Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom

by Stacy Hurst | Sep 18, 2013

Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom

It is probably not surprising that one of the most consistent findings in educational research demonstrates that the more time students spend engaged during instruction, the more they learn (Gettinger & Ball, 2007). Schlechty (2002) defined the five levels of student engagement so we can learn to gauge student interest and increase the effectiveness of our structured literacy instruction.

Five Levels of Student Engagement

  • Authentic Engagement—students are immersed in work that has a clear meaning and immediate value to them (reading a book on a topic of personal interest)
  • Ritual Compliance
  • the work has little or no direct meaning to students, but there are extrinsic outcomes of value that keep them engaged (earning grades necessary for college acceptance)
  • Passive Compliance—students see little or no meaning in the assigned work but expend effort merely to avoid negative consequences (not having to stay in during recess to complete work)
  • Retreatism—students are disengaged from assigned work and make no attempt to comply, but are not disruptive to the learning of others
  • Rebellion—students refuse to do the assigned task, act disruptive, and attempt to substitute alternative activities

Measuring Engagement in the Classroom

The level of student engagement can vary from student to student and lesson to lesson, so it can be challenging to get a general feel for how engaged a class is as a whole. To that end, Schlechty (2002) also outlined three categories that can measure the level of engagement for an entire classroom.

The Engaged Classroom

In the engaged classroom, you will observe that all students are authentically engaged at least some of the time or that most students are authentically engaged most of the time. Passive compliance and retreatism rarely occur, and rebellion is non-existent.

The Compliant Classroom

The compliant classroom is the picture of traditional education. This type of classroom is orderly, and most students will appear to be working, so it would be easy to infer that learning is taking place. However, while there is little evidence of rebellion, retreatism is a genuine danger prevalent in the compliant classroom.

The Off-Task Classroom

Retreatism and rebellion are easily observed in the off-task classroom. This type of classroom is every student for themself, so you will see some degree of authentic and ritual engagement, along with passive compliance. Teachers in the off-task classroom spend most of their time dealing with rebellious students rather than teaching lessons that engage

Seven Student Engagement Strategies

Student engagement is a byproduct of effective instruction that has significant payoffs. When students are engaged during explicit phonics instruction, they learn and retain more information. Student engagement during reading instruction also increases the likelihood that your students will become passionate about reading. So, how can you increase the amount of time that students in your class are engaged during reading instruction? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Use the 10:2 method. For every 10 minutes of instruction, allow the students 2 minutes to process and respond to the information or reading material. You can do this in various ways: have them write about what they have learned or read, ask or write down questions about what they have read or understood, or have students discuss the lesson or reading material with a partner.
  2. Incorporate movement into your lessons. Require students to respond to a question about a reading passage or lesson by moving to a particular spot in the room, writing on whiteboards, standing (or sitting) when they are done thinking about the question, etc.
  3. Pick up the pace. One misconception is that we must go slow for students to understand and engage in a lesson or story. There is a lot of evidence that shows that when teaching and reading are done at a brisk pace, students have more opportunities to engage, respond, and move on to the next concept or idea (Carnine & Fink, 1978; Williams, 1993; Ernsbarger et al., 2001).
  4. Provide frequent and effective feedback. Correct students as they learn new decoding skills or reading strategies. Be sure students know how to use each method correctly to experience success and mastery.
  5. Allow students 5-7 seconds of ‘think time’ when asking a question about a story or reading passage. At the end of the time, draw a random name to answer the question.
  6. Use the 3-2-1 method of summarizing. At the end of a lesson, have students record three things they learned, two interesting things, and one question about what you taught or read. Allow time to share their findings with a peer.
  7. Periodically pause mid-sentence. Require students to fill in the blanks when you suddenly go quiet.

Learn more about teaching reading strategies ›

Pinterest Reference Guide:

increase student engagement


At the end of a recent day-long training session, a teacher approached me and said, “This was a great training. I know because I didn’t get my knitting needles out one time.” Whether we are teaching young people or adults, it is important to remember that student engagement is more than just listening. If we are constantly monitoring student engagement in our classroom, we can consciously work to increase the amount of time students are involved in learning and expect greater success in our teaching.

Are you interested in learning more about Early Literacy? Explore our free educational resources to learn how you can help the young readers in your life! Take a look at one of our Reading Horizons reviews (from California – the state).


*Carnine. D., & Fink, W. T. (1978). Increasing the rate of presentation and use of signals in elementary classroom teachers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 11, 35-46.

*Ernsbarger, S. C., Tincani. M. J., Harrison, T. J., Frazier-Trotman, S., Simmons-Reed, E., & Heward. W. L. (2001, May). Slow teacher/fast teacher: Effects on participation rate, accuracy, and off-task behavior by pre-K students during small-group language lessons. Paper presented at the 27th Annual Convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis. New Orleans. LA

*Gettinger, M., & Ball, C. (2007). Best practices in increasing academic engaged time. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp. 1043-1075). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

*Schlechty, P. (2002) Working on the Work.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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