Essential Solutions 2-MIN. READ

Engaging Students in the New Year

By: Hayley Browning 01/03/2024
Learn strategies you can use in your classroom to engage students based on recommendations from the new class of Extraordinary Educators™!
A teacher and a small group of students celebrate while working on a fun project.

2024 is here, and a new year means new opportunities for engagement! With students coming back from a long break, you’ll want to get their brains back in “school mode” as soon as possible to capture (and keep!) their attention throughout the school day. Our Extraordinary Educators Class of 2024 shared some of their favorite strategies to do just that.

Involve Students in Their Own Learning

Students love to understand not only what they’re learning but also why they’re learning it and how it will help them in the long run. Terri Stillson, a reading intervention teacher from California, helps enlighten each of her students by pointing out their progress during weekly data chats. She uses this time to “praise any successes [she] can find as well as positively encourage them to focus and do their best the following week.” She also has data chats before and after each assessment, saying, “I have found that investing the time in doing so benefits them greatly with engagement and effort.”

Thomas J. Bussey, a Grade 5 teacher in Georgia, also connects with students for one-on-one conferences. He explains the power behind these sessions, saying, “[They] provide an opportunity to discuss Diagnostic data, set learning goals, and address any challenges or questions [students] may have, fostering a personalized approach to their academic growth.” 

Strategic Student Talk

We all know students love to talk to each other—and there’s so much power behind those conversations! Encouraging student discourse is a great way to re-engage your students and get them invested in their learning.

Sherri Jackson, a Grade 1 teacher from Arizona, uses Discourse Cards with her students. She says, “The sentence starters give students a starting place when they simply don’t know where to begin.” This way, students learn how to initiate conversations on what they’re learning. Sherri sometimes posts the sentence starters on the board, and other times she passes them out to help encourage conversations between students. 

Kelly Rossetti, a Grade 2 teacher from Connecticut, uses the Try–Discuss–Connect routine in her math block. “My students openly discuss their ideas and strategies with their peers, which is not only naturally engaging for six- and seven-year-olds but also provides students with a safe space to acknowledge misunderstandings.” 

Want to encourage more student discourse like our Extraordinary Educators? Pass out these bookmarks that students can refer to when having conversations! 

Create Incentives

Incentives are a great way to keep students motivated throughout the school year. These can be set up in many ways—within the classroom, across the grade level, or throughout the entire school! 

Casey Watts, a Grade 4 English language arts teacher from Mississippi, uses a chart that students color in to track their progress. She says, “Students color on a chart each time they pass a lesson, and after 10 passed lessons, they get to pick out of a prize bucket. Students live for the prize bucket!” 

Christina Griffoni also uses incentives in her middle school English language arts classroom. Incentives can be used with all grade levels! Christina created a football incentive. She splits her classes into two teams, and they compete to earn points by passing lessons and reaching minutes on Personalized Instruction. “The team with the most points at the end of the week WINS!” 

Celebrate Consistently! 

Celebrating student achievements is a powerful way to keep students engaged. A celebration could be warranted for something as small as quickly opening their math books to the correct page, or as big as turning in all homework for the week! Not only do celebrations help boost student morale, but they also help solidify your classroom relationships.

Terri celebrates her students with her “Treat Trike.” On her decorated tricycle, Terri delivers prizes to each classroom—all while making “lots of noise with [her] horn and bell to celebrate success.” Students get to choose a prize from the basket, ranging from fun school supplies to custom coupons like “skipping to the front of the lunch line.”

Lisa Concepcion-Elm, a math specialist from Washington, incorporates movement into her classroom celebrations by dancing with her students! To get them involved, she has students vote on a class song. Once they’ve all reached their goals, they “. . . have a dance party with disco lights.” What a fun way to celebrate the whole class! 

As you all head back for 2024, think about what strategies will work best in your classroom. You know your students, so feel free to adapt these ideas to meet their needs or simply use these ideas as a starting point to encourage student engagement!

Learn more about the Extraordinary Educators program.