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  • Writer's pictureErin Mckenzie

3 Strategies to Engage Students!

Updated: Mar 3

Ditch the boring guidance lessons that you dread delivering and switch to lessons that will ENGAGE your Students!

3 Strategies to Increase Student Engagement
Kids excited in school

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A few years back, right around the time that Covid took off, my School Counseling position was reduced to half-time, so I picked up a half-time Health/PE position. I remember walking into a classroom to teach PE when half of the students were sitting in front of me and the other half were at home coming through their laptops.


Teaching PE without the use of the gym was a challenge in itself, never mind having to come up with activities that had to be delivered in person and remotely at the same time. Oh and being a School Counselor, not a gym teacher also posed a bit of a challenge.


Some creative YouTubers, WheelofNames.com and Google Slides saved my butt and assisted in my creation of a Virtual Gym. Kids stood in suspense as the "Wheel of Names" spun around, wondering who was going to choose the next 3 minute activity. When I walked in, kids cheered, ready for gym class, ready to check out the latest video that had us running from dinosaurs, ducking under balls of flame, or hurdling giant obstacles thrown at us from monsters. Student engagement was at it's best in that moment!


Then came Guidance class. I'll never forget the day I walked into class seeing the big eyes, bright faces and full smiles. I thought "wow, I've got it goin' on". Then, when they found out I was there for Guidance and not PE, faces dropped, shoulders sunk and sighs rang out. Okay...student engagement? Um, no.


I was discouraged. I thought I was good at guidance. I probably was, until I started teaching PE. Then they understood what they were missing. I didn’t want to be that boring teacher that kids dreaded seeing.

If I believed it were possible for kids to LOVE guidance as much as they loved PE, what would have to be true?

The answer was pretty simple. Movement. That wasn't all; I certainly couldn't teach them the skills they needed to learn just by watching videos and running around the classroom. I had to get creative.


Research consistently suggests that physical activity improves mental focus, academic achievement, concentration, test scores, and the list goes on. Physical activity in the classroom has been shown to increase cognition, memory, and recall (NEA,2019).


Get those kids moving!!! Not only will they learn, but they will ALWAYS love to see you coming and let's face it, we really just want to be loved at what we do...right?


There are 3 strategies I try to tie into every guidance lesson...


#1 Bring Buckets & Balls for movement!

Kids LOVE props! They love seeing items that they might use in the gym. Buckets & Balls are easy to use and you can use them with ANY lesson. They don't even need to be balls, you can use crumpled paper, paper airplanes, rubber beanbag frogs, small beanbags or anything else you can toss. The buckets I use are the large, black buckets with rope handles, but you can use any container that would work for you!

I use these buckets to allow students to make choices, not only do they have the important task of making a choice but they get to shoot baskets while doing it!

You can use buckets and balls for any lesson, but here is an example of how I use them in this K-3 lesson: Is It Tattling or Important Telling This is a digital lesson in which students choose a scenario and then need to make their choice by tossing a bean bag into the correct bucket. Following the activity they are asked questions about the scenario to determine if they made the best choice or not. Let me tell you, when they see me coming in toting giant black buckets, they are engaged as soon as I cross the threshold!


#2 Use Signs

So simple, all you need is paper and tape. Using signs to post around the room gets kids moving and involved.

Some different types of signs you might use in your lessons might be:

Here's an example of how I use signs in my K-3 Lesson, When I Feel Angry: I read a situation off the "Anger Trigger List" and say "go". Students then walk to one of the signs included in the curriculum to rate their level of anger. This is a great activity for students to recognize that everyone reacts differently to a similar situation. I encourage them to look around the room and then after a few scenarios I invite them to share some observations they've made. I allow a student from each group to explain why they chose to stand at the number they're at. This is an activity where boundaries need to be very clear prior to the start of the lesson. We discuss the importance of making their own decisions, rather than following their friends. I also set the expectation that if they are talking or fooling around they will need to sit down until the next scenario is read. Then I follow through. Once one or two students sit, the others typically follow the rules.


Another lesson I use signs for is in Healthy Communication for a Peaceful Classroom. In this lesson students move around the room depending on how a situation would make them feel. It's another opportunity to get kids moving and see how perspectives differ!


#3 Get ALL Students Engaged & Involved

Have you ever called on a student and had them so excited to share their answer that they went on and on, while the rest of the class was napping?

Discover creative ways to engage all students in every lesson.


Here are some ideas:

If one gets to go, they all get to go...
In Is It Tattling or Important Telling after one student is called up to the front of the class, and once he makes his choice, he would then invite the rest of the class to come up with their bean bags and toss them into the bucket of their choice. This is another activity that needs clear ground rules prior to the lesson.

Use a random name picker that keeps them in suspense...
Choosing students to take turns is super fun when you use wheelofnames.com - students LOVE the wheel and it's FREE! I use this for everything! You can customize it by adding students names, music, images, and colors. You can save multiple wheels logged in using your Google account. I use the wheel at some point during every class. I customize the wheel in various ways depending on the lesson including adding Mindfulness Strategies, Feelings, Conflict Resolution Strategies, Communication Styles, and more!

Have a student in charge instruct the class...
Kids LOVE to be in charge. It makes them feel included and important. A line that I use frequently when student is in front of the class is: If you agree with Sally, she will have you do 5... Then Sally gets to choose a movement activity, like stomping 5 times, jumping 5 times, etc. This way every student gets movement even if they are not the one up front. I keep it to 5 or 10, otherwise kids like Sally might dish out 40 push-ups.

Use Role Plays...
Kids LOVE role playing! Any opportunity to integrate role playing is valuable! They could play "Feelings Charades" and have the class try to guess the feeling when you're teaching lessons on emotions and empathy.

In my Assertive Communication lesson, students act out one of the communication styles (passive, aggressive, or assertive) and the class has to guess which style they are using.




Kids love to choose AGGRESSIVE on this one...shocker? I make sure they blindly choose, otherwise every student would choose that communication style! I also like to have them show how they would handle the situation assertively following the role play, if they didn't already choose assertive.


Have a predictable way to start and end the class that includes everyone...
I begin every Guidance class by spinning the "Mindfulness Wheel" using wheelofnames.com. I have mindfulness strategies on the wheel and every week they learn a new one. Once we get through the entire wheel, I re-use it, but then I add a second tab with a wheel of student names. A student gets chosen at the start of each class and they get to spin the "Mindfulness Wheel" and then instruct the class (with my help) on the activity it landed on. Not only are they ALL engaged, but they all learn the different mindfulness strategies to calm strong thoughts and feelings.

I end every Guidance class with a brain break, a brief activity chosen from my virtual gym. My virtual gym is a google slides presentation with thumbnails of fun YouTube movement activities. I use my "Virtual Gym Wheel" to choose a new student at the end of each class.

Incorporating fun activities, movement, engaging all students and allowing students to be teachers are great strategies to get kids involved and engaged in all of your lessons. Make sure to observe the energy level of the classroom for feedback of things that might need to change for the next class.

Respond in the comments to let me know YOUR ideas to engage your students! Thank you for reading and please feel free to check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store : )




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