challenging, nevertheless at the end of the school year.
To help increase engagement in your classroom, I’m doing a three part mini series on effective tools towards better engagement. So in today’s episode, I’m sharing two simple ways to boost engagement during whole group lessons any time of the school year.
We know that engagement is an essential part of a classroom and is the main thing that drives our lessons forward. Having engagement during whole group lessons allows us to know if our students understand or if reteaching needs to take place over a certain topic. Engagement can be challenging, but my two very simple and easy ideas will get your students participating and having fun with each lesson.
Engagement during whole group lessons doesn’t have to be as challenging and difficult as we think it is. By incorporating my two low prep and easy ways to boost engagement, they’ll have your students doing exactly what we want them to be doing!
Stay tuned for next week’s episode, part two, where I’ll be sharing 7 ideas that keep students engaged and reading until the last day of school.
In this episode on engagement during group lessons, I share:
- Engagement from students, or lack thereof, affects the pace of your lesson and need to reteach or move faster
- Examples of how to create opportunities for students to speak during lessons
- Reasons as to why writing isn’t incorporated in other content areas, but the benefits of when it is
- Writing strategies that gets students writing often and quickly
- Sign up for my Private Podcast: Confident Writer Systems Series
- Join the waitlist for the Stellar Literacy Collective Membership
- Check out the Stellar Teacher Reading Membership
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 78, Literacy Routines for an Engaging End of the Year
- Episode 53, Incorporating Movement Into Your Literacy Block
- Episode 21, How to Keep Students Engaged Until the End of the School Year
- 10 Engaging Reading Response Ideas for Upper Elementary Students
Connect with me:
More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact with your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high quality no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
Each week, Sara and her guests will share their knowledge, tips, and tricks so that you can feel confident in your ability to transform your students into life-long readers.
Happy Monday, and Happy May 1. For some of you, I know that this is a huge month because it is your last month of school. I know some southern states get done right at the very end of May. And I do know that there are plenty of schools out there that go into June. So if you still have another month after May, you’re getting closer, so hang in there.
But I know that this time of year, whether you finish in May or June, this is an exciting time of year because schools are starting to wrap up state testing, you’ve probably taught most of your standards. So really the bulk of your job as a teacher, it is behind you, you guys are in the home stretch.
You know, there’s also just a lot of really fun things that happen at the end of the year. We always had field day, at the end of the year, we always had our end of year field trips, there were concerts, class, picnics, just lots of fun things to celebrate all of the hard work that went into the year.
But then, even though there’s all these fun things going on, there are still some challenges that I feel like are unique to the end of the year. And I think one of the biggest challenges that teachers face is trying to keep their students engaged up until the end of the year.
Raise your hand if you have struggled with or are currently struggling with keeping your students engaged in your lessons. Now, if your hand is held up nice and high, you are not alone. I know that this is something that I dealt with when I was in the classroom. And student engagement is something that many teachers struggle with.
But also it’s not just an end of year challenge. I love to get feedback from my audience. And so we sent out a survey back in February. And I’m sure many of you filled that out. And we just asked teachers about their biggest challenges. What is your biggest year long challenge was the question that we sent out.
And we had over 1000 teachers respond to that survey, and over 40% of them indicated that student engagement was a challenge for them, which I was not surprised by necessarily. And on the survey, some teachers shared things like my student engagement is low, and it’s a major struggle for me, or I’m struggling to maintain my engagement throughout the year, we’ve lost our beginning of year enthusiasm, which I can totally relate to.
And other teachers shared things like I’m struggling to keep students engaged, especially during reading instruction when things can become redundant at the end of the year. Now, I’m sure you can relate to those struggles, which is why I’m putting together a little three part mini series all about engagement.
Now, the things that I share during this series are tools that can help you all throughout the year. But I know especially as we get closer to the end of the year, it is just a little bit harder and a little bit more challenging to keep students engaged in their lessons. So I wanted to give you some tools that will hopefully make the end of the year a little bit smoother for you.
Now, the thing that I want us to remember is that even if it can feel like pulling teeth to get our students to engage with the lessons we are teaching, engagement really is an essential part of our classroom. And even if it is hard, it is something that we need to put our time and energy into. And even if it is hard, it’s something that we need to push our students to become involved in, and we want them to be engaged.
