Student Engagement Strategies That Work

Why I stopped asking students to raise their hands, and what I do instead. Five student engagement strategies that work.

Raise your hand if you thought you were rocking student engagement and then found out that you were not rocking at all? I’ll have to raise mine. Oh, wait. I don’t ask for raised hands anymore.

During an administrative walk-through in my first year as a teacher, I received the following feedback:

I noticed that you called on the same 4-5 students for all your class discussion questions.

My first thought was of embarrassment because I realized that she was right. They were the students that I always called on, the ones who raised their hands the most often, the ones who raised their hands the fastest. They were the ones who made enthusiastic noises, bounced a little in their seats, and waved their hands frantically back and fourth. It was easy to call on them.

My next thought was, what about the other 20 or so students in my class? What were they doing while I called on the same students over and over? What were they thinking? Maybe…

  • The teacher doesn’t “see” me
  • What I think doesn’t matter
  • I don’t have to pay attention because someone else will answer

My first step towards increasing student engagement

The first thing I did to incorporate more student voices in my class was to create a set of name sticks (also called equity sticks). I wrote each student’s name of a Popsicle stick and put them in a cup. During class discussions I would pull a stick and that student would answer my question. I was happy with the changes in student voice and perspective in our lessons that were the result of using the name sticks.

However, now that I was more aware of WHO I was calling on, I became aware of the number of students that verbally participated each day. It wasn’t many, maybe 10-12. What about the other students? What were they doing while I called on their peers?

They were being passive learners, but I wanted active learners!

I decided to ditch the structure of our whole class discussions and opted instead for small discussions between students. This made it possible for every student to have an active voice in the classroom.

5 Ways to Increase Student Engagement in Your Classroom

Here are five strategies for engaging ALL students in your classroom at the same time. They are easy to implement, fun for students, and most require minimal prep.

Five engagement strategies to encourage student participation in your classroom.

Think-pair-share (Lyman, F., 1987)

Use this strategy when you want to increase student engagement in a conversation but need students seated and relatively quiet.

  • Ask a question to the class and provide students with think/work time
  • Allow students to discuss their responses with a partner
  • Have partner sets share out to the class or with another partner set

Quiz-Quiz-Trade (Kagan, 2009)

This is the perfect cooperative learning structure for incorporating movement into your lessons. Try this FREE set of Forms of Energy Discussion cards, which work great with this strategy.

  • Provide each student with a question card with an answer on the back
  • Use your favorite method for students to mingle and pair with another student
  • Students take turns answering their partner’s question card; getting support and coaching from their partner as needed
  • After both questions have been answered, partners trade cards and wait for the the teachers cue to find a new partner

Four corners (or Three Corners or Two Corners)

This strategy works great for turning a sorting activity into a whole class activity with movement and discussion.

  • Post a sorting category title in each corner.; you don’t have to have four
  • Project one sorting card and give think/work time
  • Students move to the corner that represents the category for the projected sorting card
  • Students discuss their answers with the group
  • Expectations should be set for individual student participation in the groups

Response cards

Use this strategy for fast participation during whole class instruction or demonstrations. Once prepped, the response cards can be used for years.

  • Prepare a class set of response cards for possible answers to questions (True/False, Multiple choice options, Yes/No, etc.). Laminate for durability and hold cards together with a binder ring.
  • During your lesson, pose questions and allow for think/work time
  • Ask students to hold up the response card for their answer
  • Scan the responses to determine the pace or direction of your lesson


Having one-to-one technology is not a reality for some campus but Plickers offers a great option for gathering student response data. You must set up a free account at and install a free app on your smartphone.

  • Ask or project a question to the class and allow for think/work time
  • Have students hold up their Plicker card to indicate their answer
  • Scan the Plicker cards with your smartphone
  • Student response data is collected for you
  • Has the option of displaying unanimous class data to use with the class for discussion

What strategies do you use for ensuring the participation of ALL students in your classroom?

I’d love to hear from you. Share this post or tag me @twoteachingtaylors on social media.

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