By far, my most popular blog post is my 5 Tips for Engaging Students in the First Five Minutes of a Lesson. It has been viewed over 117,000 times since I posted it. At first that surprised me – like, fell-off-my-chair surprised me – but the more I think about it, the more I get it: good teachers deeply want to engage their students – especially teenagers. And this is no simple task.
So, consider this my follow up post.
You have grabbed their attention in the first five minutes… now what? Here are my five top tips for keeping them engaged until the very last minute.
1. DIVIDE THE LESSON INTO SEGMENTS
Let’s be honest: many of us struggle to concentrate on one thing for a full hour. But this is even more of a challenge for teenagers, as their brains are still developing. Therefore, we need to keep shifting their focus in order to stave off the distractions and daydreams. When planning your lesson, divide it up into manageable blocks of time, and keep the activity types varied. In this way, you will keep students on their toes and engaged. For example, this is how I would divide a 50-minute class:
5 min | Introduction activity
10 min | Lecture-style teaching
15 min | Group/paired work task
15 min | Individual work
5 min | Wrapping up / Consolidation
2. RESERVE SOMETHING EXCITING FOR THE LAST 5 MINUTES
Give students an incentive to get to the end of the lesson. This will be different for every group, but mutually agree on something which would be a ‘treat’ for the last few minutes of a lesson. Some ideas:
- Tell them a riddle/joke at the start of the lesson and only reveal the answer at the end.
- Promise to show them a YouTube video in the last 2 minutes of the lesson (there are many great slam poetry channels that my students love)
- Have a longstanding word tennis tournament in your class and have students compete against each other in those closing minutes each day (maybe even go all out and have a results chart on the wall, and a ‘current champion’ etc.).
If you tell students that they won’t get to the treat unless they have completed their tasks for the lesson, they may just work that little bit harder all lesson. I had one particular class who loved the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy. So, I made a promise to them that in the last 3 minutes of every lesson, we would pack away our books and I would read one of her poems. This was something they looked forward to, and aimed towards.
3. INCLUDE MOVEMENT IN THE LESSON
Students will drift off if they are to remains static all lesson. True story. Especially boys. So try to include movement throughout the lesson – get them up and out of their seats at some point, even if this just means that at the halfway point you instruct them to do some jumping jacks. Alternatively, you can provide the movement; the worst thing you can do is to teach the entire lesson from behind your desk: walk around the class while teaching; keep the focal point moving. If you want more tips for including movement in your classroom, I have a whole blog post with ideas over here.
4. ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING TO EXTEND STUDENTS
In my experience, the most restless students – the ones who lose focus, become distracted and often even disrupt the lesson – are my brightest students. They are the ones who are actually just bored in class because they are not being challenged enough. Therefore, in order to keep these students engaged, make sure that you always have something on hand to keep them engaged: provide a set of writing prompts they can work on when they have finished the class activities; have a stack of quick grammar worksheets on your desk to surreptitiously slip in front of them when they complete their classwork; or pair them up with a weaker student to help assist and teach them. Whatever it is, make sure that you always come to class with a plan to avert that boredom which will inevitably lead to distraction.
5. OVER PLAN
Some of the lessons I am least proud of have been the ones in which I have not planned enough for the class; I ended up having to desperately draw out activities to last as long as possible. What you want to do is make sure that you are always maintaining a good pace, moving along and keeping students engaged. There is nothing worse than getting through your lesson plan and realizing that there are still ten minutes until that obstinate bell rings. To avoid this, make sure that you have almost even over planned – have a couple of activities planned for the end of the lesson which would be meaningful and beneficial if you got to them, but at the same time it won’t matter if you don’t – that way you will never run out of work for your students. Perhaps have some standalone figurative language worksheets on hand, or quick grammar task cards.
I hope these tips help keep your students engaged throughout your lesson; I would love to hear from you – how do you manage to holdback the boredom?