And the reason why engagement is so important, I think especially during our whole group lessons is engagement is one of the main factors that drive our lessons forward.
And if you think about it, you know, if our students aren’t engaged, if they’re sitting there with blank stares on their faces, and they’re not they’re not smiling, they’re not participating, they’re not asking questions, they’re not raising their hand, they’re not doing anything, you’re not getting any feedback from them.
So you’re probably going to slow down your lesson, you’re going to take more time to explain things, you might reteach something, you might teach it in a different manner. But you’re going to adjust the pacing of your lesson when your students aren’t engaged. And when your students are engaged, you probably move through your lessons quicker. You’re much more confident that your students are understanding the objective of the lesson. And you probably teach at a faster pace.
And so if we have low engagement, it’s also going to be a time suck. If you think about it, it’s going to mean that teaching your lessons is going to take longer. And so we want to have high levels of engagement, because engagement drives our lessons forward.
But like I also mentioned, engagement provides feedback to let you know, what is sticking with your students. And when students are engaged, they’re participating, they’re sharing snippets of their thinking and their understanding with you, they are letting you know what they are understanding and what they’re taking away from the lesson. And that’s going to help you know, are they understanding the most important parts? Are they getting this objective?
You know, if your students are 100%, disengaged, you have no idea if they are learning the lesson objective, which goes back to what I said earlier, that engagement drives our lessons forward. So we want engagement, because that gives us feedback to know is what I’m teaching, sticking with my students.
But also engagement makes our lessons more fun and interactive for students. You know, if you think about it, no one wants to just sit around and not participate or not be involved. In general, people love to be connected, our students love to be connected. And when you have high levels of engagement, this means that your students are going to feel connected to the topic of the lesson, as well as to their classmates and the overall classroom community that you have.
So engagement is important. So even if it’s a challenge, even if you’re like, Oh, I can’t get my students to be engaged, hang in there, like keep pushing, keep trying, because we want to get all of our students engaged in their lessons. The good news is, is that engagement, and creating an engaged classroom does not have to be as challenging as we often think it is.
And today, I have two super simple like, they are the easiest ways that you can boost engagement during any lesson. And I’m going to share them with you and explain a little bit, obviously. So like I said, these are the simplest ways to increase engagement during your whole group lessons.
The first one is to give students an opportunity to talk during your lessons. And talking about the content of a lesson is a great form of engagement. And you know, it’s an opportunity for students to share their understanding, to ask questions, it’s an opportunity for them to participate.
And if students know that they have to engage with a peer or a group of peers during the lesson, if they’re going to have to share their thinking or their input, they’re going to be much more likely to pay attention and to participate.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, Okay, this sounds super simple and super obvious. But there’s a strategy behind it right? This is not just telling students, okay, talk about the lesson talk about the content. So we want to be really strategic with how we can use talking during our whole group lessons to make it a really powerful engagement strategy.
So a couple of things that I want you to think about is to make sure that you are intentionally planning two to three talking opportunities during your lesson. So during your whole group lesson, and this is for every whole group lesson, you want to give students two to three opportunities for them to talk with their peers to talk, you know, with you to talk with the group.
And we want to make sure that these opportunities are going to be sort of the most powerful and the most bang for your buck. And so while you can have maybe a few recall or knowledge based questions, we don’t want the bulk of our talking prompts to students to be, you know, tell me what this character did or give me the answer to this question. We really want to challenge our students and give them some thought provoking questions that they can discuss with their classmates.
And so a couple of things that you could do are, you know, give students a chance to share their opinion. And students love to share their opinions, especially if you’re like asking for it and letting them know that it’s okay, if you have a different opinion than someone else. You could do this by doing a tug of war.
And a tug of war is where you put two opposing statements up on the board. And you ask students to pick a side and defend it and explain why. You could also just put a topic up there or a statement and have your students share their specific opinion about it. Or you can even have students share, you know, form their thought around whatever lesson you’re teaching or topic you’re teaching and then have them find a student in the class that has a different opinion and have them talk about it.
So creating prompts and talking stems or, you know, questions that students have to respond to that are not to just recall questions are really going to make this a much more effective strategy.
