Blog Education

21 Student engagement strategies for a successful classroom

One of the top priorities — and, let’s face it, toughest obstacles — for teachers today is to cultivate and maintain student engagement. In an age when students face countless distractions and challenges that aren’t related to academics, increasing student engagement has become crucial for educators.

Published Feb 23rd, 2023

Here at FutureMe we’ve been working with teachers for a long time, and we’ve learned from you what works and what doesn’t in the classroom. Our FutureMe Education product is a testament to the value we place on helping grow student engagement. Important as it is for students, better engagement also helps teachers teach! And that improves student learning not just within an engaged individual, but across the class overall.

What is student engagement?

While many of us feel we understand student engagement, it’s worth breaking down. Student engagement occurs when students mentally invest in their own learning — they actually try with intent to learn what their school and instructors offer. That covers:

  • behavioural engagement (eye contact, facing the material they’re working with, concentrating on it) 

  • emotional engagement (enjoying the learning process as well as the materials)

  • intellectual engagement (actively considering materials, asking questions, and so on).

Engaged students take pride not just in earning good grades, high exam scores, and other indicators of success; they also want to understand the material and incorporate it into their lives. In short, they engage in active learning. And generally speaking, they also enjoy coming to school and studying.

How can FutureMe help increase student engagement?

FutureMe can be a valuable tool for building student engagement, from helping learners set intentions for the year ahead, to providing students with a tool to support themselves through challenges. 

Used in sensitive ways, FutureMe makes student learning more fun and interesting, which can enhance the students’ learning process and promote active learning — even among younger learners. Teachers can also use FutureMe for creativity, reflection and self-expression exercises in the classroom, so it’s perfect for high school students.

Student engagement strategies

Here are our 21 best-loved student engagement strategies. They should give you some ideas for your classroom, and spark some new ones in your own mind, too.

21. Cultivate collaboration

Cultivate a deeper culture of collaboration in your classroom. After all, your classroom is a group setting, and school is where we all learn how to socialize with peers — including people who are very different from ourselves. Of course, you’re likely already creating activities that allow your students to work in teams to accomplish a goal, and that obviously helps with student motivation as well as collaboration skills. But be on the lookout for extra, unexpected opportunities to get students interacting under their own steam — no matter how small. It’s a great way to keep students engaged.

20. Make use of down time

We all face moments when there's a lull in the classroom, perhaps in between activities, when some students have finished early, or before breaks, when an activity didn’t take as long as you’d planned. While it's great to use down time for giving students a break, it can also be a moment where you lose engagement, and that can be very hard to regain. Instead, you can make good use of this time for fun activities that increase student engagement, so keep a few up your sleeve just in case!

19. Use mixed media activities

If your school has the facilities, don't be afraid to integrate mixed media or multimedia in your lesson plan, no matter what you teach! While we might think of the obvious — and popular — options of videos, graphic design and other technologically-based activities, don’t forget other media, like painting, drawing, collage, and performance art like dance and music. This can be a good way to address different learning styles and abilities, and practice culturally responsive teaching in some settings, too.

18. Ask them about their interests

All of us like to be asked about our passions, including students. This is a great way to engage learners on its own, but you could also have students answer a simple questionnaire if the class is large. Then, you can go on to develop lesson plans and learning activities based on those interests. You’ll be surprised how many ideas your students’ interests will spark as you plan lessons for them. It’s also a great way to get active learning happening on the reg!

17. Provide options

Who doesn’t love to choose?! Choice is one of the best ways to keep students engaged and give them a sense of agency. The next time you’re assigning a project, give your class some choice in how they complete it, and watch student engagement rise. For instance, if the project is to explain a concept, historical event, or literary work, let them present it how they like: by making a video, acting it out with their classmates, and so on. Tip: to prevent this from becoming unmanageable, and difficult to grade, provide a set group of options from which students choose. 

16. Encourage self-expression

Building on the last point, do encourage your students to express themselves. FutureMe is a great tool for self-expression: for example, you can have students write a letter to themselves in the same way they might write in a diary, journal or blog. 

If you haven’t already used it, FutureMe is a fun and thought-provoking platform for sending letters to yourself far into the future. You just write what you want to say to your future self, choose when you want it to arrive in your inbox, type in your email address, and hit Send.

Of course many of the other items in this list can be vehicles through which you can encourage self-expression (and active learning too!).

15. Invite them to think ahead

Studies have shown the value of thinking about the future in helping us change our behaviour to achieve our goals. So it follows that encouraging your students to think about their futures might improve the ways in which those students behave. FutureMe is the ideal platform to teach your learners, in a fun way, to envision their life beyond tomorrow or next week. This can help develop a sense of self and give them an aerial view of their life's possible timeline. They can use FutureMe to write letters to their future selves, listing particular goals, hopes and dreams. 

