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101 Quick Tips for Actively Engaging Students Cheryl Zelle Baker University SPGS – Spring Faculty Meeting 26 April 2014

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  • 101 Quick Tips for Actively

    Engaging Students

    Cheryl Zelle

    Baker University SPGS – Spring Faculty Meeting

    26 April 2014

  • Table of Contents

    10 Tips for Creating an Engaging Environment......................................................................... 1

    10 Ways to Gain and Maintain Attention and Spark Interest................................................... 2

    10 Ways to Encourage Discussion and Participation................................................................ 3

    10 Ways to Make Lectures More Engaging.............................................................................. 5

    10 Ways to Interactively Review Complex Material................................................................. 6

    10 Ways to Stimulate Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Practical Application.......................... 7

    10 Tips for Engaging Students in an Online Learning Environment.......................................... 10

    20 Ways to Engage Students with Diverse Learning Styles...................................................... 11

    10 Best Practices Shared by KCPDC Colleagues........................................................................ 12

    Quick Tip #101.......................................................................................................................... 14

    “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember.

    Involve me and I will understand.”

    ~ Chinese Proverb

  • 1

    Tips for Creating an Engaging Environment

    1. Survey students prior to the course or during the first meeting to gather information about students’ background, prior knowledge and experience, expectations, anticipated challenges or fears, preferred learning styles and methods, etc.

    2. Establish balance of power, authority, responsibility. “[A] primary goal of inclusive learning environments is to equalize power between teachers and learners and among learners in the learning setting” (Imel 1995, p. 4).

    3. Display objectives around the room to illustrate the idea that collective knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences and collaborative efforts contribute to achieving desired learning outcomes.

    4. Answer the question: “WIIFM?” Students learn what matters to them. Show them the relevance and practical value of course concepts, or better yet, guide them in discovering the meaning for themselves!

    5. Help students understand their learning styles and appropriate study strategies. Direct them toward resources such as the Kolb Learning Style Inventory, the 4-Mat system, or the VARK model of learning styles (http://www.vark-learn.com/english/index.asp).

    6. Create opportunities for self-directed learning. Require students to actively seek out information, rather than being passive recipients of it. Include opportunities for learners to participate in decision-making and personalize strategies for achieving objectives. Empower them to be responsible for their own learning.

    7. Keep the pace moving. For example, when facilitating an in-class writing activity or small group discussion, you might not want to wait for everyone to finish at their own speed. Instead, observe when approximately half of the students are finished, then encourage others wrap it up with phrases such as “finish the sentence you are writing” or “complete your current thought.” After a few such instances, students will likely recognize your efforts to maintain a certain rhythm and will adapt accordingly.

    8. Share your passion for the learning process. Enthusiasm and excitement can be contagious!

    9. Lead by example. Foster an environment of mutual respect, and model behaviors that value diversity and inclusiveness.

    10. Use active learning resources incorporated in textbooks and supplemental materials. Many of the major publishers have moved toward integrating active learning in their texts, instructor’s manuals, and companion websites. Case studies, critical thinking and discussion questions, ethical dilemmas, experiential exercises, self-assessment tools, team-based activities, and web exercises are often readily available for instructors.

    “One of the hot topics

    in education in the past

    10 years has been the

    shift of the role of the

    educator. Whereas, he

    has traditionally been

    the owner and deliverer

    of the knowledge (Sage

    on the stage), now his

    role is shifting to a

    guide and facilitator

    (guide by the side). The

    purpose is to give the

    students ownership in

    their own learning

    process” (Hardin, 2004,

    p. 10).

    One of the primary

    roles of educators is to

    create an appropriate

    learning atmosphere.

    As a facilitator,

    instructors may share

    power, authority, and

    responsibility in the

    classroom, but not

    before creating an

    environment conducive

    to active engagement,

    student empowerment,

    and self-directed



  • 2

    10 Ways to Gain and Maintain Attention and Spark Interest

    1. Use multiple methods to reach students and their diverse learning styles. Regardless of the learning style instrument or model you prefer, it is clear that students learn in vastly different ways. While it is unrealistic to tailor the learning experience to meet everyone’s individual needs at all times, incorporating a variety of techniques and methods whenever possible will go a long way toward meeting learners where they are.