You also want to make sure that every student has an opportunity to participate. I think oftentimes when we have like talking opportunities in our class, we have students raise their hand and it’s one student at a time. And that that opportunity, that question that you asked is great for that one student who is able to share their thoughts and their thinking, but for the rest of the class, you know, they might be disengaged.
And you probably have some students in your class that don’t want to talk. And they don’t want to raise their hands, and they don’t want to participate, which means we need to create some accountability. And we need to create sort of structures and routines that really encourage or force every student to participate.
So a couple things that you could do are a turn and talk. And I love a turn and talk, they are super effective at getting every student to participate. And I love turn and talks, if you want to do some sort of discussion, question and allow students to really discuss in depth. And a turn and talk is simply where you ask a question, and then you tell your students to turn and talk with a classmate about that question.
I like to make it a little bit more structured in my classroom. So my students had very specific turn and talk partners. And they knew that if we were doing, you know, anytime we came to the carpet, I did the bulk of my whole group lessons where students got to sit on the carpet.
And I told them, you know, when you come to your carpet for math, or reading or writing, make sure you sit next year reading, turn and talk partner, because we’re going to be having some discussion questions during our lesson today. So they knew that they had to be sitting next to this specific partner. And then whenever I would ask the question, they always knew who got to share first, who got to share next, they had very clear expectations about it.
And the thing that I like about pre assigning partners is that you can be very strategic about who you assign. And if you have students who are either somewhat reluctant to participate, then you can assign them with somebody who is maybe more active and participating. Or you can assign them with somebody who is just naturally good at getting them to participate.
And you know, asking them specific questions. If you have a student who typically struggles in one content, then you can strategically assign them with another student who is higher and that topic or content so that way, you know that their discussion is going to have some actual accurate information involved in it. So you can be very strategic when you’re assigning turn, and talk partners.
Other things that you can do, though, to get every student to participate in a talking opportunity during the lesson is to do a whip around. And that is simply where you pose a question, you give your students an opportunity to come up with their answer and then you go around the room and you let every single student share.
And this is like, this is one of the things that you want to let your students know that the goal is not to necessarily share something new. Because it’s okay, that the students have said, you know, the same answer, but the goal is for every student’s voice to be heard, and for every student to have an opportunity to share their answer to the question or the prompt.
And this is something that works great if students are at their desks, but even if they’re at their carpet, just tell every student to raise their hand. And when you point to them or say their name, they’re going to share their answer and put their hand down that way you can make sure every student gets a chance to share.
And a whip around isn’t necessarily something that would work great for discussion. But it is something that you can use if you want every single student to share and participate and whip arounds actually can work great if you are doing some sort of like knowledge or recall type of question.
Another way that you can get every student to talk during the lesson is to do loops of learning. And this is a movement routine. And I actually talked about this routine in episode number 53, which is how to incorporate movement into your literacy block. And this is a great routine because not only are students talking with their classmates, but they’re moving as well. And I would encourage you to go back to listen to that episode.
But basically, your students are going to form two circles one is going to be an interior circle and one is going to be an exterior circle. And the outside circle faces in the inside circle faces out so every student is facing one of their classmates. And you’ll ask a question and students will share with the person they are facing. And then the circles rotate in opposite directions.
So now students are facing a new student and you ask a new question. And students give their response. So loops of learning can be great to use, like at the end of a whole group lesson when you’re maybe reviewing a couple of questions that are related to the topic, or that can be used at the beginning of a whole group lesson.
If you’re wanting to build some background knowledge and review prior learning, they’re a little bit harder to do in the middle of the lesson because you have to get the circles set up. But again, this is one of those routines that if you do this on a regular basis, you tell your students great, we’re going to do a loops of learning before we jump into our new lesson. Everybody get ready and go like they know how to do it.
So talking as simple as it is talking is a great way to boost engagement during your whole group lesson. You just want to make sure that you’re being really strategic about the types of questions that you’re asking questions that are going to get students to share their opinion or you know, give a more in depth of response. And then being really strategic about how you structure your talking questions to make sure that every student has a chance to participate.
So knowing how simple my first strategy was, any guesses on the second strategy? The second one is give students an opportunity to write during your whole group lessons. And again, super simple, but it can be so powerful. And I love using writing as a tool to engage students.
