Getting Students Involved

Students stay interested and learn more from the class when instructors use many different techniques to involve them in the learning process. These range all the way from very short and simple techniques like telling a story about the material to more involved activities like small group work during collaborative learning projects.

Internal Student Involvement

Internal student involvement techniques - involvement that happens without the student's responding out loud - is often a useful way to start a class. Good instructors use many different small techniques to build internal student involvement during a class.

  • Examples and stories - Punctuate any presentation with frequent real life examples or stories. This helps maintain student interest and creates a subtle non verbal student involvement because in identifying with an example or a story, the student is internally more active in the class. (e.g., One of the things that got me interested in civil engineering was photographs of the collapse of a bridge in Virginia...)
  • Questions - Pose questions that will be answered in the presentation. Even if students do not answer a question out loud, they are processing the answer internally. (e.g., Why would Hamlet hesitate to act in the beginning of the play?) (See the section Questioning Strategies for additional suggestions.).
  • Visualizations - Have students develop an internal picture of an event to make it more concrete for them. (e.g., Imagine that you are a newspaper correspondent at the summit conference. What are some of the questions you would ask?)
  • Mini-Activities - Ask students to engage in some simple action to build student involvement. (e.g., Raise your hand if you have filled out an income tax form.)
  • Demonstrations and Drama - One way to get student interest is to do a very short demonstration or act out a phenomenon very briefly.
  • Props - Show them an actual physical object. (e.g., Here is a model of the human muscle system. You can see...)

Active Student Involvement

In addition to these more passive kinds of student involvement, there are a number of activities that involve students in the class in a substantial and overtly active way. Discussions and peer-to-peer teaching opportunities will be discussed more fully in another sections of this site. Other techniques that can be used include:

  • Small Group Discussion - One excellent tool to build student involvement in a class is to have them discuss a topic or question with a partner or a few other students. More introverted students will often comfortably discuss as long as the group is small. (e.g., Find a partner and discuss how you would go about finding the solution to this problem.) The instructor can then ask small groups to report their findings to the class as a whole.
  • Case Studies - In this method, often used in health science courses, a situation is described in some detail. Students work in small groups to solve a problem posed by the case. (e.g., Students are presented with a description of a patient for whom they must come up with a tentative diagnosis.) .
  • Role Playing or Skills Practice - When students need to learn a skill, have them practice the skill through role playing either in front of the class or with small groups of students. (e.g., A physical therapy faculty member has students role play dealing with a hostile patient.)
  • Simulations or Structured Exercises - Specially designed games can help students to see a concept from a course. (e.g., Having students play a strategy game might help students master part of a history course that deals with Napoleon's military campaigns.)
  • Interactive Multimedia Units - various technologies can be used to support meaningful learning from a constructivist perspective. Fortunately, many faculty have developed multimedia units that are available for adoption. Spend a little time looking through the resources on this site and searching the Internet for tools that would be appropriate for your classroom.
  • Social Networking Activities - mobile devices and laptops can be used to engage students with each other and those outside of the classroom through instant pooling and action research activities.

In general stimulating classes typically include 4 or 5 internal involvement activities or a major active involvement activity like discussion.