14. Gamify your lessons

We all know games are an effective way to engage students outside of class, and they can drive engagement inside the classroom, too. You can increase student engagement by including levels of difficulty, rewards, and competitive elements. You don't have to invest hours in creating rules and drawing up game boards, either. There are countless gamified learning programs out there that provide a host of games for mathematics, literacy, science and more. All you have to do is Google, select the appropriate curriculum and grant your students access.

13. Fire up their competitive spirit

Friendly competition is always a good thing and in your classroom, it can be a great thing. It gives your learners a chance to compete in a safe, healthy way, and can really build students’ engagement as they have fun and lose themselves in the moment. For example, a regular quiz can be a great way to round out the week of learning, let off steam, and do a little critical thinking and collaboration into the bargain.

12. Break the routine

Be bold, and break the routines you feel your class is stuck in. Even if your school administration sets up a strict and rigid curriculum, try different ways to conduct lessons. Surprise your students with unexpected treats or “prizes” when they do well (e.g. stickers, stationary, etc.). Or change up the schedule so they’re not always doing the same thing at the same time. Monotony is definitely the enemy of engagement, so while breaking routine might require you to step outside your own boundaries, it can be a very successful technique for engaging students.

11. Learn from the real world

Show your class that textbooks, lectures and homework aren't the only ways to learn. Take them out on field trips, or simply conduct activities on campus, but outside the classroom (applying maths concepts through cooking, for example). Set homework that requires real-world observations and interactions rather than sitting at a desk researching or repeating exercises. Students will have more fun doing the work, and likely be more engaged, too.

Three people in bright clothing sit together with phones and laptops. They're a study group, and they're waving at you.

10. Employ humor

Academic literature and lesson plans tend to be dry, especially as test scores and performance metrics are emphasized. And yet there's a reason why standup comedy is a hundred times more popular than technical lectures: we love to laugh. So, try to combine the two. Add some humor and fun to your lessons wherever you can. You might even find that classroom management becomes slightly easier once students have had the opportunity for a joke and a giggle first.

9. Flexible seating

Set up an open seating policy in your classroom, to make things feel more free. Or, change the seating to suit the lesson: a horseshoe of seats usually works better for debates and conversation-style lessons than rows of desks facing a board, for example. Some days, you might have students roll a dice on entry to the room to see where they’ll sit for the lesson, or who they’ll work with. Again: changing up things like seating can safely challenge students and help them stay curious and engaged.

8. Apply project-based learning

Projects can seem a lot more fun than regular classwork and homework. They allow for collaboration and creativity, and let learners build self-confidence, which is all-important for student achievement. They can also provide the opportunity for students to dig into a topic and engage more deeply with it. So, spice up your lesson plan with projects wherever you can.

7. Adopt an open-door policy

Remind your students that your door is always open if they have any questions or problems. This can encourage students to engage with you, and can in turn help you to support them to achieve their best in your classes — and beyond.

6. Give them space

Earlier we suggested that you make good use of down time, and that still stands! But remember that it's equally important to give students a breather. Overwork is unhealthy, whether for kids, teens or adults, so even elementary teachers need to let students have a well-deserved break sometimes. A little downtime — “brain breaks” — can help them recharge their batteries for the next activity, after all.

5. Engage beyond the classroom

If you know what interests your learners, you can let them engage with their classwork through their lives outside of school. For example, set an assignment that requires them to research with or learn from other people in their lives, engage with other community members or organizations, and visit places in their local community that they might not otherwise go to. This can be particularly good for developing student engagement with those who might be struggling with some aspect of school or classwork, as it lets them work on their own terms within personal contexts where they’re likely to feel most comfortable.

4. Teach them goal setting

Teach your students how to set short-term and long-term goals, and achieve them. They can even use FutureMe to encourage their future selves and hold themselves accountable! Read more about effective goal setting for children.

3. Let students design their own lesson plan

Give your students the opportunity to design their own lesson plan or project, then complete it. This builds a sense of agency and responsibility; honors each student’s individual style, interests and preferences; builds community in the classroom; and can engage students at a level that is hard to beat.

2. Let students integrate their own ways of learning

Each student has their own unique study habits and learning preferences. For instance, some students can't study without music softly playing, while others work better with small group instruction, or in settings where they can discuss the material with their peers. So, try to find appropriate ways to integrate students’ own ways of learning into your lesson plan and your classroom. You might be surprised at the impact it has on engagement.

1. Know your students

Know your students: learn to read the room. If half of your class comprises fairly introverted students, then perhaps give them the option of self-study rather than taking part in group work every time a project comes up. By understanding each student’s limitations and capabilities, their personalities and cultures, you’ll become a better teacher and one your students will genuinely appreciate and engage with.