Six Simple Strategies You Can Try Right Now to Make Your Whole Group Lessons More Engaging

Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Make Your Whole Group Lessons More Engaging
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We’ve all been in the class where the teacher droned on, and we struggled to stay awake. I know I didn’t learn anything in those classes because I wasn’t interacting. I’m not a great passive learner unless the material is so fascinating to me that I could get lost in it for hours. That level of interest is a rarity for most of our kids, so how can we engage them to they actually learn? We’re told to make our whole group lessons more engaging, but how does one make a lesson on decimals in math or superlatives in grammar captivating? Here are a few quick ideas to excite your kids’ brains and maximize their learning.

Connect Whole Group Lessons to a Real-Life Experience

When kids understand why they have to learn something or how it pertains to them, they are more likely to pay attention. Decimals are in money, and kids love money. There’s your real-life connection right there. Superlatives? Which kid doesn’t want to be better or best at something? When you can frame what you’re teaching so that kids are in the picture, you can more easily hook them. The brain needs to connect ideas to enter material into short- then long-term memory. Give it a hook to get it started.

Emphasize the Goal

As we discussed here, posting objectives is incredibly helpful. The brain loves a goal, and when children know what to expect during a whole group lesson, what they need to do to reach the goal, and how to tell if they have it, engagement grows. This is because the brain gets a shot of dopamine when a goal is achieved. This helps all your children, but especially your distractable friends. This article explains why these children must work a little harder for their dopamine hits.

Make It a Game

When you can add a little bit of competition to what you’re teaching, kids tend to pay attention. Boys, especially, like to compete. I walked by a classroom this morning where kids were practicing skip counting and multiplication with the game Sparkle. The kids stood in a circle and each child said the next number in the sequence. If one child said the wrong number, that person sat down. The last kid standing is the winner. There were lots of instances of squealing and giggling—you could almost hear those happy brains backstroking in dopamine from all that goal-oriented competition. You can bet those kids were motivated to learn those facts!

Let The Kids Talk and Interact

The more interactive your lesson is, the better the engagement. You could give kids sticky notes and have them answer questions as you go. You could create a space for those answers to be categorized and displayed on the board. Allowing students to participate in your lesson in this way deepens their learning and keeps them focused.

Another strategy you could use to make your whole group lessons more interactive is discussion. I explained the concept of “turn and talk” more deeply in this article. Check it out for more information!

Proximity During Whole Group Lessons

When you’re teaching at the front of the room, even the most attentive kid can mentally wander. When you move around the classroom, you put yourself beside all the kids. They have to turn around in their seats to track you, and they know they can’t hide Pokémon cards in their desks to look at while you teach. You could show up beside them at any moment. The fact that you are moving around the classroom makes your presence and reach larger. You own the room, and your authority is more prevalent. It’s not like you’re openly bossy—it’s just that you exude leadership when you’re moving around. Your body language shows that you have confidence and that you can handle whatever happens. As I said here, kids feel safe when boundaries are set and the adult in the room is in control. They also pay more attention to you during your whole group lessons because you command respect when you’re moving about the room.


Have kids stand and move at different points in your whole group lessons. When I taught the rivers in Virginia, my colleagues and I had kids name them in north to south order by using the motions to “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” Adding motions and song to your teaching makes it multi-sensory and helps kids remember and engage with what you’re saying more.

Movement also wakes everyone up. I was doing a word study lesson in a fourth grade class right after lunch the other day. The kids were all in a carb coma, so I had them stand up to review their sounds and key words. We bounced a little with each one and moved our arms around until the nap-attack wore off. The kids actually absorbed the lesson better bouncing around in a circle than they did dozing in their chairs. Again, exercise stimulates dopamine production, so movement is a chemically sound idea to raise engagement. Sometimes chaos is helpful!


Use every opportunity to make connections across your curriculum. So often, we teach every subject in a vacuum. It’s easier to bring science and social studies topics into our reading curriculum when we’re self-contained teachers (meaning we teach all subjects instead of just one). When we departmentalize, and a team each teaches one subject, it’s harder to make those connections. It takes some really good planning to pull off a connected curriculum on a departmentalized team, but so many of them do it well. When kids find themselves immersed in a subject area where it’s mentioned multiple times throughout the day, their brains love it. When we teachers make connections for kids, we encourage them to make their own. This type of thinking leads to new neural pathways in the brain—we do make them smarter!

Hopefully, you can use one or two of these to quickly raise the engagement in your classroom. When students are focused in on you and your content, they are more likely to be successful. Don’t be afraid to play that game, sing that song, or jump around! The brain loves this stuff!

Before You Go:

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Check out my positive behavior incentives here.

Teaching sight words using the “heart word” method? Check out my heart word flashcards for daily review.

Working on letter and sound recognition? Check out this bundle of activities for teaching the alphabet!

Need some decodable readers? Here are some to get you started.

6 Ways to Make Your Whole Group Lessons More Engaging
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