Classroom Engagement Techniques for the Beginning of the Year

Teacher and students examining a rock

This blog post was originally published on LitLife: Innovations in Literacy Education website, and was re-posted here with permission.

Your classroom is finally set up. Desks are placed with room for collaboration and direct instruction, the walls are filled with inspiring quotes and informational posters. Pencils are sharp and erasers are whole. You have your yearly plan mapped out, your first few units sketched together and some great read-alouds in your back pocket.

At LitLife, we want to support you to deliver fantastic instruction to your students. However, even the best and most engaging instruction will only be effective if your students are invested in your classroom community and ready to learn.

These five quick tips will ensure that your students get every ounce of instruction you give.

1. Create Buy-In

Every person, no matter their age, works better with others when they are happy and feel that their needs are being met. Giving kids something to say ‘yes’ to makes your life as a teacher easier, as your students are already poised to learn and buy in to what you are saying. Your students should feel like they are an integral part of the classroom community.

Some concrete tips:

Proactively explain to students that our classroom is a place for learning, where wrong answers happen and are encouraged because that’s what promotes learning.

Find out your students’ interests and connect learning to their lives

2. Monitor Tone

Often as teachers, we get caught up with our teacher voice and worrying about how we’re perceived to kids. Instead of putting on a cookie-cutter commanding voice, imagine you are talking to a peer in a formal setting. This will ensure that your voice is not coming off as too loud to too strict.  Students and colleagues alike appreciate when you are your authentic self.  No one wants to be talked down to, so ensure that your students feel cared for and respected by using a respectful tone of voice.

Some concrete tips:

Practice your formal, teacher tone in front of a mirror.

Tape record yourself and imagine you were talking to a colleague or giving a presentation to adults – would you want to be spoken to this way?

3. Positive Framing

People of all ages are more likely to comply with your directions and strive for greatness when they feel like they are already successful. There will be times at the beginning of the school year where your class is perhaps not listening to every word you say or you simply feel that things on the whole are not going very well. When these moments happen, it is very important to ensure that you are positively framing the situation, allowing kids to feel successful and also helping you to see the good.

Some concrete tips:

Rephrase your directions without the word “don’t.” For example: “don’t talk” can be rephrased as “remain silent.

If you feel kids aren’t listening to you, talk about the ones who are. For example: “I’m waiting for 10 of you to fold your hands” can be rephrased as “I see 5 kids already folded their hands and are ready to learn.”

4. Do Not Talk Over

The most important tool in your teacher toolkit is your voice. It is through your voice that kids will learn, will receive directions about working with each other, and will respond calmly in an emergency. Therefore, it is imperative that your students understand that when you are speaking, your words are important and everyone is listening. The main way to get kids of all ages ingrained in this habit is through a teaching technique that’s at its core, something not to do instead of something to do. Do Not Talk Over. Simply put, if you hear a whisper or think it’s possible your class isn’t fully listening to you, stop talking. Talking over other voices leads to the impression that that is allowed in the classroom and also has the undesirable effect of making your voice get louder, diminishing your authority.

Some concrete tips:

If you hear a whisper while you’re speaking, interrupt yourself. Cutting yourself off mid-sentence is a powerful way of sending the message that your words are important.

Use quiet power. Instead of getting louder with your class, getting quieter and lowering your voice forces students to slightly strain to listen, often causing your class to get quieter as well.

5. Break the Plane

As teachers, we are performers. We must convey that we are running the show, that students can trust us with their learning. A great way to convey ownership over the classroom, especially at the beginning of the year before your community is fully built, is to break the plane and use proximity. Breaking the plane simply means that you don’t only stand at the front of your classroom while teaching. Moving around between rows, from the front to the back and teaching from the sidelines conveys leadership and warmth. This allows students to feel that they are taken care of and can trust that you will lead them down a path of learning all year.

Some concrete tips:

Teach from the back of the room. Having students turn to look at you creates visual compliance, allowing you to see that all students are following you.

Walk around the room as you speak, giving high-fives or stars on students papers. Getting immediate feedback and contact with teachers allows students to feel successful and remain on-task for longer.


Questions/Comments? Contact: – I will always get back to you within a week.


About the Author

Talia Kovacs

Talia Kovacs

Talia Kovacs is a literacy consultant team leader at LitLife, an organization committed to ensuring great literacy instruction across America’s schools through dynamic professional development and teacher support. Talia is a passionate educator who strives to provide all students with the reading, writing, speaking and listening skills to pursue their dreams and effect positive change in their communities. Before joining the LitLife team, Talia gained wide experience as a teacher in D.C. and NYC schools. Talia received a B.A. from Columbia University in African History and from the Jewish Theological Seminary in Gender Studies. She received her M.A. in Elementary Curriculum from George Mason University.