Instructional Activities to Engage Learners

By Nancy Mikhail

Last week, I gave a workshop to a group of teachers about different activities to help increase student engagement in the classroom. Why is student engagement so important? Brooks and Brooks (1999) argue that  “when a teacher arranges classroom dynamics so that she is the sole determiner of what is ‘right’ in the classroom, most students learn to conform to expectations without critique, to refrain from questioning teacher directives, to seek permission for judgmental and evaluative feedback. The rest disengage.” Is that what we really want as teachers? Or would we rather have students come to their own conclusions, think critically on their own, and help foster and grow their creativity? I prefer the latter.

There is a plethora of different strategies and activities you can implement in your classroom to involve and engage students in learning. As teachers, we need to determine what works for our students and helps them learn and be engaged at the same time.


Here are some ideas:

  • Mix-Pair Share
  1. Teacher asks a question to students.
  2. Tell students to stand up and walk around the classroom until you say “pair.”
  3. Students find the closest partner to them.
  4. Students share ideas!

Why it works: First of all, students have the opportunity to move around the classroom and stretch out their legs. They are interacting with a different peer then they normally would (instead of the person sitting next to them) and they are discussing ideas with one another. Sometimes students may not understand a concept you’re teaching, but they could understand it from a peer explaining the concept.

  • A-B Partner Teach
  1. Ask students to choose a partner.
  2. Students choose who will be “A” and who will be “B.”
  3. Teacher tells person A or B to tell the other person to review a concept or answer a question.
  4. Teacher debriefs with the class.

Why it works: Again, students are talking with their peers and when the teacher debriefs, students are repeating what the other student says, which creates a class discussion.

  • Find Someone Who
  1. Create a sheet with about 9 boxes that have different statements in each box that say “Find someone who…” and input information you want to review. For example, say you are teaching a history lesson about the American Revolution. In one box, you can write “Find someone who can tell you who was the president during the American Revolution.”
  2. Students walk around the room asking one another if they know the answer to the statement.
  3. When the student finds someone who can tell them the answer, they should write the answer in the box, as well as sign their name.

Why it works: This activity really helps spatial, auditory, interpersonal, and visual learners. It help students move around the classroom and discuss the topic.

Here are a few examples you could download:

Find Someone Who – Astronomy

Find Someone Who – Native Americans

  • Give Students Choices

Students love having choices. It isn’t always feasible to give them choices, however, when you can give them an opportunity to do so. Have them pick between two assignments, use choice boards during projects or assignments, or pick a fun educational game to play if you have some downtime.

Why it works: If students have the ability to choose, they will enjoy what they are doing more so than if the teacher were to always pick the activity for them. They will be interested and excited as to what comes next.

  • Choral Responses
  1. Teacher asks a question
    1. Questions should be:
      1. answered in 1-3 word responses
      2. have only a single correct answer to a question
      3. Can be presented in a fast-paced manner
  2. Provides thinking time
  3. Signals for students to answer

Why it works: All students will be engaged. You are asking all students to answer the question, instead of those few students who always raise their hand with the correct answer. You can also find some engaging ways to do choral responses, such as: thumbs up/thumbs down, stand up/sit down, or hands up hands down.

Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (1999). The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria: ASCD.