How to Engage Students: 20 of the Best Active Learning Strategies - Reading and Writing Haven (2024)

As a new teacher, I didn’t fully grasp how to best engage students in learning. That’s not to say my class was a bore, but there were definitely days I knew flopped…majorly. Unfortunately, there’s no magic list for captivating students in a lesson, but experience is one of the best tools I have to answer the question of how to engage students in the classroom. Developing a bank of lesson plans and approaches you can count on to increase engagement takes time.

There are few things I enjoy less than bored students. That’s why I’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to trying new instructional strategies in the middle and high school classroom. If you’ve been scouring the web for ways to get and keep students engaged, hopefully you’ll enjoy this these active learning strategies.

Before diving into the strategies, I want to emphasize several important points.


It’s hard to tell when students are truly engaged. I find that when I ask them for feedback on a lesson, they usually evaluate their interest level higher than I would have guessed. So, if students aren’t on the edge of their seats enthralled in the learning, it may just be because they are teenagers dealing with a crazy array of emotions and insecurities. Plus, engagement is not always visible externally.


Engagement is not a quick fix. It starts with building relationships with students and getting to know them as learners. Students will be more engaged in a room where they know the teacher cares about them. We have to constantly check the thermostat in the room to see what is working.


Engagement shouldn’t come at the expense of learning. Some activities are engaging and fun, but the thinking required is very basic, or the tasks may not align to standards.


Engagement is not the same as “fun” or even “entertaining.” Engagement means students see the value of the learning and are mentally engaging with the information, actively thinking, forming meaningful associations. Their thinking is challenged.

The list of instructional strategies we could try could really fill up a book (or more). Over time, I’ve collected a list of reliable and engaging strategies to use with middle and high school students. Let’s take a look.


It didn’t take me too long into my first year of teaching before I realized the importance of modeling engagement. Teaching the same lesson several times a day isn’t one of the perks of being a teacher, but the less enthusiastic I am about a lesson, the less engaged students tend to be. And, the reverse is true as well.

Wanting to engage students in independent reading? Show them how you are enjoying a book. Share your thoughts. Read some of it to them. Read when they can see you doing it.

Trying to engage reluctant writers? Model your struggles. Show them how to write a bad hook just to get something down on paper and then revise it. Smile the whole time! Ask thoughtful questions. For instance,I’m not loving this rough draft of a hook, but I’m so glad I at least have something on paper. I’d love your help! Who would like to help me make this better? What do you all suggest?


When we play music in the classroom, the energy changes. Whether we are using songs for intentional brain breaks (which are an engagement strategy as well!), as a mentor text for figurative language or grammar, or as a bell ringer, music brings life to the classroom. Here’s a free analytical music activity you can use with poetry.


Use art in ELA to pique students’ interest. For example, I love encouraging students to think critically by drawing vocabulary associations or creating one pagers or sketch notes. They can analyze and evaluate graphic design elements by looking at author’s craft in picture books or by creating booksnaps to capture reflections. Use photographs as inspiration for writing or project images related to a text before reading. Then, have students make predictions or build background knowledge.


If we really want to engage students in learning, we need to give them ownership: voice and choice. Involve them in making decisions about what happens in the classroom and about their learning. Ask for their feedback about lessons and units. Have them evaluate their work and progress. And, let students choose what they want to read as often as possible. Create and display anchor charts that showcase their ideas. With writing, give feedback that honors students’ internal dialogue.

How to Engage Students: 20 of the Best Active Learning Strategies - Reading and Writing Haven (1)


Students are more engaged in learning when lessons are relevant to real-world application. Tie literature to essential questions that help students understand life. Choose books in which they can see themselves or their culture present. Try passion projects or genius hours. Teach real-world writing skills like email etiquette and journaling. And, of course, bring in elements of pop culture whenever appropriate. I love using short films, music, commercials, and more to teach literary analysis.