    2. Ask an open-ended critical-thinking question at the beginning of class or after a break. It is not even necessary to ask a question verbally. Simply writing it on the board or projecting it on a screen will catch the attention of at least some students, and as they begin to settle in and contemplate, others will follow suit. Brief discussion of student responses serves to

    introduce a topic and prime students for the lesson to follow.

    3. Share an object lesson, metaphor, quotation, or story to introduce a topic and generate interest.

    4. Use visual stimuli to signal you are ready to begin class or resume after a break or small group discussion. Dim the lights in the classroom, wave a flag, hold up a hand, display a countdown clock, or start “the wave” around the room and see how long it takes for everyone to catch on.

    5. Use audible stimuli to signal you are ready to begin class or resume after a break or small group discussion. Use a clicker or other noise maker, sound a chime, play a music clip (the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are a definite attention-grabber), or repeat a signal phrase in a normal tone of voice until the din in the classroom dissipates and you have everyone’s attention.

    6. Use energizers to wake up and stimulate learners’ minds and bodies. Such activities need not be directly related to the subject matter or lesson content. Energizers need not be elaborate, time-consuming, or physically intense either. Thirty seconds of stretching and breathing may be sufficient. Or toss a sponge (dry, of course) to someone and ask her to share something she “soaked up” during the previous lesson before tossing the sponge on to a classmate. Play a two-minute game of “Simon Says…” to generate some light physical movement, and conclude with a phrase such as “Simon Says…open your books to the exercise on page 125.”

    7. Use humor (of an appropriate nature) to encourage active listening.

    8. Use absurdity or exaggerations for emphasis when giving examples or illustrations of concepts. Not only does hyperbole grab attention, but it likely aids in memory formation and recollection as well.

    9. Use quick-paced, highly participatory activities towards the end of a class session to invigorate students when attention spans are most likely to wane. Avoid having student-driven activities or presentations during that time unless students are well equipped to maintain an energized atmosphere for their classmates.

    10. Use physical proximity for classroom management. Moving toward students increases their attention and discourages distracting side conversations. Moving about also decreases the likelihood of students engaging in non-course related activities when laptop computers are in use in the classroom.

    “Good teaching

    meets learners

    where they are.”

    ~ John Losey,

    Praxis Training

  • 3

    10 Ways to Encourage Discussion and Participation

    1. Small group discussion or activity: divide participants into small groups to discuss a topic, complete an exercise, or solve a problem. Often times, students who are timid or apprehensive about speaking up in a large group forum will be more inclined to participate in a smaller or less formal setting. For variety, use different techniques to divide students into groups. Candy pieces of different flavors, a deck of playing cards, or color coded dots on a handout are just a few alternative methods for forming groups. In another engaging strategy, print the names of items in a group on index cards or small pieces of paper; have students select one and find the rest of their group members. Items in a group could be subject-related (famous composers and their major works in a music class; important events and dates in a history class) or purely for fun (Looney Toons or other fictional characters, classic rock bands and song titles, etc.).

    2. Think/pair/share: in this simple and classic technique, give students a brief amount of time to quietly and individually reflect on a particular question or topic and then pair with someone close by to share their thoughts. Take this strategy a step further by combining two (or three) pairs to continue discussing before selecting one or two key ideas to report out to the entire class.

    3. Response cards: keep a supply of index cards on hand; ask students to jot down a question for discussion, an answer to a question, a definition in their own words, or a real-world example to illustrate a particular concept.

    4. Fishbowl (content): arrange chairs in the center of the room and select students or ask for volunteers (number will vary depending on class size) to fill those seats in the “fishbowl.” All other students remain outside the fishbowl, looking in (silent observers). Provide a topic or critical thinking question for students in the fishbowl to discuss. You may apply other parameters, such as time limits or the expectation that everyone in the fishbowl contributes to discussion; generally, the instructor remains hands-off once the discussion begins and allows the group to self-manage their discussion. At the end of the specified time, ask the “fish” to listen quietly while the spectators share their observations about the content of the discussion. If possible or appropriate, have students switch places and roles.

