Engaging Students in Learning – Tips and Ideas

A brain-based classroom is one in which students are actively engaged in learning. What exactly does it mean for students to be actively engaged? It certainly is not having students complete worksheets, answer basic questions, or take notes of a lecture. Take a minute to think about the definitions of these two words. The word active means moving, working, participating, full of energy, and causing action. The word engage means to require use of / occupy, to attract and hold attention, and to involve. So basically, when students are actively engaged, they are participating and working in a way that is active, full of energy and motion, and they are involved and interested in what is being learned.

Wow! That is a lot to ask from our students, or is it more that it is a lot to ask from us? This type of learning requires much more work and effort on our part in order to be more meaningful for students. It is much easier to read the chapter, answer the questions at the end, and complete a ready-made worksheet. However, there is hope! Many of the new textbooks available now include activities that actively engage students in their learning. Does your textbook have these tips and ideas in the teacher edition? If so, do you ever use those activities in your lesson plans? The next time you sit down to plan lessons, read through the activities provided and think about how you might incorporate them into your lesson. If you don't have a newer textbook or are simply looking for other ideas to get students actively engaged, the tips provided below are for you.


Have students create their own game that applies the concepts and / or skills learned for a particular unit. This activity also integrates writing since students will need to write out the directions. Take some time to look at educational games already available and analyze these with your students. Help them to see the elements found in a board or card game. Look at how the directions are organized and written so students have a model to follow. One of my students made a Colonies game as a project for our 13 Colonies unit. She was able to show all of her learning through the creation of this game.

There are also many excellent games available these days to help practice reading, spelling, math, science, and social studies skills. How might you use Monopoly, the Allowance game, Scategories, Scrabble, Mastermind, or Taboo in your class? While students may think they are simply playing a game, they are actually applying important skills / concepts learned in class. To take full advantage of this learning opportunity, afterwards, have students discuss the different skills they used while playing the game. Did they learn anything new? This kind of debriefing makes connections between playing the game and your curriculum. Without the debriefing students merely participated in a fun but meaningless activity.

Scavenger Hunt

Create a scavenger hunt of clues, phrases, or questions, and have students read through the chapter to find the answers. It is more of a learning experience if the answers are not immediately visible, especially for older students. Make them read the chapter to be able to answer the questions or find the clue. Allowing students to work in pairs or groups adds an extra element of fun to this activity. Again, take some time to discuss the activity and results with the class when everyone is finished.

Another twist on this activity which requires further thinking on the part of the students is to have them read the chapter first and then create their own scavenger hunt. Students then swap the papers among themselves and have a partner complete their scavenger hunt. Allow the student pairs to discuss the positive and negative aspects of the scavenger hunt created. What was too easy? What was challenging? Were the questions / clues misleading or clearly understandable?


Again, this activity works great with textbook reading. Have students work in pairs or groups to turn a historical event, textbook chapter, or story into a play. You could also have students work together to explain a concept or skill through a skit or play. Writing out the script incorporates writing skills into the class and gives you an evaluation tool.

A twist on this activity is to have students rewrite the events or concepts read in the textbook or recently learned through direct instruction as a children's story. This type of activity requires students to think at higher levels. Comprehension, Analysis, Application, and Synthesis are all involved as students must understand what was read and be able to explain and apply it within a short fictional children's story.

Learning Stations

You don't have to be an elementary teacher to make learning stations work. Take your unit and think of five to six different stations of activities or readings for students to complete. Type out the directions for each station, and affix the page to construction paper. We laminate ours so they will last. Next, type out a checklist for students to use when traveling to each station. This will help them know what to complete at each one. To set up, simply put the directions and materials on a group of desks or a table for each "station." When you are finished, put the laminated directions in a manila folder and label it. Then, stick it in your filing cabinet for next year. I actually laminate reading passages, checklists, etc. so I can use them over and over each year. This type of activity is also a great way to integrate other subject area concepts and skills into your lesson / unit.

With all of these activities, it is important that you are walking around monitoring the entire time to keep students on track. Ask guiding questions to help students accomplish the task and get the most out of the activity. You will also need to take time to go over your expectations for behavior and academic results prior to each activity. This reminder along with constant monitoring helps keep student misbehavior to a minimum. It is also very important that you take time to discuss or "debrief" with students regarding the activity. This type of discussion makes connections between the activity, overall goal, and lesson objective for your curriculum. Don't settle for time fillers. With just a little preparation and perspiration you can get your students up and moving, engaged in their learning, and loving every minute of it!

Copyright 2007 Emma McDonald

5 Tips to Learning a New Language

Study harder not longer. In other words you will gain an infinitely better understanding of the language you are learning by practicing for 2-3 hours a day for a week rather than one hour every other day for a month. Remember all those language classes you took in high-school or college? And how fluent are you now? Exactly!

Don’t spend a decade of your life phoning it in while trying to learn your next language. Really gear down and spend a week or two at a time giving the language the commitment and dedication that it requires.

The power of 100. Stanford University conducted a study demonstrating that the 100 most commonly used words for any language account for 50% of any language. So what does that tell you? You may not be fluent but you’ll be able to get around town and really get a jump on the learning curve.

Start with the 100 most common words and then make sentences with them over and over again. Learn just enough grammar to be able to do this and do it until you feel pretty comfortable with all of them.

100-1000 it’s just another zero right? The same study also demonstrated that the most common 1,000 words account for 80% of all spoken communication and the most common 3,000 words account for 99% of communication. So what does that mean for you? It means once you learn between about 500-1000 of the most commonly used words you will be able to speak very efficiently. After you have a basic understanding of the grammar you will be speaking basic sentences, shown below, in less than a week rather than years.