Any time we can incorporate movement in our classrooms, engagement tends to increase. Whether we are having students participate in a gallery walk, using manipulatives to understand language, or sorting information to categorize it, when students are standing and moving around, they are more likely to be engaged. Learning stations are one of my favorite ways to incorporate movement because students get to practice many skills related to the learning objectives…all from different learning perspectives.


Games are crowd pleasers. This year, I asked my students…If you could take the skills I am asking you to learn and transform this lesson to make it exactly how you want to learn, what approach would you take?The answer? Resoundingly, games. They want to play games. Games are not ideal for every circ*mstance, but if students can play a game to practice a skill or strategy, they tend to be smiling, laughing, and collaborating more than with other approaches.


Students are never too old to be read to. I just attended a conference in which the presenter used several picture books as interactive read alouds with an adult audience, and everyone was enthralled. Picture books truly have to age cap. Whether you’re reading the first chapter of a book, the entire thing, a short story, or a picture books, you’ll notice students are more engaged.


Visual elements captivate students. Graphic organizers provide them with naturally differentiated entry points for discussion. Plus, the design of many graphic organizers elevates thinking more than a traditional worksheet. Anchor charts are effective because students can help create them, and they anchor learning so that students can refer back to them long after the lesson is over. EL andall students benefit from word walls, especially when they are interactive.


Sometimes we are so busy disseminating information that we don’t stop often enough to let students think. And, thinking is critical for engagement! Try incorporating brain dumps, or stop and jots, as a way for students to write down what they remember as you move from one topic to another or between parts of the lesson. This type of activity is also helpful with removing “dead time” in the classroom, which diminishes engagement.


Ever wonder how to engage students in class discussions? Try think, pair, square, which is a variation of think-pair-share. In think, pair, square, the teacher poses a question. (Students can pose questions also, determining on the purpose and goal).

Then, students do a brain dump on paper, writing down everything they think in response to that question. Following a short period of reflection, they turn to a partner and share those ideas. After, the partners pair up with another set of partners so that the discussion groups are somewhat larger.

You’ll notice that as students move from sharing with just one other person to four, the energy level in the room rises. Students also typically are more likely to participate in the whole-class discussion that follows.


Lessons are more engaging when intentional chunking is built in. We can do this by breaking down course content and skills into smaller chunks that are more easy for students to digest as well as chunking the class period strategically to increase mastery of content.

When done effectively, students comprehend the content better, learn more of it, and remember it longer. Content chunking gives students time to really dig into a skill, idea, or concept long enough that they can appreciate it, reflect on it, and connect with it at a deeper level. Here are some specific chunking ideas for reading, writing, and other ELA topics.


There are so many different ways students can take notes, but when we introduce new note-taking strategies that make students think and that they can use as a study strategy, engagement increases. One approach I have used this year is sketch noting. You can find a free lesson for introducing this strategy to students in my resource library (exclusive for subscribers).

Another is retrieve taking. With this strategy, students actuallydon’t take notes. They listen. Then, when you are done talking or the video is done playing, you pause and ask students to brain dump. Have them write down everything they remember. Obviously, you can insert these intentionally retrieval opportunities regularly during direct instruction to chunk the note taking.

How to Engage Students: 20 of the Best Active Learning Strategies - Reading and Writing Haven (2)


When talking about how to engage students in learning, curiosity has to be part of the conversation. If students aren’t interested in what they are learning, it’s hard to engage them. Before reading, try projecting images and/or words that relate to the text. Have them begin making some predictions about the text. The images can serve to build background knowledge and prepare students to read as well.

Writing? Hold a debate before writing an argumentative essay. Analyze aspects of pop culture before writing a literary analysis piece. For informative writing, pique students’ interest by having them select a topic based off of questions they have about a fiction text (ex. – Why did Henry VIII have six wives? or What technology has already been invented that is similar to what is described in the book?).

This whole post is full of a variety of anticipatory sets, or lesson hooks, that can help to engage students in learning.