    5. Fishbowl (process): use the strategy as described above, except that the spectators share observations about the process (were there lags in the conversation, what communication skills were evident, was the group effective at self-management, did anyone emerge as a leader in the activity, etc.).

    6. Role play: use scripted, semi-scripted, or unscripted scenarios for students to enact and analyze. Determine whether a select number of students will role-play, with everyone else as observers, or whether small groups will conduct the role plays simultaneously with only one or two observers in each group. Develop multiple scenarios so that students have the opportunity to switch roles. Debrief the role plays as described above with Fishbowls, with an emphasis on content, process, or both.

    “Good learning, like

    good work, is

    collaborative and

    social, not

    competitive and


    (Chickering and

    Ehrmann 1996)

  • 4

    7. Wheel: ask students to come up with a question, idea, or real-world example based on a given topic. Invite everyone into an open area, large enough for half the students to stand in a circle, facing out. Remaining students form a circle around the existing one, facing in, so that two students are facing each other. If there are an odd number of students, decide whether you will join a circle or ask someone to step out and be an observer/facilitator. When given the signal to begin, each student should share his idea, example, or question with the person he is facing; the other student then answers the question, responds to the idea, or shares an idea/example of her own. Give a signal to the groups that it’s time to turn the wheel, and have either the inner or the outer circle rotate one or two spots while the other circle stays in place. Students then repeat the procedure with their new partners until the signal to rotate again.

    8. Whip: in another classic technique, each student in turn briefly responds to a question or issue so that the discussion whips around the room. This activity is best used when the question or issue is likely to generate a wide variety of responses that do not require a great deal of elaboration. The primary advantage of this strategy is it creates an opportunity for all voices to be heard; a major disadvantage is the intimidation factor if students feel like they are being put on the spot, so you may allow the option to pass. Keep the pace moving, and if you “crack the whip” (end the activity) before it gets around to all participants, use the technique again later in the same lesson with another question or issue, picking up where the previous whip left off.

    9. (Add an original idea here)

    10. (Add an original idea here)

  • 5

    10 Ways to Make Lectures More Engaging

    1. Gauge students’ prior knowledge and comfort levels related to the material. One technique uses the rings on a target to represent various comfort levels: the “Don’t waste my time” zone bullseye, where students are not challenged at all and boredom or frustration is likely; the “comfort” zone, where students feel safe and secure – perhaps slightly challenged but believe in their abilities; the “growth” zone, where anxiety is likely because students are just outside their comfort zone and feel challenged beyond their expectations; and the “retreat” zone, where fear and anxiety are so high that students likely abandon the desire to try. Ask students to indicate where on the target (which zone) they would place themselves based on their previous knowledge of the topic or their comfort level with understanding the material.

    2. Create lectures that enhance course content, rather than systematically repeating what students have read from the text. Students may develop the attitude that reading assigned chapters is unnecessary if the same material will be rehashed during class without any value-added modifications.

    3. Use priming to prepare learners for what is to come. Employ an active learning technique prior to the lecture to prepare students (like priming a pump) for the flow of information.

    4. Alternate mini-lectures with participatory techniques (activities, discussion questions, or opportunities for individual reflection). Adult attention spans typically last no more than twenty to thirty minutes, so “chunk” instruction into smaller sections and alternate methods for variety.

    5. Demonstrate enthusiasm for the subject – it’s contagious! Voice projection and tone, word choice, gestures and mannerisms, and movement within the physical setting, can all be used to convey enthusiasm and excitement.

    6. Use visual aids and auditory stimuli. Supplement lectures with audio/video clips, bullet points on a projected presentation or handouts to highlight key points, etc.

    7. Move around. Remaining stationary behind a lectern encourages passive attention from students; inspire enthusiasm for the content and reap other classroom management benefits by transferring your energy around the room.

    8. Assist students in taking notes. Provide handouts with presentation slides or bullet points (or distribute them electronically) so that students can save time copying key points and instead write notes that enhance their understanding or provide individualized meaning. Hand out blank or partial outlines for taking notes.

    9. Use unique methods (humor, dramatizations, reenactments, stories, videos, costumes, and props) to bring concepts to life.