“Where is the mall?”

“I want to meet you for dinner.”

“How old are you?”

“Did you like the show?”

The first few hundred words will make a world of difference for you. Use these to get comfortable with the enunciation and grammar. After you are confident in your first 100 feel free to expand your vocabulary. Don’t get too zealous though and start trying to learn vocabulary related to law, economics, or international trade because you could overwhelm yourself and lose some of your confidence.

Individual tutoring is the best use of your time. However that time tends to be a bit expensive but if you have the means or if maybe your company is paying for you to learn, a tutor will yield you results faster than any other way.

Going back to tip number one, if you spend 2-3 hours a day with a tutor for just a few weeks I guarantee you would be able to communicate at a conversational level. A friend of mine recently began learning his 3rd language and after three focused weeks he was able to go on a dinner date and speak with relative ease, and since we are on the dating topic…

Date someone who speaks the language you are learning. This will sound crazy but it is a real world example. A good friend of mine moved to China, for a girl, and could barely say hello in Mandarin. It was love at first site but she didn’t speak English and he didn’t speak Mandarin. Can you see where there might be a disconnect? After 4 months of living in China with his girlfriend, he was fluent in a language that is arguably one of the most difficult to learn. This is a bit of an extreme case but it goes to show that intense focus and determination will yield genuine results very rapidly.

Online Learning – Training Webinar Success Tips

If you think that face-to-face training is the best way to do training, think again. New research shows that a blended approach produces 35-69 percent better outcomes than face-to-face alone.

What’s a blended approach? It’s a mixture of delivery modes, put together in a pattern to create the best result. For example, a blended course might involve one full day face-to-face, followed by several one-hour webinars delivered sequentially across a number of weeks. Another example might include a self-paced DVD program, followed by three two-hour webinars, followed by a live one-to-one coaching session.

The blended approach delivers even higher value than its impact on results in the workplace. It’s also an important part of reducing the need to travel for the training. Time in training sessions is time away from the job, so many employers are happier with training at the desktop that lasts only an hour or two. In addition, corporations worldwide are eager to eliminate travel, weather across town or halfway around the world. So, when your business offers part or all of its training online, you have a competitive advantage that companies that hire you will value.

So if your business delivers training services, it’s important to take a fresh look at how to restructure your training offerings to provide a significantly higher impact. If you plan on doing some live online training via Web conference technology, here are some success factors to help.

  • Keep your online learning session short.

    For training webinars, limit each session to one to two hours. One hour is best, but two hours works well when the training is interactive enough.

  • Tell students not to take notes, but instead to enjoy the experience of learning together.

    Promise your student participants a handout at the end of the session that captures all of the notes on the slides. If your slides are proprietary, you don’t have to give them a copy. Instead, give them a high-value handout that details the critical points, lists, and actions that are required for your participants to be successful. In an online learning environment, a short and focused PDF handout is better than long and comprehensive book.

  • Design your training webinar for vigorous, relevant, and continuous interaction.

    The toughest audience in the world is one that links from the desktop. At any moment in time, people are seconds a way from multitasking.

    The only way to keep people from multitasking is to create

    (1) extremely high value content,

    (2) delivered at a brisk pace,

    (3) intermixed with constant interaction that adds value to the experience of learning at that moment.

    When online trainers can’t see the students’ nonverbal cues, s/he has to be even more deliberate in building high quality interaction throughout the session.

  • Have students meet from individual desktops, not a conference room.

    To get the highest level of interaction, it’s best if each student links separately to the Web conference online learning session. That lets every student be able to participate easily and quickly in polls, chat discussions, imitation feedback, and voice interaction. When students meet from a conference room, sharing a computer inhibits rapid interaction that is needed to keep everyone else engaged. No one must be disadvantaged by location from being a full and equal participant in the learning.

  • Design your slides for brain appeal.

    Your students cannot see your face. But they can be very engaged by the PowerPoint slides that you use in your training webinar. Avoid standard Microsoft PowerPoint templates. Instead, find commercial templates that better express the theme of your training. Avoid clipart. Instead, use commercially available photo art and photo images. Avoid standard formatting. Instead, skillfully learn how to create and design slides that engaged the attention of your desktop students.

  • Team teach online learning sessions when you can.

    With experience and training, a single person can manage all aspects of an online learning session. But it’s better to team teach in your initial training webinars. For example, while one person instructs, the other annotates, manages polls, sets up chat discussions, observes the participation of the students, and asks questions to keep interaction going.

  • End with an online version of a standing ovation.

    You know that when you have delivered an excellent learning session. Students are eager to say how much they enjoyed the experience of learning with you. In an online learning environment, many trainers don’t get that feedback. Before you end the online learning session, ask students to use chat to tell you what they learned that they will apply. Encourage them make several entries. Then a moment later ask them what they enjoyed most about the class. They will be able to share their comments with the group or with you privately, as you specify. If you ask your student participants to share their comments publicly in chat, everyone will see dozens of positive comments that reinforce the high-value of your content as well as a very enjoyable interactive session, too.

  • End the online learning session with a three-minute online survey.

    Most Web conference platforms will allow you to drop the student off at a website where you can poll them on the metrics that show the value of your online learning program or session. If a company hired you (vs. individuals), summarize the information from the feedback form, and send it to the client. If students registered independently, neutralize the feedback and post the data on your website, along with quotes (of course, by permission).