For a variety of reasons, I think one of the things I love the most about it is that it is concrete evidence that gives students an opportunity to share their thinking, understanding knowledge of a topic. You know, when students are talking, that’s great for in the moment, but it’s hard to come back and revisit a conversation that they had.
But when students write something down, you can come back to that post it note that journal entry, that notecard wherever they documented it, and it’s great, because if your students, you know, if you’re learning about a specific topic, throughout the course of a week, students can come back to something that they wrote earlier in the week, and they can connect to their understanding, they can add to it, they can change it.
And so it’s great because it’s actual documentation of students understanding of what it is that you are teaching them. And I often think that we as teachers don’t incorporate enough writing into our lessons. And I think we do this for a few reasons.
You know, if we’re teaching a writing lesson, obviously, we’re gonna have a lot of writing. But how often are we having our students writing in the middle of math, or science or social studies or reading. And I think we avoid incorporating more writing into our lessons, maybe because we aren’t sure how to structure it in a way to where it’s effective.
And quick, I think we often have this idea that writing needs to be, you know, a long essay or a long assignment. And I think the biggest sort of thing that holds us back from using writing on a much more regular basis is that we are worried that students won’t be able to write quick enough or finish their writing in time, and it’s going to drag our lessons longer than we have time for.
So I want to share with you a few writing strategies that you can incorporate into your whole group lessons that are quick, they are easy, and all students can participate in them. And they aren’t really going to take a ton of time. But they are going to give you that concrete evidence of students thinking and all students get to participate in writing, I think that’s another one of the benefits.
You know, when you tell your students I want you to write about whatever the question or prompt or whatever it is, everybody gets to do it at the same time. So one of the things that you can do is have your students what I like to call stop and jot. And this is simply having them stop the lesson stop their thinking, stop in the middle of their learning, and they’re going to jot something down.
This could be on a post it note, this could be on a note card. This could be in a student journal, this could be on a whiteboard, although the whiteboard, you’re not going to have permanent documentation of it. But it’s still a good tool.
And there’s kind of two ways that you can structure a stop and jot you can do like an open ended unprompted, stop and jot and that is maybe where you give students two to three post it notes or two to three note cards. And you tell them that you know, we’re going to be going through this lesson. And by the end of the lesson, I want you to have filled out all of your note cards or all of your post it notes and you can write down a question.
You can write down something interesting you learned, you can write down a new vocabulary word, you know, something that you connected to the lesson. And this is great, because it is open ended. It’s giving students choice. But there’s a little bit of accountability though, because you’re telling them you know the number of times that you want them to stop and take notes. And you’re also telling them the timeframe, you know, by the end of this lesson.
And this could be something that if you’re doing an unprompted stop and jot throughout your lesson, you could pause and say okay, who has a stop and jot that they want to share. And then you know, let a few students share out. But you can also make this a little bit more structured by telling students what it is exactly.
You want them to write down on their note card or on their post it note, and maybe you’re going to tell students, I want you to make a list of the three most important vocabulary words that you heard in the lesson. Maybe you’re going to tell your students, I want you to share your aha moment. So as we’re going through the lesson or reading this book, you’re going to share the one thing that you’re like, oh my gosh, I get it.
Or maybe you’re going to tell your students at the end, I want you to tell me the most important thing about whatever the topic is that you are studying. And so you’re telling them what it is that you want them to write on the note card or the post it note. Okay, another really easy way that you can get your students to write during a lesson is to give every students a whiteboard.
And I kind of mentioned this earlier, whiteboards are great. They’re great for things like a quick recall. So if you did want students to give, you know a knowledge based question or a specific fact or a specific detail, just to make sure they’re paying attention, you can have all students write that down. And this is great because you can easily see all students responses at the same time.
The only thing that I don’t love about the whiteboards is that you don’t have that concrete evidence that you can come back to but it still can be a really great tool to get all kids involved and engaged in a lesson at the same time.
Another writing strategy that you can use for any lesson is at the very end of your lesson. Ask your students to write ate a 10 Words or Less summary. And I loved using this strategy at the end of a lesson because you’re giving students a super open ended prompt, and you’re just going to tell them that I want you to summarize what you learned from this lesson using 10 words or less.
