Active Engagement Strategies That Push All Students Forward

Active Engagement Strategies for Students

What if I told you that you can get all students, K-12+, to participate in a lesson through simple active engagement exercises? What if I told you that these active engagement strategies allow you to collect data to determine next instructional steps for a class or an individual student? And, what if I told you students will feel better about their learning and many (not all) management issues will self-correct?

This is all possible when you put in place simple techniques that require little prep time, some practice on your part as the educator, and high expectations for all students. Let’s look at three active engagement strategies:

  • Partner Talking Active Engagement Strategy
  • Whisper Reading Active Engagement Strategy
  • Recipe of Learning Active Engagement Strategy

1. Partner Talking Active Engagement Strategy

Most educators use this strategy but do not always get expected outcomes from their students. When placing students in partnerships, be sure to place a higher student with a lower student, not highest with lowest.

Prior to beginning the discussion or activity, give students individual quiet time to think and write some of their ideas down before sharing with a partner. This is an important time for the teacher to move around the room checking students’ responses for understanding, in other words gathering formative assessment data.

After a proper amount of time, have students turn to their partner. The partners should be sitting next to one another, making it easier to share.  As partnerships are working, it is important to continue your circulation of the class, checking for understanding. Finally, if appropriate for the task, open to a whole class discussion.

By using these three steps, teachers will be able to hear most, if not all, students’ responses. Layer in scaffolds as necessary by possibly using modeling, sentence starters, templates, and writing frames.

2. Whisper Reading Active Engagement Strategy

Built upon the idea of partner talk, whisper read is a way for all students to participate in the reading process in a safe manner because they do not practice their reading skills in front of an entire class of peers.

Place students in partnerships. Ask them to whisper read a given passage. Set up expectations such as:

  • Modeling what whisper reading looks like and sounds like.
  • Telling students their responsibilities for reading (ex. Partner A read the paragraph and then partner B reread the passage).
  • Giving a purpose for reading such as looking for the main idea or determining the answer to a question.

During a whisper read, the teacher joins partnerships to listen as students read aloud. The teacher may note a student’s fluency, ability to comprehend, capacity for word identification, etc. These notes are taken using simple techniques such as a graph with students’ names, dates, and categories.

By using this strategy, all students are participating in the reading process, data is collected that may be used in upcoming meetings, and students feel confident and secure in the learning environment.  This is a great way for ALL classroom teachers to gather data about their students.

3. Recipe of Learning

Continuing to build upon the last two active engagement strategies, you may now add an assessment of/for learning. One way is to have students create a Recipe of Learning. Think of a recipe book where you see the list of ingredients, quantities, and instructions for putting the recipe together.

Share actual recipes with students. After they are familiar with how recipes are created, challenge them to create a recipe for their learning.

  • What are the necessary parts to understand (ingredients)?
  • How important is the part (quantities)?
  • How do the parts come together to make learning happen (instructions)?

This is an activity that needs to be done together with you, modeling for the students. Slowly release students to work with their partner in creating a recipe for a new piece of learning. Finally, after several successful recipes have been created, allow students to build a recipe on their own. Each step is done under your watchful eye.

Hopefully you are able to see that without much prep, all students are able to join successfully in any class activity. Under your diligent eye, using a set of expectations modeled explicitly for students, the classroom can be a safe place where all students successfully engage, and you are able to determine next steps based on relevant data gathered in the moment.

Kim Watts spent 21 years teaching middle school in both inner-city and affluent schools. During her time in the classroom, Kim taught English/Language Arts, brought AVID to her campus as a certified AVID teacher, and taught Capturing Kids’ Hearts Teen Leadership. Kim was the SIM Coordinator for her campus’ Literacy Leadership Team, helping them to implement a school-wide approach to improving literacy using the Strategic Instruction Model.

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