    10. Invite guest speakers or panels of experts to supplement textual information with real-world examples.

    Lecture as an

    instructional method

    may be highly

    appropriate within the

    context of desired

    learning outcomes, the

    complexity of the

    subject matter, the

    needs and abilities of

    students, and

    constraints on time or

    the physical setting of

    the classroom.

    “One of the most

    important problems

    associated with total

    reliance on the lecture

    method is the inability

    of most individuals to

    listen effectively to any

    lecturer, no matter

    how skillful, over a

  • 6

    10 Ways to Interactively Review Complex Material

    1. Memory matrix: “a two-dimensional diagram, a rectangle divided into rows and columns used to organize information and illustrate relationships” (Angelo and Cross 1993).

    2. Living outlines: print key concepts, facts, figures, and/or terminology on strips of paper or index cards and distribute them to students. Ask students to move around the room and engage with others to find similar or related concepts; group key points together (tape them on a wall or arrange them on a table) to construct an outline of the content. Include blank cards so that additional items can be added to the outline as students see fit.

    3. Lecture Bingo: develop a Bingo card with various key points from a lecture or review in each square. Provide materials (candy, pennies, poker chips, or any other markers) for students to cover the squares when they hear those key points during the lecture. Print multiple versions of the Bingo cards, rearranging key points so that the entire class doesn’t shout “Bingo” at once!

    4. Scavenger Hunt: similar to Bingo, develop a list of items that students should listen for in a lecture or look for in a text. Send them on a scavenger hunt to find as many of the items as possible.

    5. Mobile Matching: print items that have some relationship (for example a term, a definition, and an example) on index cards. Have students draw cards and move around the room to find the matching items. Once in groups, have each one share their items. For higher-level thinking skills, use concepts that require students to describe or analyze relationships among the items.

    6. Game shows or board games: most any TV game show or family board game can be modified to review or practice applying course concepts. For example, Jeopardy works well for reviewing complex terminology and definitions; Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is an engaging alternative to multiple-choice quizzes; Monopoly can be modified to apply accounting principles; and Pictionary can be adapted to relate to key concepts about communication.

    7. Sporting Event Review: engage the sports-minded among students by developing review questions and simulating an athletic competition. For example, in a football game, teams attempt to answer questions correctly to move the ball down field, gaining first downs until they score or answer incorrectly (commit an interception or fumble). In baseball, students answer questions to hit base hits and score runs. If possible, use questions with different difficulty levels (allow students to gain more yardage or get extra-base hits).

    8. Q&A Whip: like the whip described in the previous section; distribute questions to students and have them read and answer the questions in turn. Allow passes or requests for help. Alternatively, ask the students to generate the questions for review; shuffle and redistribute them and select someone to start the whip.

    9. What? So What? Now What?: provide students an opportunity to discuss or write about concepts using this familiar adage. What did I learn? So what does it mean (or how is it relevant to me)? Now what will I do with it (how will I apply the information learned)?

    10. Moral of the story…: ask students to debrief any lecture, discussion, or activity by describing the moral of the story. Alternatively, ask students to develop bumper stickers, campaign slogans, or 30-second commercials to illustrate concepts and applications.

    “All human

    interactions are

    opportunities to

    learn or to teach.”

    ~ M. Scott Peck

  • 7

    10 Ways to Stimulate Creativity,

    Critical Thinking, and Practical Application 1. Think Outside the Box: use a graphic organizer or actual props to facilitate identification of “inside

    the box” thoughts; encourage thinking “outside the box” to formulate new or different options and alternative points of view.

    2. Tip of the Iceberg: use an iceberg as a metaphor for examining concepts that are readily observable in comparison with those that are hidden or less tangible. Discuss underlying beliefs, norms, attitudes, values, and fears that are the foundation of thoughts about particular concepts or that anchor us to particular ways of thinking.

    3. Bridge the Gap: a bridge serves as a metaphor for examining divergent points of view. Students might identify concepts, examples, and evidence that support a particular point of view and label them on the abutment under the corresponding end of the bridge. Discussion might involve identifying any middle ground or points of concession that might help bridge the gap between the two sides.