And so putting this limitation is beneficial for a few reasons. One, it means that students aren’t going to go on and on and on and on and on. So it’s going to prevent them from taking a very long time to write. But they’re also going to have to be really strategic about the words that they are using, because it’s only 10 words or less.
But I think one of the biggest benefits is that if you have students who are reluctant writers, and they are, you know, they don’t see themselves as good writers, they’re resistant. You know, if you’re saying hey, it’s just 10 words, or less, it’s not even exactly 10 words, you know, a student can say, okay, I can do 10 words or less like this is something that I can easily write.
So it’s just a great way to get all students to be able to provide a summary. And believe me, you get a lot of information from students when they’re writing 10 words or less. So those are some writing strategies that you can easily incorporate into any lesson.
Now, just like talking, writing may seem super simple and obvious. But if we want writing to be an effective engagement strategy, we need to do a few things. First, we need to make sure that we teach our students how we expect them to participate. So if you’re doing something like 10 words or less, then model to them what that process looks like.
Show them how to write a summary with 10 words or less, show them how you, you know, come up with specific words that you’re going to use, and you count your words and you rewrite it if it’s too long. So give them some examples of what a really strong response looks like. And some examples of what a weaker response looks like. So show them the process.
But then also, we want to make sure that we’re giving students opportunities to share their writing. So writing is a great way for students to be engaged. And most of the time, if students write something down, you know, hopefully, it’s going to be important, it’s going to be thoughtful, and we want to validate that and give them an opportunity to share.
So let them find a friend and read their response to that friend, post all of the student responses on an anchor chart, so that way the whole class can visualize them, or even do a whip around and let all of the students share what it is that they wrote down during the lesson. So that is a great way to bring in both writing and talking to your lesson.
And then also give students feedback on their writing. And this can be a great way to help students develop their writing. So if you have reluctant writers in your classroom, it’s probably because they aren’t confident in their writing abilities. And the more confident your students are at writing, the more likely they are to participate in your writing activities willingly.
Now, if you are struggling with teaching writing, and you are looking for ways to boost your student’s writing skills, I do want to invite you to sign up for my free private podcast, the Confident Writer System Series. We just released it this last week.
And it is a free five episode mini series that gives you a blueprint for how to teach writing in upper elementary and it really breaks down the steps that you can take and systems and routines to put in your classroom. And I really think you are going to love it, which is why I recorded it. And you can sign up for that at stellarteacher.com/writingpodcast.
But if you have been hesitant to incorporate writing into your whole group lessons, even if it’s not your writing time, then it might be because you’re worried that your students aren’t confident writers and it’s going to be a waste of your time. So the more that we can build up your students writing abilities, the easier it’s going to be for you to incorporate writing into all subjects.
Now you’ll notice that these two strategies that I shared increase writing and increased talking are super simple. And they don’t take a ton of extra planning, they don’t require a lot of bells and whistles, and ultimately, these are the things that we want our students to be doing.
Anyways, we want our students to be able to write about what it is that they are learning, we want our students to be able to talk about what it is that they are learning. So we might as well be really strategic about the opportunities that we give them to engage with these tasks. And I think in general, we tend to overcomplicate what student engagement is and what it looks like in our classrooms.
And at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that we want and we need our students to understand and master the content we are teaching. But that doesn’t mean that they have to enjoy or love every single lesson that we teach. But it does mean that they do need to participate in every lesson and show evidence of their thinking and understanding with every lesson.
So if your students aren’t necessarily, you know, ending every lesson by saying, Oh, this was the best lesson ever, and I learned so much and they’ve got big smiles on their face. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they weren’t engaged. So look for opportunities that you can increase talking and increase writing because both of those things are going to guarantee increase the engagement of your lessons.
Now, I would love to know which one of these strategies are you going to start using today? Because they are that simple, they don’t require a ton of planning and there’s something that you can incorporate into any lesson you’re teaching today.
Now, don’t forget that this is the first episode and a three part engagement series. So be sure to tune in next week. In that episode, I’m going to be sharing seven ideas that will keep your students engaged in reading up until the last day of school. So I will see you back here next Monday. Have a stellar week.