January 19, 2016 by

Ten Ways to Engage All Students in the Classroom


By Tisha Shipley

Shipley 10 Ways Student Engagement 300x300Each day as the students leave and you sit and think about the day, do you reflect on how you can make your lessons more engaging or hands-on? Do you try new strategies for differentiation? What about researching engaging ideas online or observing colleagues? After each teaching day, I would reflect on what worked well and what I needed to change. I would observe my colleagues, ask for new ideas, attend professional development workshops, scour the Internet, and try to be as creative as possible.

Here are 10 ways to engage students that worked for me.

  1. Establish thematic units that are based on what children already know or are interested in.
  2. Set up centers that coordinate with the thematic unit and serve as a practice time for skills you are teaching and working on in the classroom. We know children learn through play, and centers can serve just this purpose. Try setting up centers that focus on hands-on manipulation, role-play and practice, free choice, cooperation, and decision making.
  3. Use children’s literature to teach concepts and give hands-on and engaging lessons. After using a book during a lesson, have children go to a center with related materials. Children’s literature can teach many concepts (rhyming, counting, sequencing, etc.).
  4. Incorporate classroom mascots/puppets. Children love these, and I challenge you to try them.
  5. Cook with children. When you cook with children, they are using a different part of their brain to learn. They are following directions, learning rules, employing math concepts, honing fine motor skills, collaborating, and practicing oral language acquisition—and you are teaching them how to make healthy choices.
  6. Allow students free choice of fun ways to learn new ideas and concepts. Children usually choose activities that allow them to engage with their preferred learning style. Also allow free choice in center activities—let students choose whether to work alone, in pairs, or small groups.
  7. Use make-and-take books. If you allow children to make something and show ownership, they are more likely to engage in the activity or lesson.
  8. Create a classroom community where mistakes are made and learned from. Children can help set expectations, have jobs in the classroom, and collaborate with and help their peers. When children feel like they belong in a classroom, they are more calm, stress free, engaged in their work, and willing to take chances and learn from them.
  9. Teach students procedures, routines, schedules, and transitions and use them consistently so students know what to expect. Organize the classroom so students understand what to do and when to do it.
  10. Be present, engaged, and interactive. Get to know students, ask questions, and find out their interests and what they do outside of school. Treat each student like you would want your own child to be treated. Build lasting relationships to really engage children in their work. Young children want to please adults; they want to show us what they know.

I tried my hardest to be creative and come up with projects that would engage children and spark their interests. I wanted to build on prior knowledge so that they could construct new knowledge and concepts as the year progressed. If you think about the 10 things listed in this article, you’ll realize you are probably already doing most of them. But I what I am providing is how to do them differently. How can you change something and make it better? I have provided links to my early childhood website with some more in-depth ideas on how to make your current practices better. I challenge you to try one in the new year!

Log onto ASCD’s website for more student engagement tips and strategies.


Tisha Shipley is an online instructor who presents at early childhood conferences and helps teachers in their classrooms. She has taught multiple grade levels at Moore Public Schools, including preK and gifted 3rd through 6th grade, and served as a cheer sponsor and a principal. Most recently, Shipley served as director of preschool programs at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. She received a doctorate of education in curriculum and instruction from Northcentral University and a master’s degree in elementary education/administration and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Connect with Shipley on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and her website.