Hi there, teacher friend! This time we’re talking about student engagement. This topic is one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to share some strategies about student engagement in primary with you. Let’s take a close look at what is student engagement in primary (K-2)!
Are your students engaged? How can you tell? How can you make them more engaged? We’re going to cover all of that! If you’d like to hear the podcast version, check out Episode 12 HERE.
If your district is like mine, we are being evaluated on student engagement. So, how ready for that do you feel? Maybe your district is doing something similar and you’re under some pressure. Maybe not, but you just know how important engagement is. Either way, we’re going to make engagement happen!
Imagine a teacher who scored fantastically on teaching exams and graduated at the top of her class. If she isn’t able to engage students in content, how well do you think her students will progress? Good exam taking skills and understanding theories are important, don’t get me wrong. But what it all comes down to is being able to help learners through their knowledge journeys.
Don’t worry, practical strategies are coming your way!
What is student engagement in primary (K-2)?
The Glossary of Education Reform says, “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.” Doesn’t reading that just motivate you?
Now, engagement does look different across different grade levels. Students in high school can engage in a more mature way, but primary students can be deeply engaged in our content.
There are three types of engagement: behavioral, emotional, and cognitive. Understanding these types will let you use strategies to address them all.
Behavioral engagement is based on the student’s behavior during your instruction. Are they attentive, listening, following instruction, and responding to questions? Those are easy to observe when teaching.
Emotional engagement has to do with the student’s feelings about their learning and the classroom environment. We want them to feel happy, excited, and confident.
Cognitive engagement is harder to observe. It refers to how intrinsically motivated students are, how invested they are in learning, and how much ownership they take in learning.
What does engagement look like for primary students? Students who know what to do, who love what they do, and who are excited about what they do. They are learning and growing. Sounds great, right? Here’s how YOU can increase engagement in your classroom.
Strategies to Boost Student Engagement
All of the strategies I am going to share can be adapted to whatever content area you are covering. We’ll use sight-words as an example. By the way, sight-word instruction is one of my favorite times to focus on engagement!
Heads up: routine doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean boring! It does mean clear expectations and structure. Students in my classroom know what their day will look like. I value routine. It boosts engagement, because students who know what to do have more confidence.
Imagine two grocery stores. One is a store you have been to for years. You know where the sections are and what you are looking for. The other is a new store. Don’t you feel overwhelmed when you have a list of things you need, and you have to search for them? It’s frustrating and takes so much more time. (If you don’t give up!)
As adults, we’ve had years of practice with dealing with unfamiliar situations and change. If it makes us uncomfortable, imagine how much harder it is for our kiddos! Then we ask them to focus and learn. Sounds tough to me!
Students who know what to do are happier to do their work. That means more learning success for them, more teaching success for you, and more fulfillment for everyone!
So how do I use this in sight-word instruction? The short answer is that I do the same thing every day. Students know where we begin and end. They know what the expectations are and they know what to do. If this is something you’d like to explore more, check out a post about routines, and how to use them to make teaching content more effective, HERE.
Movement is engaging to our students. It activates multiple parts of their brain. When we connect movement to content, it helps students form stronger memories around the content. For sight-word instruction, I add motions, or signals, to our words. There is a list of motions I developed that you can grab in the free Sight-Word Engagement Guide HERE. (Talk about time saver!)
For example, take the sight-word “will.” Students say, “Will you marry me? Will, will, will.” Each time they say “will,” they make a ring with their right hand and put it around the ring finger of their left hand.
Students love signals. When we review sight-words, we do it quickly, and signals help keep students engaged for the whole routine. They know the routine and movements, and they have fun acting them out.
You can also add movement with brain breaks. Dr. Jean has some excellent breaks you can use during your instruction to let them rest for a bit and have fun.
Classroom cheers are another way to add movement. Students can move and cheer for each other and build community. Cheers can even be used as a reward. You can give students a time frame and your expectation, like to stay in their seats and pay attention for five minutes, and then you’ll do their favorite cheer.
Research suggests singing lights up more parts of the brain than any other human function. Music and song goes to a deep part of your brain that stays intact through most of your life. Incorporating content into singing helps students remember what they’re learning.
When students are singing, they’re engaged. I love using sight-word songs, and you can find examples in the Sight-Word Engagement Guide HERE. For example, five letter words are to the tune of Bingo. Pair a song with a movement, and you have the recipe for excellent engagement.
Everyone loves rewards, and there are many ways to use this strategy. Two of the most common rewards I use are cheers and brain breaks. For sight-words, I use the rainbow word system as a way to reward students for engagement. It gives them a chance to progress through the rainbow.
I divide sight-words into the colors of the rainbow. Once a student has mastered a color, they get a cheer and move up to the next color. This goes through the school year, and they are assessed over all the sight-words. Then, I reward them with a pair of rainbow glasses I buy, and it’s worth it to encourage their success in reading. If you’d like to check that program out, it’s on my Teachers Pay Teachers site HERE. You can modify it with your own word list, so it’s adaptable to different size lists of sight-words.
Maybe it sounds unimportant, but let’s not forget the fun. Our students need it, and we get the benefit of high engagement. So how can you do this?
Be silly. Add laughter and jokes. During our sight-word routine, I use a voice choice board I created to give students opportunity to say the sight-words in different voices like baby voice or monster voice. It works for any content area.
The Giggle Box is another strategy that adds laughter to the classroom. The Virtual Classroom Rewards Bundle HERE is a free resource that has lots of examples to get you started. Tell students that once they complete a certain task they’ll get a joke from the Giggle Box. Say the joke loud and proud, then crack up and enjoy it with them.
I know this is outside some people’s comfort zones, but I promise it gets easier with practice. The main thing is to not take yourself too seriously in that moment and be confident.
Bring it All Together Now
Student engagement in primary is so important. Like good WiFi during a livestream of your class important. The most carefully planned content won’t translate to learning without engagement.
Now we’ve got some actionable strategies to increase it. You’ll be able to see a difference in your classroom, because engagement is observable. Keep in mind that, although we need engagement, it is exhausting for our students. Don’t expect every student to be engaged non-stop through every day.
Keep in mind the three types of engagement: cognitive, behavioral, and emotional. Five strategies to improve engagement are: routine, movement, singing, rewards, and fun.
Now, you awesome difference maker, you’re even more prepared to guide your students through a successful school year. Want some community for yourself along the way? I know I do! Hop over to our Primary Teacher Friends Facebook group HERE. There’s all kinds of support, encouragement, and information flowing over there. You don’t want to miss it.
Keep making a difference, teacher friend!