5 Teaching Strategies to Engage Your Students

Teaching Strategies that work for all kids.
I have found the best way to engage learners is to make it real for them. The five teaching strategies listed below offer varying levels of independence and exploration for kids. And really, it makes teaching so much more fun to see kids fired up as they make connections in their learning. 

1. Cooperative Learning/Group Investigations


A teaching activity in which the teacher purposively uses small group interaction to forward new learning and accomplish academic and social skills.

My Recommendations

Groups should be flexible, ideally, 3-5 students, created by a teacher, students, or needs-based. It's important to set group standards and have students self-reflect on their participation and the group's function.

Benefits: Collaboration among students; deeper thinking and understanding; enhanced feelings of empathy for others.

2. Differentiated Instruction


Student-centered, whereby teachers provide appropriately challenging learning experiences for all students. Provides multiple approaches to content, process, and product. Assessment is ongoing to develop the next steps. Purposeful student movement/talking. Flexible grouping.

My Recommendations

Students become engaged learners when they are appropriately challenged with meaningful lessons. This method creates a reasonable range of approaches to learning much of the time so that most of the students find learning a fit most of the time.

Benefits: Students take responsibility for their own growth/needs. Collaboration between teacher/students ongoing to develop appropriate lessons. Builds on what students already know.

3. Simulation/Role Playing


Simulation: An inductive teaching method in which students assume the roles of people engaged in complex, real-life situations. 

Role Play: The involvement of students as participants and observers in a simulation of a real-world situation.

My Recommendations

Students learning best by emulating real life. Simulation is an effective method for making real-world situations, past or present, come to life for students as they become part of the event. Role-playing is fairly easy to employ and can be used across multiple subject areas with a fairly quick preparation time, depending on the complexity of the task.

Simulation Benefits: The increased likelihood that concepts and principles induced from the simulation will be transferred and applied to the real world. 

Role-Playing Benefits: Growth and understanding related to content; students' understanding of others' beliefs and values; problem-solving skills.

4. Inquiry-based Learning


An inductive teaching strategy in which the teacher poses a task, problem, or intriguing situation, while students explore the situation across small changes in the data set and generate insights about the problem and/or solution.

My Recommendations

Inquiry-based learning uses real-life issues with real-life data to solve problems. Closed inquiry gives the teacher control of the question. Open inquiry gives control of the question to the students. 

Benefits: Increased self-awareness; awareness of different points of view; enhanced curiosity; increased understanding of concepts and principles; enhanced ability to solve problems.

5. Creative Problem Solving & Problem-Based Learning


An inductive teaching method in which the teacher presents an ill-structured, novel, and complex problem for students to investigate and solve collaboratively with teacher guidance and coaching.

My Recommendations

This would be the most ambitious method but allows for the most autonomy for the students. Because of the problem's ill-structured nature, data and resources may not be readily available, creating additional challenges. The teacher is truly a mentor or consultant, as students follow a scientific method approach to problem-solving.

Benefits: Acquisition of new knowledge, concepts, and principles; enhanced problem-solving ability.

Cooperative Learning, Differentiation, Simulation-Role Playing, Inquiry-Based, PBL

I created a copy of 5 Classroom Teaching Strategies as a handy teacher reference sheet, which you can get right here

I'd love to hear how you use these strategies in your classroom!

"No practice is truly a best practice unless it works for the individual learner." Carol Ann Tomlinson

How I Get Students to Defend Their Math Work

Desktop Learning Adventures Math Lawyer
One year I had a student teacher who was a former lawyer and wanted to leave law to become a classroom teacher. ... I'll let that sink in for a moment. ...

OK... moving on.

I had just graded an abysmal group of math papers where it felt like I was grading number roulette. Clearly, they didn't understand the concept, and I needed to reteach. No problem. That happens a lot with new concepts. But this was an ongoing problem with this particular group. OK, truth be told, it was a problem almost every year. Learned behavior - If I turn in a paper with something written on it, it's good enough. There was no ownership.

That was about to change.

The next math period, I gave them a problem to solve, first in group work and then on their own. Instead of our usual closing discussion, I threw them a curveball.

I told them, "Today, class, you are all Math Lawyers. You must defend your answers and convince me that you are correct."

What?!? Is she serious? What does that even mean?

We talked about what lawyers do. I closed with, "If your answer is correct, you believe your answer is innocent (correct), and you will be able to defend it.

Silence. I was OK with that.

I assigned the problem as homework so they had a chance to really take a look at their client and create a defense that they would present the next day.

5 Steps Math Lawyers Use to Defend Their Work

The following day... 

I explained how this would work by modeling a volunteer's answer. I chose someone who was always sure of their work and was usually correct. They might sometimes hurry and make careless mistakes.

She placed her work under the document camera to present her "defense" of her answer. I was sitting at a desk up front, acting as the opposing "lawyer."

I asked her a few questions about different steps in her work. I asked if she determined it would work with a similar problem.

In the end, we both agreed that her work supported her solution, and her client was free to go. (She could turn in her paper.)

Once the kids saw how it worked, they were eager to either defend their answers or give them another look before turning them in.

Are you willing to defend this answer in math court?

Teacher Tips - Get the Ball Rolling

1. Give advanced notice that Math Court would be in session the following day. Then, break the kids up into groups of three. One student defends their work while the other two question parts that weren't clear and might be wrong. When they've all had their chance to defend their answers, they turn in work they're satisfied with.

2. Spot-check by asking, "Are you willing to defend this answer in Math Court?"  I do this when I see glaring errors or if I just think they need to take another look. They like having the opportunity to recheck it before turning it in.

3. Let them know the problem given to them that day will need to be defended in Math Court. This can be a good way to review for a test. 

4.  Give groups one problem they need to defend as a group.  This is another good way to review material that will be on an end-of-unit test. Each group gets a similar, slightly different problem they must defend. They are given a set amount of time to prepare their "arguments." They present their solution to the class. The class acts as opposing attorneys, asking questions for clarification.

I like this approach because it gives everyone a chance to participate. Even if I don't get through the whole class, the problems are similar enough to see similarities.

There are benefits!

It's no secret that kids love to role-play. As math lawyers, they're given a chance to see their work from another perspective.

Students look at their work differently when they think of it as defending something important.  It was fun to watch their transformation from students writing numbers on papers to, "I believe in this work,  and let me tell you why!"

Not only does it help kids own their work, but it also improves study skills.

Once they're comfortable with their new math lawyer status, this could be the test!

Give it a try!

Challenge your students to move beyond turning in "good enough" assignments to actually defend their work. Click here if you would like your own Math Lawyer poster set to get you started. Then let me know how it worked for you. 

And now... Court dismissed!