In order to engage students in learning, they need to experience the excitement of retaining new information. When learning is tangible, or measurable, students tend to be more motivated. Part of my teaching philosophy involves incorporating brain-based learning approaches whenever possible. We know students learn better when they are making meaningful associations, collaborating with others, and doing the work.

While I incorporate elements of brain-based learning in all aspects of ELA, one of the areas I have the most fun with it is in vocabulary. Here are five brain-based vocabulary activities, and you’ll find even more in this resource, which you can use with any word list.


Color brightens moods, lessons, and learning. There’s something about color that intrigues us and helps us to remember what we learn. Students can color-code elements of a paragaraph when writing. Color can also help students understand book diet and book fit. Try color coding mood and tone or grammatical elements so that students can visually see how the elements work together. This list provides details for these ideas and more.


Take any lesson and “engage-ify”it by adding meaningful tech. For example, to have students show their thinking about characters, plot, and conflict, ask them to use the free app calledTexting Story to create a short video conversation. To reflect on the writing process and what students learn as they move through each phase, have them document their experience each day usingApple Clips. Students can conduct research and visually display what they learn by creating an infographic on Canva. Try usingNotability to create a mindmap or other visual notes to synthesize learning. Or, ask students to insert a GIF into a shared Google Slide document to represent their current feeling about the topic of discussion.


When we picture the gradual release of learning, we sometimes skip over collaboration. It takes time! But, the social nature of learning is so important for students. To maximize engagement, whenever possible, ask students to work together to share ideas about what they are reading, to revise their writing, to respond to one another in verbal and silent discussions, and to partake in research projects.


Podcasts require a different type of listening. Students can build their listening comprehension while learning auditorily from an informational text. Podcasts are especially engaging when the topic is intriguing or relevant to students. Here is a list of podcasts for students from Common Sense media, and this is a high-interest podcast lesson I recommend for high school students.


No one likes to be bored. Students appreciate the type of challenge that makes them think but doesn’t frustrate them. Ask questions that challenge students’ thinking in developmentally appropriate ways. Encourage them to participate in some metacognition,but always avoid busy work.

True student engagement is not the same as participation. With participation, students may bedoing what we ask them to. They may be raising their hands at the appropriate times, but that doesn’t mean they are mentally an emotionally engaging or connecting with the lesson.

So, in order to answer the question of how to engage students in the learning process, we need to look beyond all the strategies and start thinking about how we can intentionally build active learning into our classrooms. Engagement increases students’ attention, sharpens their focus, motivates them to think at a higher level, and promotes meaningful learning.

Meaningful learning boils down to knowing our students well enough to create lessons they find relevant.

It’s really more about purposeful lesson design than it is randomly selecting a strategy from a list. Ultimately, I notice maximum engagement when I have just enough structure in my room for it to feel safe, but also just enough variety in active learning activities to keep students on their toes.


Meaningful End-of-the-Year Activities for Secondary ELA
Engaging ELA Activities for Any Time of Year
11 Ideas for Teaching Figurative Language Meaningfully


Engage students in meaningful review and practice with these ELA games. Perfect for learning stations and review sessions.

How to Engage Students: 20 of the Best Active Learning Strategies - Reading and Writing Haven (3)

How to Engage Students: 20 of the Best Active Learning Strategies - Reading and Writing Haven (2024)


How to Engage Students: 20 of the Best Active Learning Strategies - Reading and Writing Haven? ›

Promoting student engagement through active learning

Strategies include, but are not limited to, question-and-answer sessions, discussion, interactive lecture (in which students respond to or ask questions), quick writing assignments, hands-on activities, and experiential learning.

What are the most effective ways to actively engage students? ›

Promoting student engagement through active learning

Strategies include, but are not limited to, question-and-answer sessions, discussion, interactive lecture (in which students respond to or ask questions), quick writing assignments, hands-on activities, and experiential learning.

