Jul 7, 2020 - 5 min read - 299 views

Two Words Guaranteed to Increase Student Engagement!

When I started teaching I quickly learned the value of having a structured warm-up or bell ringer activity for students to do quickly upon entering class. Having this set routine allows students to have a task to complete while you take care of attendance, nurse passes, student SEL check-ins, respond to emails, and the other 1,000 things teachers have to try to get done in the first 3 minutes of class. Plus, we all know that busy kids often lead to better-behaved kids, so getting them engaged in an activity from the moment they walk in the door is essential to a happy classroom!

My warm-up activities have evolved over time and I can only guess will continue to do so. Initially, I was teaching in a county where teachers had to provide their own standard aligned data to show and prove student growth over the course of the year/semester. How we gathered that data was up to us, and I am not going to lie, this was a little overwhelming as a new teacher. So I established a 50 question diagnostic exam that the students would receive again at the end of the year/semester as their final to get the data that was required. Ugh another test in this test heavy profession, but it is what was needed to be done so I could keep my job.

Now, where does this tie into my warm-ups? I made those same 50 diagnostic/final questions some of my warm-up questions throughout the semester. Students were expected to come in and write down the warm-up question and the correct answer each day. The trick to engagement was that they were simultaneously creating their final exam study guide. I would scan Plicker cards to get live progress data for the same questions and then utilized the individual question data (Woo Hoo Google Forms!) from the diagnostic test to breakdown prior misunderstandings and show growth. Students liked seeing the terrible data from their diagnostic scores and comparing them to their current progress. We would have some AMAZING conversations about the question content and I really went over valuable test-taking strategies. The questions would also serve as a springboard to jump into the planned lesson topic. So overall not bad... but it still wasn't the most exciting part of my day or my student's favorite activity.

I did my warm-ups like this in 2 counties I taught at over a few years and received a lot of praise for their effectiveness from observers. I mean what principal doesn't like data? lol  When I started teaching at my current county I became aware that I had options. My current county provides standardized unit assessments that are scanned in so everybody with access can see our entire county's data and we can see our own students' strengths and weaknesses as well as gaps in our instruction. This system took some getting used to and has its pros and cons, but the one thing it allowed me to do was shake up my warm-up procedures a little. Now there was no need to add on another assessment since data was no longer an issue! I could create more engaging warm-ups like quick writes, challenges, and I still throw in a few difficult multiple-choice style questions a week because my students still need to learn those exhausting test-taking skills. Eventually, I found a new and better way to foster student engagement during this valuable time. What I stumbled upon is magical and the whole reason for my post... sorry for the long backstory, so let's get to it!

Instead of having students raise their hands to tell me the correct answer or raise up their Plicker cards for scanning, I spin the wheel of names on my Ipad/phone app. Students know that whoever the wheel lands on will be asked to share their warm-up answer with the class. This unknown and random chance factor keeps most students on their toes and they get straight to work. If the warm-up is a more creative quick write, drawing, challenge, or story, I normally utilize think-pair-share and have students then volunteer their answers to the class. The sharing with a peer before sharing with the class builds up their confidence and encourages engagement, but I digress, that is not the revelation I discovered. As soon as the randomly selected student shares their answer, I do not, I repeat DO NOT give away ANY clue if it is correct or not. I simply ask the class if anybody wants to CHALLENGE or DEFEND the answer given. Then the student that was chosen first gets to select any student with their hand up to share and explain their challenge or defense. I will repeat this another round or so and you would not believe the level of engagement and discussion that has resulted from using those 2 specific words.

Before CHALLENGE and DEFENSE discussions, I would normally get the same student's hands in the air every single time a question was asked. I would often pick those same students just to move the lesson along. Now, I am not saying that those same hands do not shoot right up the moment the first student provides their answer, but you wouldn't believe how many others want to contribute to a challenge or come to their friend's defense. Allowing the student who answered to select their challenger or defender provides a lot of new participants. I also find that the "fear" factor of answering a question in class dissipates a bit since it is now more of a game. I love the level of quick discussion that my warm-up questions bring to my students now. They want to get their opinions on the matter heard and when I finally say which reasoning is correct they are ALL 100% engaged. Even better, by the time I say the answer, most of those who were wrong have heard great challenges and already changed their answer without me saying anything!

I love it when I see students frantically going back through their INB notes to verify their answer when they hear one they think is wrong. I love it when the original answer and subsequent defenders are all incorrect because, in their defenses, I hear huge misconceptions that I may not think of and can address them immediately!  When defenders state their case they will elaborate and provide examples that I don't even think of and are 100% on their classmate's level of thinking. Adding the words CHALLENGE and DEFEND to my warm-ups really brings the discussion and engagement up to a level I have never seen before. My warm-ups are exciting and different for each class I have that day which is fun for me too. This is a SUPER easy teaching strategy to apply and does not take up any extra time or resources. I hope you will try it and see for yourself! This can work in both a physical classroom and also in the silent and sometimes awkward class meetings in the age of virtual learning. Try it out! I challenge you!