May I have your attention please?

How to engage students in the classroom

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It happens with frustrating frequency. You come to class packing a solid, well-prepared teaching plan only to be met by disappointing student indifference. You are fully centered on the lesson for the day, but your students decidedly are not. Your immediate task is clear: engage the children. Try one of these ideas:

Alter the Setting

When you change the setting, you trigger questions, spark imagination, and stimulate interest—all without saying a word.

Make an effective alteration by simply rearranging the furniture. Fashion a large circle of chairs, an open half-circle, two lines of facing chairs, or clusters of chairs around tables. Select a pattern that can both create interest and enhance your ability to share the lesson for the day.

Present an Intriguing Focus

As the teacher, you provide order, direction, and information in the classroom. Share your spotlight with other thought-provoking objects.

Watch the increase in interest generated when children look at the teacher’s desk and see not just you, but also a pile of oranges, six cowboy hats, a tennis racket, or an arrangement of colorful building blocks. The presence of such random items erases the events and emotions of the day and invites students to consider how such objects relate to the scheduled lesson.

Well-chosen items win students’ attention can add a new dimension to your teaching message.

Require Immediate Participation

Children thrive on action. When asked to play the role of passive learners, they often get bogged down. Putting an action-based spin on the opening of the lesson is the kind of motivation most children can’t ignore. 

Produce instant involvement by encouraging topic-related “chats” between pairs of classmates; call children out of their seats to check out a focus item; ask for hand-raising or stand up/sit down responses to rapid fire, lesson-centered questions. Whatever your immediate participation ploy, make certain it connects students to what you are about to share.

Now that you have their attention, transition to that well-prepared lesson about the saints you’ve been waiting to unpack.

Engaging children for a lesson about the saints

Here is a specific way you can use the techniques suggested above to drum up student interest in the seasonal topic of the saints:

1. Alter the setting: Place chairs in pairs scattered around the room in locations that promote one-on-one conversation.

2. Present an intriguing focus: Provide student pairs with a picture of any saint, using a different saint for each student pair.

3. Require immediate participation: Direct student pairs to “chat” about what they can learn about the saint from the picture. Then ask rapid-fire questions about the saints that require students to actively respond.  For example, “Stand up if ‘your saint’ is a man” or “Stand up if ‘your saint’ looks older than 21.”


Lee Danesco is a former DRE and pastoral associate in Foxboro, Massachusetts. 

This article originally appeared in RTJ’s Creative Catechist, October 2013.

Image credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock, 144566138

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