Have you ever been in a situation when students were not paying too much attention in class? Doodling? Staring out the window? Wandering around their mind palaces?

It is a challenge to keep students focused during the whole class; even more challenging it is to get them back on task once they zone out. One lesson teachers learn well is that you need to "recruit students' interest" in learning if you want them to stay focused, successfully comprehend new material and be able to apply it in life. What are some of the new best practices that can help you in this journey?

Keep students' motivation high

As Larry Ferlazzo mentions in his book "Classroom Q & As: Expert Strategies For Teaching," one of the strategies teachers should employ in an effort to keep students engaged is to help them move forward and reinforce motivation by highlighting small victories. It is important for students to feel they are making progress. For instance, try using achievement badges in class: when students finish working on a project or paper, they receive a badge that they can place on a special table and show off to their parents or fellow students.

Make the classroom student-based

Experts emphasize the necessity of using students' interests in learning. Oftentimes students do not feel like many academic topics are relevant to them, so connecting what you are teaching to real life might tremendously improve their engagement. While we might find it difficult to keep up with all new trends and spirits of the time, we can still apply some examples from modern life to make classes lively. Try putting yourself in your students' shoes and use their interests and fascinations: for instance, how about explaining the US role in WWII through Star Wars characters? Stick to something familiar that students can associate themselves with, and you bet even those kids in the back of the class will stay tuned.

Use new technology

Making students active learners is one of the best ways to keep them engaged in class. While reading the textbook out loud or working on a hand-out worksheet might still be inevitable, these activities are hardly engaging and motivating. Instead, be that awesome teacher who thinks out-of-the-box and uses new approaches to education.

According to the Visual Teaching Alliance, 90% of secondary students are visual learners, which means that using visual aids in class can dramatically improve learning and ultimately help students retain more from what they hear. At the same time, allow students to personalize the process and foster ownership of the material rather than just making them learn lessons by rote.

Students absolutely benefit from visuals/animation to solidify their learning on new and review concepts.
Corinne E. McIllece
Ojeda Middle School, Austin, TX

How can you present the information in a more engaging manner? Here are some tips:

  • Natural Sciences. When studying the water cycle, use animation for explaining the topic rather than just drawing it on paper. Water moving around the Earth to different places is a process, so it would only be natural to demonstrate it with an actual moving picture as opposed to a static image. Another example would be to use animation for studying shadows. It would no doubt be great to draw shadows with chalk on the driveway but what if it rains on that day? Demonstrate it with a video instead!
  • Language. Find creative ways to explain a difficult topic. Say, you are studying contractions with students. Why not use animation to show what exactly that apostrophy in the phrase "I can't" stands for? Involve students in all possible ways: for instance, when learning the word "sashay", ask them to make a video demonstrating it, like "She sashayed down the street". Once they finish, they now own the word, which makes it so much easier for them to memorize and - ultimately - use it outside the classroom.
 
  • History. If you are studying pioneers' migration routes and trails, ask students to draw and animate them. Children remember things when they are unique and fun, so implement new tools and ideas to make learning engaging.

Now, the problem with using animation for classes is to find out how not to spend too much time on drawing. After all, animation is not the point of the lesson; it's the vehicle that gets you there. Search for easy-to-use animation editors like Animatron that have various themes and a set of pre-defined images for students to use.

Help students collaborate

Students can be brought to excellence by the power of teamwork, so help them collaborate and discuss their work with each other. Make learning social by setting up a discussion on Facebook or Edmodo, ask students to share their animations or other projects and encourage them to leave feedback on each other's work, thus making them active participants and owners of the learning process.

Mix it all up!

Keeping students engaged in class is no ordinary task, and it will take effort to motivate each one of them. Helping students turn into active learners, encouraging teamwork, finding a place for new technology in the classroom, praising students for small victories will engage them into the learning process on a whole new level. Give it a try and let us know how things go!