How you will engage learners during reading to ensure active participation? ›

How to Encourage Student Participation in Classroom Reading Activities
  • Use students' names.
  • Allow time for think-pair-share.
  • Get active.
  • Apply the “secret answer” technique.
  • Use reading tools for kids.
Nov 21, 2019

How do you engage in active learning? ›

Active learning methods ask students to engage in their learning by thinking, discussing, investigating, and creating. In class, students practice skills, solve problems, struggle with complex questions, make decisions, propose solutions, and explain ideas in their own words through writing and discussion.

What are 3 ways to encourage active learning? ›

By Kasia Piotrowska
  • Are you looking for ways to get learners actively involved in the classroom? ...
  • Give learners clear lesson aims and refer to them at each stage.
  • Give learners tools to follow the lesson aims.
  • Make room for learners to reflect on the lesson.
  • Teachers don't have to stick to their plan.
Oct 30, 2017

What activities can improve writing skills? ›

6 Exercises to Improve Your Writing Skills
  • Try freewriting. Freewriting allows the writer to follow the impulses of their own mind, allowing thoughts and inspiration to appear to them without premeditation. ...
  • Build on a random sentence. ...
  • Read other writing. ...
  • Edit another's work. ...
  • Make a guide. ...
  • People watch.
Aug 30, 2021

How do you engage students in writing? ›

Keep Up With Education Research
  1. The Grapple. ...
  2. Student-Created Anchor Charts. ...
  3. Free Writing Time. ...
  4. Oral Brainstorming. ...
  5. Write an Authentic Teacher Mentor Text.

What is an effective strategy for active reading? ›

Read the text in a focused, and fairly speedy way. Remember; Test your memory - but don't worry if you can't remember much. Review; Read the text in more detail, taking notes. Use your own words.

How do you engage children in active learning? ›

Stand, kneel, lie down or sit with the children, chat with them and pick up on their interests and ideas. Talk about the choices they have made, watch what they do with materials and join their play. There will be opportunities to encourage the children's thinking, to build on what they say and to answer questions.

How can teachers encourage active participation? ›

3. Create an Atmosphere That Encourages Participation
  • Be respectful.
  • Speak loud enough so everyone can hear.
  • Listen to classmates.
  • Don't interrupt who is speaking.
  • Build on your classmate's comments with your comments.
  • Use participation to not only answer questions but to seek help or ask for clarification.

What are examples of active engagement? ›

talking with each other in small groups or large discussions. developing skills rather than memorizing information. using higher order thinking. doing something physical.

What is an example of student engagement? ›

For example, in one school observable behaviors such as attending class, listening attentively, participating in discussions, turning in work on time, and following rules and directions may be perceived as forms of “engagement,” while in another school the concept of “engagement” may be largely understood in terms of ...

What activities promote active learning? ›

Active learning engages students in learning, using activities such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving, which promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content. Active in-class learning also provides students with informal opportunities for feedback on how well they understood the material.

Which is the best example of active learning? ›

Examples of Active Learning

To be sure, there are many examples of classroom tasks that might be classified as “active learning.” Some of the most common examples include think-pair-share exercises, jigsaw discussions, and even simply pausing for clarification during a lecture.

What are the 5 C's of student engagement? ›

A core element of SCSD's Strategic Plan is a focus on the skills and conceptual tools that are critical for 21st Century learners, including the 5Cs: Critical Thinking & Problem Solving, Communication, Collaboration, Citizenship (global and local) and Creativity & Innovation.

What are the four keys to student engagement? ›

As part of their series to help schools understand the federal No Child Left Behind Law, Learning Point Associates describes the four key elements of student engagement — student confidence, teacher involvement, relevant texts, and choice among texts and assigments.

How do you motivate students to be engaged learners? ›

5 simple ways to engage and motivate learners
  1. Set clear learning goals. ...
  2. Make learning convenient. ...
  3. Get creative with course content. ...
  4. Reward learners for engagement. ...
  5. Create open communication channels. ...
  6. Offer real-life rewards for successful training and improved performance. ...
  7. Use on-the-job training and relatable simulations.

