Simplifying Student Engagement: It’s the Little Things

If there’s ever been a time to feel like you’re not doing enough as a teacher, it’s now. Regardless of which social media outlet you are on, you’re likely bombarded with pictures of over-the-top classrooms and teachers who appear to be excelling in every area.

In the last few weeks on social media I’ve seen classroom transformations that look like a scene from Universal Studios, anchor charts that look like they’re computer generated (how do they write like that?!), and teachers who clearly have not slept for a week because they’ve been planning a lesson that will go down in history under “How did she do that?”

The images that we see around us can leave us inspired or they can leave us discouraged. How can we even come close to what these super-teachers are doing in their classrooms? How can we have a classroom that looks so polished and perfect on our limited (or non-existent) budget?

The good news is that we don’t have to.

We do not have to spend $500 to transform our classroom into a scene from Jurassic World as we study dinosaurs (although that’s pretty cool!). We do not have to hire a circus elephant to perform in order to keep our students engaged during our Africa unit. We do not need all of the latest technology in order for our students to master math facts.

What we do have to do is engage our students and make learning fun. And the good news is that it can be more simple that we think. Keeping our students engaged can happen with small tweaks that we make to our teaching. It does not have to be elaborate, time-consuming, or expensive.

When we simplify student engagement, we can effortlessly add it into any part of our day. It doesn’t take a ton of extra time or extra money. These are the small tweaks that we make at a moment’s notice.



How much extra time or money does it take to build relationships with your students? Zero.

Think about how you act toward someone when you feel connected to them and like them. Let’s create an environment where we can genuinely connect with our students and build those very important relationships.

Easy ways to build relationships:

  • Show interest in your students. Ask them questions.
  • Greet every student every day.
  • Respect students and their opinions.
  • Show empathy.
  • Laugh with them.
  • Make eye contact and smile.
  • Laugh at yourself when you make a mistake.
  • Make every
    student feel like he or she is your favorite.
  • Be likeable.
  • Give compliments on effort to encourage a growth-mindset.
  • Provide a predictable structure in your classroom.
  • Show excitement. When you are excited, your students are excited.



I want you to consider two different scenarios. In the first scenario, you are working at a restaurant. You are told what to do. You go home after work and don’t think too much about the restaurant. In the second scenario, you own the restaurant. Your mind is constantly churning out ideas to make your restaurant more profitable and more enjoyable for your customers. There’s a mindset shift. You take OWNERSHIP of the restaurant because you’re in the position to do so. You CARE about it because you’ve got a lot more of yourself invested in it than you did when you simply worked there.

How can we apply this scenario to the classroom?

We want our students to CARE. We want them to take OWNERSHIP of their learning. But how do we do this? We must put them in a position of control. We must allow them to feel that intrinsic level of motivation that we feel when something really matters to us.

Does this mean that we have to plan three different versions of every lesson so that it appeals to every student? No. It’s simpler than that.

Easy ways to put students in control:

  • Ask their opinions.
  • Create your classroom environment WITH them, not FOR them. (Let’s think anchor charts and bulletin boards – how can we involve them?)
  • Incorporate Project Based Learning.
  • Allow choice wherever possible. The same outcome can typically be achieved in many different ways.
  • Say things like, “I can really tell that you’re taking control of your learning!” or “Good for you for taking charge of your own learning! That is a sign of a responsible person!” Students will typically meet up to the expectation and belief that we have of them, so we’d better make sure that we convey high expectations and positive beliefs!
  • Let students drive the learning and ask the questions. For example, show a graph and ask students to list some questions that they could ask about the graph (rather than you asking the questions and the students computing the answers).



Making learning fun is SO important. Fun will not only keep students engaged, but it will lead to a sense of belonging and classroom community. Here’s where those elaborate classroom transformations come in. Those are FUN! But can we achieve a similar result on a tighter budget and fewer preparation hours? Sure we can! How about making your students some hot chocolate to drink as they work on a Math Project? How about turning the lights off and letting your students read with flashlights for Read to Self on Fridays? How about letting your students put their feet up on their desks (“Seriously? You’re going to let us do that?!”) and relax as you read aloud to them? Try a Gallery Walk to get your students moving around the classroom! If you can think of even ONE way to incorporate this type of fun into every day, I truly believe that you will transform your classroom environment and your relationship with your students.


Consider this a challenge. How can you simplify student engagement to the point that you are effortlessly achieving it throughout the day. What simple, practical things can you do to ensure that your students LOVE coming to your classroom?

Comment below with a simple thing that you have done that has had a transformative effect in your classroom!



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