4 Easy Activities to Increase Student Engagement

As we settle into February, it can become harder and harder to engage students. If we view student engagement as closely linked to student motivation, and the school year as a marathon, this makes sense.  It’s important to go into this time of year prepared with ideas to keep your students engaged. There is still a lot of critical time left in the school year, and there are awesome, easy ways to make it enjoyable AND meaningful. 

Luckily, increasing student engagement does not have to be complicated. Little things that make a big impact! Here are some simple activities you can use to increase student engagement mid-year.

Simple upper elementary activities, lesson ideas, and book suggestions you can use to increase student engagement mid-year.

Student Engagement Tip #1: Mini Room Transformations 

If you’ve been around here for very long, you know that I love a good room transformation! But, it’s probably not the kind of room transformation you’re thinking of (which involves lots of money, time, and patience). The room transformations I’m referring to focus a lot more on content than decor. The idea is to find ways to step outside of your typical routines and take the activity just one step further.

The way I start planning for a room transformation is to first figure out what content I’m teaching, and then think of ways to tie that content into some type of theme. This can be as simple as popping popcorn for students to snack on while they complete a division math project about a movie theater.

You could also use this Great Zoo Review project an give students a zookeeper visor. They can earn an animal coin as salary for their hard work on each page. The options are limitless, and a little bit goes a LONG way to keep your students engaged. They truly LOVE this little aspect if you are able to work it in. To keep the theme going you could also print zoo themed word problems on animal shaped paper for extra practice!

None of the room transformations I do require tons of stuff, but when I find something inexpensive that could relate to a theme for my students, I pick it up and tuck it away for the future.

One of my favorite room transformations to increase student engagement that I do every year is the Place Value Detectives Project. Students have a blast pretending to be detectives and are so engaged by the fun they’re having, they almost forget how hard they are working!

To make this extra engaging, I sometimes set up caution tape, and I have mini notebooks that students can use to show their work. The part students love the most is when I check their work and stamp it with my super-special CONFIDENTIAL stamp. I always make a big deal of it and stamp it with authority, which gets them very excited! We play “spy” music, and keep things VERY official.  Every year, no matter the group of students I have, they are incredibly engaged during this activity. You can read more about this detective math project and others in this post

Room transformations aren’t just for math. There are many ways to engage students in reading activities with a mini room transformation, too! A really fun one I like to do with my students is to practice the skill of inferencing by taking them to Camp Conundrum. Transform your room with a paper or digital campfire, or buy some campfire log pillows to create a central place to discuss the project. You could include a camping tent if you have one, or even make a s’mores inspired trail mix for students to snack on while they work. If you don’t want to spend a cent (I wouldn’t blame you!), turn on a crackling fire for ambiance.

The possibilities are endless with a theme like this, but taking the extra step to include some different props will majorly increase student engagement. You can read more about Camp Conundrum and other reading projects here! 

Student Engagement Tip #2: Mr. Potato Head

I always kick off my science content for the year with a Mr. Potato Head observation lesson. Students work together to build a Mr. Potato Head, which is super engaging and fun for them.  The best part is that for the observation part of the assignment, there are really no rules for how Mr. Potato Head should be put together, so students love getting creative and silly with this.  

Then, all the Mr. Potato Heads go on a table or shelf in the back, and students have to draw a detailed picture of Mr. Potato head using their memory. Students will label the parts of their drawing, and then we discuss diagrams, labeling, observation, and comparing similarities and differences. This assignment is great for student engagement, and it allows us to discuss several key concepts in science!

Student Engagement Tip #3: Get Physical 

It is very rare to find a student who can sit at their desk and be engaged in learning all day. Getting your students up and moving throughout their lessons is a fantastic way to increase student engagement. 

Classroom transformations lend themselves well to this, but you can even get moving by cutting up one copy of a worksheet or task cards, posting the questions around the room, and having students move around to answer the questions. 

If the weather is nice and your school allows it, find a safe place outside to take students for independent reading or a class discussion. Utilize songs or dancing when learning new vocabulary words. Even allowing students to sit on the floor during centers is a way to increase student engagement by getting them moving. 

Or how about a game of Human Scrabble? My students loved this at the beginning of the year! I gave them each seven letters and asked them to create a word. We took the largest word and made it our base. That was the easy part. After that, my students were stumped for a good ten minutes. They fumbled around with words and struggled to find gaps and letters they could utilize. And then it was like someone turned on the lightbulbs and a flood of words were discovered! They buzzed around our game board for 20 more minutes creating, creating, creating. It was a beautiful sight, but their enthusiasm was even more beautiful. 

jumbo scrabble activity using student names

Student Engagement Tip #4: Authentic Texts

Finally, consistently using and sharing authentic texts is always a win for engagement. If you need authentic text suggestions, these posts are full of my favorite book lists.

As an example, we read Spaghetti and Meatballs for All as part of our perimeter and area math unit. It provides SUCH a fun lesson for students and they get SO into it. If you’re introducing area and perimeter, it’s the perfect starting point! It’s also great for having students see connections between area and perimeter. As an extension, we’re dabbling with other seating scenarios as well.

authentic texts book suggestions to increase student engagement

When teaching about the winter solstice, I selected three different picture books that present the information in very different ways — realistic fiction, informational, and through verse — and added in an informational text passage and video. It became the perfect lesson on compiling information from multiple sources! This anchor chart is an easy way to gather the info in one place before synthesizing it. Here are Amazon affiliate links to the books I used: On The Shortest Day, The Shortest Day Celebrating the Winter Solstice, The Shortest Day.

authentic texts book suggestions to increase student engagement

You can also visit this Instagram post to see how I use authentic texts at the beginning of the year in a study of trees, people who are important to the study of trees, and of course, treehouses!

authentic texts book suggestions to increase student engagement

I’m also ALL about novel studies and think they’re so beneficial to students. I have so many resources and ideas that apply to ANY novel to make it low prep as a teacher but engaging and meaningful for kids! You can read these posts to get started.

I hope you feel encouraged to try new activities to increase student engagement! Don’t forget, it’s not about how much stuff you have… it’s about the content and how you present it. The coolest part is that when students are engaged and learning, you’ll have more fun in the classroom too! If you want to read more about student engagement, this post has more tips!

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