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Engaging Classrooms
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Running Head:  Engaging Classrooms







Engaging Classrooms: How to Keep Children Active, Motivated, and On-Task throughout an Entire Class Period


Veronica M. Johnson, Christopher Cheatwood, and Nicole Reed


Educational Psychology

Dr. Brian Boehman

Western Kentucky University

 Spring 2008








Veronica M. Johnson, Christopher Cheatwood, & Nicole Reed

Dr. Brian Boehman

Educational Psychology 310

28 April 2008




Scientist Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme joy of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” 


Students that are able to spend time exploring and developing their natural aptitudes and interests in a constructive way are more apt to enjoy learning.  But not every student is going to enjoy every subject they have to take in school, so they tend to “tune out” instruction.  Students then become idle, both at school and at home.  The word idle is defined as time “not spent or filled with activity, not kept busy, or to pass time doing nothing” ( , 2008); therefore, idle time in the classroom can be seen as non-instructional periods when students aren’t engaged in continuous activities, their brains are not active, and learning is not taking place.  Idle time occurs when students complete assignments quickly and are left without work, when the teacher has not fully prepared or has under-prepared for the class, and especially when there is a substitute teacher.  When children are allowed too much idle time they tend to want more of it, instead of instructional time.  This makes it hard for the teacher to bring the class back into focus for learning.  When a student has nothing left to do in class and they are just sitting there, problems can occur such as fidgeting, talking, disrupting the class, disturbing other classmates, and sleeping.  Keeping children active, motivated, and on task is one of the primary responsibilities of teachers. 


The more interesting assignments are the more likely teachers are to find students actively engaged in learning, on task, and immersed in the work presented to them.  In order to do this, teachers must use their students’ extracurricular and community experiences in the classroom to make instruction more engaging.  Each child has special abilities and when each student’s talents are displayed then the classroom will come alive and students can learn from each other.  Students that are also allowed to use these talents on group assignments and homework are also given the opportunity to use their creativity to enhance the learning environment.  Students who participate in TPS (Think, Pair, Share) with a partner or in groups tend to work harder and contribute more to class.  Another way to make classrooms more interesting is to group students by special interests or common learning styles for group activities or projects.  The follow eight steps will help provide an active classroom include:


1.   Don't talk too much. Use the first 15 minutes of class for lectures or presentations, then get           

      the kids working. 

2.   Break the class period into two or three different activities. Be sure each activity flows

      smoothly into the next.

3.   Keep all students actively involved. For example, while a student does a presentation, involve

      the other students in evaluating it.

4.   Ensure course materials relate to students' lives and highlight ways learning can be applied in          

      real-life situations.

5.   Allow students to have some degree of control over learning.

6.   Assign challenging but achievable tasks for all students, including at-risk, remedial, and

      learning-disabled students.

7.   Arouse students' curiosity about the topic being studied.

8.   Design projects that allow students to share new knowledge with others.

(Brewster, C & Fager, J, 2000)


Other factors of the classroom environment, such as seating arrangement and student behavior, can effect how long students remain on task and engaged in their work.  Have different materials in the classroom that students can get out of their seats to look at.  Sitting for extended periods of time can have negative effects on young bodies and mental processing. (Powell, Sara, 2005)

Howard Gardner- “The brain learns best when the body is actively involved in exploring physical sites and materials.” (Powell, Sara, 2005)


Student motivation is essential to creating a positive learning environment; therefore, every teacher needs to develop a unique way in which to motivate their students in the classroom.  Motivating students can be one of the biggest hurdles a teacher can face.  Research tells us that the teachers who are most successful in engaging students develop activities with students' basic psychological and intellectual needs in mind (Brewster, C & Fager, J, 2000). In general, students need work that develops their sense of competency, allows them to develop connections with others, gives them some degree of autonomy, and provides opportunities for originality and self-expression (Brewster, C & Fager, J, 2000). The challenge teachers’ face, then, is to create a learning environment that attends to all or most of these needs.  Most students will do just enough to get by, leaving a gap in the learning process.  If students are presented with schoolwork that actively engages them by building on what interests them, any prior knowledge they have of the material, can develop a sense of competency and a connection with others, receive some degree of autonomy, and be provided with opportunities for originality and self-expression then they will be more likely to connect with the lesson and follow through with the learning process.  Rewards and incentives are a wonderful way to motivate students in the classroom.  By correctly answering questions, teachers can throw candy to students.  This activity makes them want to answer questions and it also wakes them up because it is a surprise.  Students can also be rewarded for wrong answers if they demonstrate that they are actively thinking and are on the right track.  Although an engaging classroom can help all students, highly motivated students, on the other hand, do not need as much stimulation to stay on task and complete assignments.  They participate in class, complete homework, and study for tests for the sheer want and desire to learn.  Peer pressure is also a huge factor when it comes to motivation.  Students tend to gravitate toward and make friends with those who hold the same interest as they do; therefore, students who are prone to succumb to peer pressure by friends who are not as motivated or studious will fall into the trap of not completing assignments or studying for tests, which will result in falling grades.   The “pour it out” and “keep it flowing” models of teaching also demonstrate that, in order for students to continue learning, they need a continuous flow of material.  (McIlrath, D., & Huitt, W., 1995)