What are the 12 steps to improve writing skills? ›

Before you start writing
  • Get clear on your concept. Thinking is a big part of writing. ...
  • Make an outline. ...
  • Research. ...
  • Keep it conversational. ...
  • Don't be a perfectionist. ...
  • Watch out for weak words. ...
  • Don't give too much information. ...
  • Use a writing tool.
Aug 2, 2022

What are the three types of writing activities? ›

As explained in the USC Rossier infographic, “There are three writing capacities: writing to persuade, writing to explain, and writing to convey real or imagined experiences.” These three types of writing are usually called argument, informative, and narrative writing.

What are the 5 basic writing skills? ›

Basic writing skills: These include spelling, capitalization, punctuation, handwriting and keyboarding, and sentence structure (e.g., learning to eliminate run-ons and sentence fragments). Basic writing skills are sometimes called the “mechanics” of writing.

How do you motivate students to write skills? ›

How to Motivate Students to Write
  1. Why is Writing so Difficult for Some Students?
  2. Offer Effective and Engaging Writing Prompts.
  3. Model the Writing Process.
  4. Break the Writing into Bite-sized Chunks.
  5. Provide Mentor Texts for Inspiration.
  6. Use Graphic Organizers.
  7. Respect the Students' Autonomy.
  8. Encourage Students to Self-Assess.
Nov 19, 2021

How do you encourage students to read and write? ›

Below is a list of ways to encourage students to read for pleasure as well as tips on facilitating an independent reading culture in your classroom.
  1. Host a book club. ...
  2. Collaborate with your local library. ...
  3. Host a young author read-aloud. ...
  4. Reenact favorite books. ...
  5. Mystery check-outs. ...
  6. Make time for independent reading.
Nov 30, 2017

How to support students with reading and writing difficulties? ›

Here are a few strategies you can employ to implement this approach in your classroom:
  1. Emphasize connections between reading and writing. Many educators teach reading and writing separately. ...
  2. Use cognitive-strategy sentence starters to help students understand what an author is doing. ...
  3. Use mentor texts.

What are the 5 effective reading strategies? ›

This panel concluded that there are five essential elements of effective reading instruction, commonly known as the “Five Pillars of Reading”. These pillars include phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension strategies.

What are the most effective writing strategies? ›

Listen and respond to guidance offered while producing your work. Keep focused on your question or task - keep asking yourself whether any material you plan to include is really relevant. Be clear, concise and to the point in what you write. Present your ideas in a clear and logical way.

What are the 3 main type of reading strategies? ›

There are three different styles of reading academic texts: skimming, scanning, and in-depth reading. Each is used for a specific purpose.

What are active learning and learning strategies examples? ›

What is considered an Active Learning Strategy?
  • clustered in small groups to discuss a course topic,
  • reflecting individually at the end of each class session about what they have learned and what questions they still have,
  • working through an application problem with a partner before presenting to the larger class, or.

What is engaging students in active learning? ›

Active learning is the process of involving all students in activities that encourage them to develop a deeper understanding of content by working with and reflecting upon the material being presented.

How do you promote active learning in the classroom? ›

There are tons of ways to incorporate active learning into your classroom. Common strategies include question-and-answer sessions, discussion, interactive lecture (in which students respond to or ask questions during the lecture), quick writing assignments, and experiential learning.

How do you keep students focused in class? ›

7 ways to help your students to stay focused in the classroom
  1. Remove distractions. ...
  2. Encourage group work. ...
  3. Set up starter activities. ...
  4. Utilise movement as a warm up. ...
  5. Minimise lulls. ...
  6. Mix it up. ...
  7. Don't treat technology as the enemy.

What are the types of active participation? ›

We've grouped the techniques into three main categories: (1) active participation through oral responses; (2) active participation through written responses; (3) active participation through action responses.

