Holiday Haze: How to Keep Students Engaged in Class

By Andrew Hawk

Holiday Haze: How to Keep Students Engaged in ClassEvery group of students seems to have one or two members who constantly work ahead of the rest of the pack. Sometimes these students have a better grasp of the material, so they can complete their work faster. Sometimes these students, much to the frustration of their teachers, rush through independent work, hoping that the next activity will be more appealing. Either way, teachers need to have a plan in place to help keep these students engaged. Furthermore, as the holidays and long breaks approach, students need help staying engaged in general. Here are some tips that will help keep your students engaged.

Clearly Communicate High Expectations
If students are rushing through their work, be sure they understand the quality of work that you expect from them. If the work they are turning in doesn’t meet your expectations, you might consider having students redo the assignment. If, during students’ work time you suspect that they are rushing, give a verbal reminder that you expect their best work.

Consider Differentiating Assignments
If you have students who finish before everyone else simply because they learn the material faster, it is time to differentiate their assignments. Please understand that this in no way means piling more work on these students than on their peers. Simply find a way to make the material more challenging for them. These students are at risk of acting out if they become bored. In some cases, you may have to give them a different assignment that is directly aligned to their instructional level.

Post a List of Possible Activities for Students to Complete
Some teachers like to make a list on chart paper of activities students can do if they finish work early and hang the list in the classroom. I have seen teachers make copies of the list and give them to students to keep at their desks. Other teachers change this list on a daily basis and write it on their whiteboard. The important thing is to have prepared a list of activities that are meaningful to student learning. Do not simply write a list of busywork. Popular items on this list include reviewing vocabulary words, pleasure reading, proofreading written work, and getting a head start on homework. If you have computers or tablets available, I recommend creating a list of approved websites or apps that students can use once they have finished their regular work. Please be careful, though—if you make the choices on this list more appealing than the independent work, students will be inclined to rush to complete their assignment.

Make a Shoebox Activity
Shoebox activities are a great way to let students work on science throughout the day. You place a science activity in a shoebox, tape the procedures to the bottom of the lid, and develop a worksheet for students to record their work on. Students take turns completing these activities in their spare time. Reading and writing are integrated by having students read the directions and complete the worksheet independently. My favorite shoebox activity called for students to use a needle, a magnet, and a small dish of water to create a working compass.

Peer Tutoring
Consider letting the students who finish their work early act as peer tutors to some of your struggling students. If their personalities mesh well, this can be a very positive experience for both students. This also keeps the tutor engaged in the subject matter.

Recognize When Students Will Be More Excited
It is perfectly natural for students to get excited as special days approach. This is especially true when you will be having a classroom celebration. Excitement is one of the best parts of childhood. Instead of squashing it by imposing consequences on kids who act excited, see what you can do to harness their excitement in a positive way.

Group Work
Many students struggle to control their talking when they are excited. By pairing them in small groups, you can guide them to talk about content matter. Be prepared to rotate throughout the room to help students stay on task.

Incorporate More Movement Into Your Instruction
Failure to accommodate students’ needs in the classroom may lead to a spike in misbehavior during parts of the day when there are more students and fewer adults. Lunch, recess, and the bus ride home could have a lot of behavioral challenges if teachers do not provide an outlet in the classroom. Limiting seat time and including more movement will help. The best way to do this will depend on grade level and subject. I have found that centers can be used at any grade level. Students enjoy the fast-paced activities and getting to rotate around the classroom.

Teach a Unit Using Readers’ Theater
Some teachers let students dress up and make props. Other teachers just have them read from a script. Either way, readers’ theater is a good strategy to help keep students engaged. I recommend letting your class practice a script and invite other classes for a live performance. Any subject can be integrated in a readers’ theater unit by choosing the correct script. You can even incorporate writing by letting students create their own scripts.

Brain Breaks
Some teachers use brain breaks every day. The idea is to give your class a two- to three-minute break. I have seen teachers in younger grades lead their classes in a short song or game of Simon Says. Math chants, trivia facts, and jokes from a joke book work well for older students. Brain breaks work to refocus students when their attention starts to wander.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.


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