    4. Bait and Switch Debate: for discussion of the pros and cons of a particular issue or topic, have students choose which side they would debate. This works especially well with topics about which students have strong opinions, because once they have chosen sides, they are asked to debate the opposing point of view first.

    5. A-E-I-O-U Method: like the iceberg metaphor, this mnemonic device encourages delving beneath the surface while analyzing concepts based on Assumptions, Evidence, Illustrations, Opinions, and Unique points.

    6. IDEAL Problem-Solving Model: another mnemonic device guides students through the problem-solving process: Identify the problem, Define the problem, Explore alternatives, Act on a plan, and Look at the results (Bidwell 2003, p. 81).

    7. Problem Based Learning (PBL): “Problem-based learning (PBL) is an educational approach that challenges students to ‘learn to learn’. Students work cooperatively in groups to seek solutions to real-world problems and more importantly, to develop skills to become self-directed learners” (Ngeow and Kong 2001).

    8. Nominal Group Technique (NGT): this group approach to decision-making and problem solving engages higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The process includes four steps: providing data to students for individual examination and reaction, round-robin discussion of the information, a summary of the group’s responses for comparison to the original data set, and analysis of the differences between the group’s responses and the original information (Parsons 2003, p. 74).

    9. Case studies (existing and original): examination of existing case studies allows students to apply course concepts in a practical context. To further engage higher-order thinking skills, ask students (usually in groups) to develop an original case study (perhaps modeled after one they have read and analyzed in a textbook) based on a real or hypothetical problem, organization, etc. Students should generate questions for critical thinking and discussion, and present their original case study to peers for analysis.

    10. Student generated questions: as an alternative to instructor-driven questioning techniques, have students develop questions for critical thinking and discussion among peers. Questions may be discussed informally in large or small groups, or incorporated into another activity such as a Whip or Wheel exercise.

    “A mind that is

    stretched to a

    new idea never

    returns to its



    ~ Oliver Wendell


  • 8

    Think Outside the Box

  • 9

  • 10

    10 Tips for Engaging Students in an Online Learning Environment

    1. Encourage – if not require – attendance and participation. Be sure to clearly define standards and measurements, consistent with any institutional policies.

    2. Provide orientations, tutorials, or users’ manuals. Students new to online learning tend to have a great deal of anxiety about the technology and process. Even those with some online learning experience may be unfamiliar with particular tools or features of the delivery system. Point students toward any available tutorials, instructional manuals, or other “help” resources, and consider providing supplemental tips and tricks specific to your online course. Encourage students to spend time prior to the course familiarizing themselves with format and functionality.

    3. Build threaded discussion forums to foster exchange of ideas and appreciation for diverse points of view. Develop starter threads that go beyond recall or description and target higher-level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Involve students in developing ground rules for online behavior, and communicate standards and expectations about active participation.

    4. Incorporate group work, peer review, and peer feedback to foster inclusion and collaboration in the online environment. In one study, “93% of respondents felt that sharing information and giving peer feedback in team projects contributed to student learning” (Kim, et al., 2004).

    5. Integrate case-based learning opportunities. Assign case studies and other opportunities for application of concepts in a practical context.

    6. Upload audio/video clips, and utilize them much the same way you would in a classroom, only with virtual instead of face-to-face discussion.

    7. Invite guest speakers for virtual chats. Just like in a ground course, guest experts can help supplement textual information with real-world examples. If your guest is unfamiliar with the online delivery system for your course, you might want to meet him or her in a mutually conducive location to assist with entering the chat and navigating the site. If the chat is synchronous, record the session so that students unable to attend the live event can visit the archived discussion at a later time.

    8. Design assignments or projects to be carried out offline, in a real-world context. By necessity, students are bound to their computers

    9. Think outside the box! No need to reinvent the wheel… Give some thought to how the active and engaging techniques you already use in a ground course could be modified slightly for an online class.

    10. Communicate early and often! Communication with students – both individually and collectively – is critical for establishing your presence and hands-on involvement. Use email, announcements, instant messaging, virtual classrooms and chat rooms, or any other communication tools available in your platform to engage students in ongoing communication with you and their classmates.