There are a variety of ways for teachers to keep track of student progress, but time management logs, kept on a daily or weekly basis, will ensure that students stay on task.  Teachers can also use time management logs to further develop their own time management techniques, as well as teaching the students their how to track their daily schedule.  These logs should be sent home so that parents are kept aware of class activities and homework.  Another way for teachers to keep students on task would be to over prepare for the day by producing multiple assignments.  If students don’t complete what assignments they have been given, they should stay busy for then entire class period, but if they do complete the assignments, then there will be more they can do.  This way, learning is continuously taking place and teachers will not have to worry about idle time.


Homework should have a clear purpose, be relevant to students' lives, and be challenging.  While not all children have an environment at home that is conducive to learning or support from parents who are willing to work with them, homework serves many purposes.  It allows them the chance to review and practice what they have learned, prepare for the next day’s lesson, and raise academic achievement.  The best way for students to be successful with homework, though, begins with the teacher.  Steps that a teacher should take to ensure success are:  explain homework expectations, be consistent throughout the entire school year, do not make assignments too long, make sure students understand the directions, and provide a variety of assignments so that students don’t get bored doing the same thing.  Students who complete their homework are also better able to participate in classroom discussions, leading to a more interactive class.  Homework that students are able to begin working on in the class will keep students engaged, active, motivated, and on task.  If students can get their parents involved, it is possible that more learning can take place.  Also, allowing students the freedom of choosing the approach they take on their project or homework by giving them options on what different types of projects they can do, such as a paper, skit, song, model, etc. provides them with ownership in their own learning.  Along with getting parents involved with homework, teachers can also get parents involved with their student’s academics by providing them with a parent/student/teacher contract.  This contract fully explains what roles and responsibilities each person takes in the student’s academia, gives the student ownership of their learning, and keeps the parents involved. 


While there is a plethora of ideas, tools, and services that teacher’s have at their disposal to use in the classroom, no classroom and no group of children are exactly alike.  It may take years of trying a variety of methods to find out what works best for each individual teacher, and it may also take numerous tries during the beginning of each school year due to the diversity of students.  Teachers need to provide the following to keep students engaged:  interesting and different activities, movement around the room to keep students motivated and alert, offer rewards and incentives, give them options for projects and homework to allow for creativity, grouping of students by special interests and common learning strategies, motivation, time management techniques, parental involvement, and homework that is stimulating but not overwhelming.  It is possible to gain students’ attention, keep them busy, active, engaged, and on task if you are able to incorporate everyday situations, interests, and creativity into lesson plans and assignments.   



Time Management Log

Student Name ___________________________



Year ___________________________



Task List





















































































































































































































































































Adapted from




As a parent/guardian, I will:

                       Show respect and support for my child, the teachers, and the school.

                       Support the school's discipline policy.

                       Provide a quiet, well-lit place for study and supervise the completion of homework.

                       Attend parent-teacher conferences.

                       Talk with my child each day about his or her school activities.

                       Monitor my child's TV viewing.

                       Assist with at least one school or classroom activity.

                       Read with my child for at least 10 minutes each day and let my child see me read.

As a student, I will:

                       Always try to do my best work.

                       Be kind and helpful to my classmates.

                       Show respect for myself, my school, and other people.

                       Obey classroom, school, and bus rules.

                       Show respect for property by not stealing or vandalizing.

                       Come to school prepared with my homework and my supplies.

                       Believe that I can and will learn.

                       Spend at least 15 minutes each day studying or reading at home.

                       Talk with my parents each day about my school activities.

As a teacher, I will:

                       Show respect for each child and for his or her family.

                       Make efficient use of learning time.

                       Provide a safe and comfortable environment that's conducive to learning.

                       Help each child grow to his or her fullest potential.

                       Provide meaningful and appropriate homework activities.

                       Provide necessary assistance to parents so they can help with assignments.

                       Enforce school and classroom rules fairly and consistently.

                       Supply students and parents with clear evaluations of progress and achievement.

                       Use special activities in the classroom to make learning enjoyable.

                       Demonstrate professional behavior and a positive attitude.

Now, hand in hand, we will work together to carry out this contract.


______________________________      _______________
Parent signature/date

______________________________      _______________
Student signature/date

______________________________     _______________
Teacher signature/date

(Starr, Linda, 2004)


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            Retrieved March 28, 2008, from Web site:


            McIlrath, D., & Huitt, W. (1995, December). The teaching-learning process: A


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