Week 4 Blog #etlead How do we keep our lessons engaging? Does innovation play a part in this?


There are so many methods you can use to keep lessons engaging for students.  Innovation plays a huge role in teaching every day, we are looking for new ways to engage students or we encounter unexpected things that require us to be innovative.

Dave Burgess discusses methods for keeping students engaged.  He begins his school year by setting a tone of fun and comfort to explore learning.  He is constantly finding ways to keep his students guessing and excited to come to class (Burgess, 2012).  Burgess also discussing having passion for your subject, you are not passionate about everything you teach but it should appear to students that you are.  “When a teacher is passionate about his or her subject matter, this enthusiasm is infectious” (Teacher, 2014).  Students know when a teacher is enjoying what they are teaching, so if it is not your favorite subject, find other ways to be passionate about it.

Being innovative and trying to find new ways of engaging students and teaching various lessons is time consuming.  Teachers have a lot to do and often times, innovation is at the bottom of the checklist.  Teachers have to manage and teach daily classroom activities and behaviors, attend meetings and professional developments, communicate with families, plan lessons, look at student and professional standards, and the list can go on.  Most times these duties need to be fulfilled before teachers even think about innovative ways to engage their students.

A lot of times, students are not engaged in lessons because they become bored with the material.  One way to keep them engaged is to make sure you are teaching on the cutting edge of their knowledge and are solving various tasks (Wright et. al 2012).  Students should always be thinking beyond what they know but not so far beyond that it becomes too difficult for them.  Another way that I kept my young students engaged is by changing activities often.  An organizational structure that I have used in my classroom is Daily 5, which worked well with my multi-grade classroom.   The students were constantly moving to different activities and making choices for which activities they went to (Boushey, G. & Moser, J. 2006).

As far as things flopping, sometimes the kids get way too excited about things like this and it ends up being a crazy free for all.  I have tried to teach some lessons like this and they flop when the students get too much freedom and get out of control.

One of my favorite things to do around Christmas is to read the Polar Express and set up my classroom like a train.  The students would come to school in PJs and we would pretend that we were boarding the Polar Express, I would wear a conductor hat and the kids just ate this up.  This is one example of a fun and engaging thing that I have done in my classroom.  It is amazing how much the kids love things like this.

I believe that teachers are natural innovators because that is the nature of the profession.  Teachers are constantly dealing with changes and having to come up with new strategies on the spot.  There are so many ways to engage students and so many resources on the subject, it is just a matter of trying things out and finding out what works for you in your particular class at a particular time.


Boushey, Gail, and Joan Moser. The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy Independence in the

Elementary Grades. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2006. Print

Burgess, Dave. Teach like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity,

and Transform Your Life as an Educator. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess

Consulting, 2012. Print.

“TEACHERS.” Scholastic Teachers. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2014.

Wright, Robert J., David Ellemor-Collins, and Pamela D. Tabor. Developing Number

Knowledge: Assessment, Teaching & Intervention with 7-11 Year Olds. Los

Angeles: Sage Publications, 2012. Print.



7 responses »

  1. Lots of great “stuff” here. After “20 some odd years” of teaching, I have certainly had my share of “flops”. It’s weird, I get all excited about a project or some other way of being innovative and my kids look at me like, “Are you serious?”. We try it anyway, and sometimes it is successful, other times, well…we end the project early. I think this is an important attribute of teaching…if something isn’t working, STOP!! The kids will thank you and they won’t look at you as a failure, you will probably be their hero. I also liked your thoughts on being passionate about what you are teaching. Not many of us can fake passion for very long and the kids will catch on really quick. I have a “rule of thumb” for passion…kind of…If I have a few students, during my “watch,” who want to be English teachers or math teachers, I have shown my passion. It’s really hard to show passion when you are teaching a subject area you don’t enjoy…I love teaching Calculus, but hate teaching 7th grade math. I love literature, but hate grammar (how can anyone be passionate about grammar?). So, like you wrote above, if you are not passionate, find something within the subject you can be passionate about. Thanks for the reminders.

  2. Megan, I like your ideas about engagement in your class. I’ve never taught a multi-age class and would be interested in learning more about the Daily 5 you noted. There are always lots of different ways to start the day or lesson out and its hard not to try all of them. I also agree with your comment about staying on the cutting edge of the information. Students really want to know what is going on now. I like to use “How is it Made” videos when we are discussing inventions. It really sparks their interest in how things work they they know about and are using right now.

    • Thank you for your comment Leslie, I really love using Daily 5, I used it when I student taught and then in my multi-grade class. I really keeps students engaged in meaningful literacy activities and gives you the time to work with individual students or small groups. They have a website http://www.thedailycafe.com and several books out and they do trainings all over the US. If you put in the time to train your students on what they do during Daily 5, it is really amazing how it works, even with Kindergarteners. I have never watched the “How is it made videos”, that sounds very interesting and I plan to check it out.

  3. Meagan,
    The Polar Express lesson sounds really creative. And your statement about the many commitments that teachers have really rings true with me…especially this week. I’ve noticed that reflection helps me figure out how I can maybe tweak or change a lesson that flopped. I’ve also noticed that collecting student feedback and having students self-assess helps too. What techniques or tips or tricks do you have for collecting feedback from the younger students? It seems like an easy thing to do with secondary students, but I’m often curious about how elementary teachers do it. Do you use graphs, or charts, or smileys? Or do you just take time to talk with them?

    • Nicole, I think you do a great job of collecting feedback from your students. With elementary, depending on the age, I would informally use a thumbs up and a few times a year, I would give them a survey with smily faces which was more formal. I also did a lot of checking in with them verbally. I love doing the Polar Express and creating the whole atmosphere in my class. Again, it is hard to find the time to do extra things after doing what is required.

  4. As far as the too much freedom leading to class chaos, what if there was some Pavlovian signal established at the beginning of the year where students have to stop whatever they’re doing and regroup somewhere in the room? Work in some sort of game in there somehow… works for fire drills at least…

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