Student Engagement
in Class: Increasing
Learning and Persistence
Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D.
Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation
Clemson University, 445 Brackett Hall, Clemson, SC 29634 USA
864.656.4542 * [email protected] *
Developed for Innovative Educators
Participant Outcomes
► By
the end of this webinar, you will be
able to plan and manage your classes to
gain and maintain your students’
attention and engagement, thereby
enhancing their motivation, learning,
retention of the material, and
persistence in college. The engagement
techniques reviewed here will also
enhance students’ satisfaction with your
course and your teaching.
How do you decide
what to do in class ?
► By
your student learning outcomes =
what you want your students to be able to do
by the end of the class or week.
► Activities & Assignments (in-class, homework)
= Their Learning Experiences
= Your Teaching Methods
Choose the best tools (methods)
for the job (outcomes).
Lecture when you want to:
► Pique
students’ curiosity, inspire, motivate
► Model style of thinking, problem solving
► Give unique organization to the material
► Adapt high-level material to students’ level
► Add your own viewpoint or related research
► Present background summary or up-to-date
material not currently available in print
Lecture is ineffective when you
want students to be able to:
► Examine
and possibly change attitudes
► Explore controversial or ambiguous material
► Transfer knowledge to new situations
► Develop critical thinking or problem-solving
► Develop/improve writing or speaking skills
► Learn performance or procedural techniques
► Retain knowledge or pursue more after course
Do NOT lecture
the readings!
you do, students won’t even try to
do the readings.
►Rather hold students accountable
for the readings
Better learning and retention
Common Ways to
Engage Students in Class
and Interactive
(Student-Active) Lecture
►Group Work/Cooperative
(Collaborative) Learning
►Discussion (Recitation)
When you lecture,
make it engaging and
Challenge of the Lecture
Students’ attention span = 10-20
minutes at one time,
depending on:
►student’s prior interest (given)
►lecture delivery
►draw of content
1. Delivery to Get and
Keep Students’ Attention
Energy, animation, humor, drama +
Stories, anecdotes, examples +
Good public speaking skills =
Dynamism and Charisma
Lecture Delivery - Elements
►Instructional organization
►Emotions projected
►Preparation & rehearsal
Pre-Class Exercises to ↑ Your
Dynamism and Charisma
To make yourself “larger,” looser,
more relaxed
► Breathe
slowly and deeply from diaphragm
3-4 times.
► Stretch in every direction while standing.
► Send energy into your outstretched hands.
Pre-class exercises
To increase your vocal variety,
richness, projection
►Alternate high and low pitches (Q&A).
►Read children’s books aloud.
2. Increase Draw of Content
► Simple
vocabulary; new terms and symbols
► Concise explanations, but rephrased and
► No side-tracks (w/o explanation)
► Pauses for comprehension, note-taking
► All elements in graphics, demo’s explained
► Examples (many) tied back to concepts
Draw of Content continued
Inject drama, surprise, and suspense
with humor, exaggeration, unexpected
results, amazing facts, intriguing
anecdotes and examples, case studies,
paradoxes, and puzzles
Inject own viewpoint and background
Inject cultural aspects of material and
Inject student-active breaks
Add Activities That
Engage Students
►Group Work
►Recitation and Discussion
When you
lecture, do it
Interactive Lecture
with student-active breaks
= short student activities (2-10
minutes) every 10-20 minutes
 Compensates for short attention spans
 Increases class attendance, learning,
and retention
 Raises your student ratings
Poll: How many of you
already lecture interactively?
Almost every class
 Some classes
 A few classes
 Never have
you have already
lectured interactively in
some or almost all your
classes, how did it work?
Student-Active Breaks
Select/design activities to meet 2
apply/use content you’ve
been lecturing about; get practice
performing your learning outcomes.
►You find out how well/much they
understand (classroom assessment).
Possible Student-Active Breaks
► Lecture
note review, fill in, elaboration
► Above in pairs
► Periodic writing of most important
point(s), with pair or group sharing
► Multiple choice question (conceptual)
► Problem to solve (indiv, pair, group)
► Quick case study (indiv, pair, group)
► Discuss open-ended question (pair, group)
► List examples of key concept
► Reach
consensus on a difficult or
complex question or issue (pair, group)
► Worksheet/exercise (indiv, pair, group)
► Concept map, graphic organizer, matrix
of lecture material (indiv, pair, group)
► Question for future test (indiv, pair,
► One-sentence (or longer) summary of
► CATS: muddiest point, one-minute paper
► Reaction/reflection paragraph
Informal (ad hoc) Groups
► Great
for student-active lecture breaks
► Set up on the fly with neighbors
► Pairs or small groups of 3 or 4
► Short-term – for class period, exercise
► No peer evaluation or other feedback
► Easy for instructor, except must hold
groups accountable
Challenging Tasks
beyond what students have learned
Must require synergy to perform.
►Specific task with written product to be
group-signed and submitted
►Tight time limit requiring focus
►Call on groups and their members
randomly (for individual accountability).
Take some time for
discussion or
What’s the difference?
Learning Outcomes
Recitation Serves Well
► Recalling
and restating knowledge,
terms, and facts
► Demonstrating understanding by
expressing in own words
► Speaking the language of the discipline
► Practice/drill through repetition
Learning Outcomes
Discussion Serves Well
► Developing
higher-order/critical thinking skills
► Developing problem-solving skills (e.g., case
► Exploring controversial/ambiguous material
► Examining, possibly changing attitudes/beliefs
► Transferring knowledge to new situations
► Developing motivation to learn more
Answer one of these questions in a pod.
1. What problems arise for you during
a discussion?
2. Why do you think some students
don’t participate?
3. What obstacles to participation
can we as instructors remove?
4. What do the questions posed
thus far have in common?
Types of Questions
right answer
 “Quiz Show”: Y/N, 1-3 words
 “Programmed Answer”: longer
OK for recitation and test-review games (e.g.,
Jeopardy, Millionaire)
clear right answer – “Fuzzy”
► Multiple respectable answers
► No
 Best for discussion
Types of High-Response
► Interpretation:
high-level comprehension
► Novel Application: far-transfer knowledge
► Analysis: compare/contrast; identify
assumptions; deduce implications
► Synthesis: make connections, identify
► Evaluation: assess validity; select & defend
Eliciting Broad, Active, and
Respectful Participation
► Combat
shyness, break down social barriers.
► Motivate students to prepare to participate.
► Warm up students’ minds to subject matter.
► Provide “security blankets.”
► Moderate to keep the ball rolling.
► Motivate students to pay attention.
► Control disruptive students.
of the following concrete
actions have you been taking?
of the following actions
would you be able to take and
would like to take in the future?

student-active breaks - Innovative Educators