  • 11

    20 Ways to Engage Students with Diverse Learning Styles


    1. Graphic organizers: (T-charts, Venn Diagrams, Flowcharts, Fishbone Diagrams).

    2. Visual metaphors or memory triggers: Drawings, symbols, images, photographs, etc.

    3. Concept maps: visual representations of key concepts and relationships, using pictures, symbols, shapes, words, and colors (an effective alternative to traditional note-taking).

    4. Highlight or underline: call visual attention to key points.

    5. Color: identify key concepts and relationships by color coordinating headings, graphics, background colors – even the color of paper for printed handouts.


    6. Record and replay: allow students to tape lectures and class discussions; encourage reading notes into recorder and playing back tapes for further study and review.

    7. Read aloud: create opportunities for students to read aloud in class.

    8. Summarize aloud: allow students to briefly summarize a lesson in their own words (perhaps in a Think/Pair/Share activity).

    9. Run-on sentences: one participant initiates a response about a given question or issue and stops in mid-sentence; the next participant picks up sentence there, and so on.


    10. Empty outlines: create a skeletal structure for taking notes.

    11. Graphic organizers: create templates for students to examine concepts and relationships (see visual strategies).

    12. One-minute papers: give students a brief opportunity to reflect in writing.

    13. Response cards: give read/write learners a brief opportunity to write out their ideas before sharing aloud with others.

    14. Learning journals: encourage students to read and respond or reflect.


    15. Puzzle pieces: cut puzzle pieces out of poster board and write a key concept on each (or better yet, have students do it); students can work individually or in groups to put the puzzle together; debrief by discussing applications for both content and process. Note: this strategy in particular has potential to engage all four learning styles! Others could as well with minimal modification.

    16. Koosh balls: toss balls (carefully) for a group juggle activity or discussion; students might also “fidget” with koosh balls during class to release some kinesthetic energy while having to sit still (but ensure that it doesn’t become a distraction for fellow learners).

    17. Physical movement: use review strategies that allow students to stand and take a step for every correct answer, until reaching a “finish line” or other ending point.

    18. Forming groups: Moving about the room to form small groups for discussion helps kinesthetic learners as well.

    19. Spider’s Web: among students standing in a circle, toss a ball of yarn from one to the next as they share thoughts, answers, etc. Students hold on to a fixed point on the yarn as they toss it to someone else. When the web (and discussion) is complete, have students untangle themselves without letting go of the yarn.

    20. Your favorite (for any of the learning styles):

  • 12

    10 Best Practices Shared by Colleagues






  • 13

    10 Best Practices (continued)






  • 14

    Quick Tip #101

    “Teaching is a high-risk

    career. If you’re not

    risking, you’re not

    growing; and if you’re

    not growing, neither are

    your students.”

    ~ Eric Jensen, author of

    Super Teaching

  • 15

    What risks will you take?

    What new or different technique will you try the next time you teach?

    Who will you share your intentions with for accountability?

  • 16


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    Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitment in the Classroom. Washington, D.C.: The

    George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

    Hardin, K. (2004, April). Teach them to Fly: Strategies for Encouraging Active Online Learning. Retrieved February

    15, 2008, from Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education-TOJDE:


    Imel, S. (1995). Inclusive Adult Learning Environments. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from ERIC Digest No. 162:


    Kennedy, M. (2001). Managing the Active, Differentiated-Learning Classroom. Retrieved February 15, 2008, from

    New Horizons for Learning: http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/democratic/kennedy.htm

    Kim, K.-J., Lu, X., Lee, S.-h., Bonk, C. J., Magjuka, R. J., Liu, S., et al. (2004). Online Facilitation and Motivation in

    Online MBA Courses. Retrieved February 25, 2008, from Association for Educational Communications and



    Margulies, N. (2005). Visual Thinking: Symbolic Ways Of Representing Ideas. Retrieved February 16, 2008, from

    New Horizons for Learning: http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/graphic_tools/margulies_3.htm

    Ngeow, K., & Kong, Y.-S. (2001). Learning To Learn: Preparing Teachers and Students for Problem-Based Learning.

    Retrieved February 25, 2008, from ERIC Digests: http://www.ericdigests.org/2002-2/problem.htm