How do you keep students busy in class? ›

Good activities for these students include:
  1. Brief lectures.
  2. Discussions.
  3. Stories.
  4. Word games.
  5. Reading aloud (especially if they're doing the reading)
  6. Group projects.
Jul 11, 2019

What are the 3 types of student engagement? ›

Engagement in the classroom falls within three categories: behavioral, cognitive, and affective (Fredericks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004). These three types are distinct yet interrelated.

What are the three types of engagement that educators can use to motivate students? ›

Student engagement encompasses all the ways in which students interact with school or school-related activities throughout their time in the school system. More specifically, student engagement is made up of three individual facets: behavioral engagement, emotional engagement, and cognitive engagement (Lester, 2013).

What are the three parts of student engagement? ›

  • Pillars of engagement. In our work across schools, we've come to see three pillars of student engagement: academic, intellectual, and social-emotional. ...
  • Pillar 1: Academic engagement. ...
  • Pillar 2: Intellectual engagement. ...
  • Pillar 3: Social-emotional engagement.
Jan 4, 2021

What are the 10 principles of active learning? ›

Findings Based on the literature and the experience of the teaching faculty, ten principles of effective teaching were recommended: 1) create an active learning environment, 2) focus attention, 3) connect knowledge, 4) help students organize their knowledge, 5) provide timely feedback, 6) demand quality, 7) balance ...

How can a teacher create an active learning environment? ›

  1. Step 1: Analyzing needs for implementing an active learning strategy. ...
  2. Step 2: Identify topic and questions. ...
  3. Step 3: Identify learning objectives & outcomes. ...
  4. Step 4: Plan and design the activity. ...
  5. Step 5: Identify sequence of learning events. ...
  6. Step 6: Evaluate and assess.

What is the best method for making students participate actively during teaching? ›

Peer-to-Peer Options

One of the most effective ways to encourage students to participate is to let them discuss in small groups, and varying the structures of these discussions both empowers students to take ownership of their learning and allows teachers to assess student understanding in real time.

What are the best ways to increase student engagement in the classroom? ›

Classroom activities should address student fears about learning
  1. Ask open-ended questions.
  2. Ask students what they know about a topic before instruction.
  3. Use more ungraded or credit-upon-completion assignments.
  4. Incorporate student discussion time into activities.
  5. Have students model or explain to other students.

What is effective student engagement? ›

According to The Glossary of Education Reform, student engagement “refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.”

What kind of activities encourage active learning in the classroom? ›

Active learning engages students in learning, using activities such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving, which promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content. Active in-class learning also provides students with informal opportunities for feedback on how well they understood the material.

How does an effective teacher encourage students to participate actively in class? ›

Organize each class session to include opportunities throughout to ask and answer questions; prepare initial and follow-up questions ahead of time. Use questions to assess student learning, to signal to students which material is the most important, and to help students advance their knowledge and thinking.

What are examples of active participation? ›

1.1 Examples of active participation in learning
  • give students the opportunity to talk.
  • listen to students.
  • encourage students to ask questions.
  • use a variety of different approaches to learning in their teaching.
  • link new ideas to students' experiences and lives.

What interactive activities keep learners engaged during a lesson? ›

Interactive Classroom Activities
  • Entry/Exit Tickets. ...
  • Free Writing/Minute Paper/Question of the Day Exercise. ...
  • Ice Breakers. ...
  • Think–Pair–Share. ...
  • Case Studies and Problem-Based Learning. ...
  • Debate. ...
  • Interview or Role Play. ...
  • Interactive Demonstrations.

How do you motivate students for learning? ›

Tips On How To Motivate Your Students
  1. Become a role model for student interest. ...
  2. Get to know your students. ...
  3. Use examples freely. ...
  4. Use a variety of student-active teaching activities. ...
  5. Set realistic performance goals. ...
  6. Place appropriate emphasis on testing and grading. ...
  7. Be free with praise and constructive in criticism.

What are the 4 C's of student engagement? ›

As a starting point, they need to look no further than the 4Cs of education — communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.


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