Engaging Strategies To Transform a Boring Unit

4 Student Engagement Strategies (1)

Do your students groan when it’s time to pull out their ELA texts? Get them excited about your next unit and what they will be reading by using these simple engaging teaching strategies. The examples I’ll be showing are from a unit on Technology and Innovation (from Benchmark Advance Unit 5). You can also watch the video I filmed on this to see all the components in action ?

#1 – Do a Room Transformation

I don’t know about you, but when I see room transformations on Pinterest and IG, it looks incredible, but oh so overwhelming to me! The goal of a room transformation is to create an experience that is out-of-the-ordinary in order to hook and engage your students. And spoiler alert: it’s not that hard to make it happen. It doesn’t need to be over-the-top amazing. I recommend finding some fun clip art or graphics that relate to your unit theme. Then, create large bulletin decor out of it. Simply project the image onto the board, trace onto butcher paper, cut out, and decorate your room or classroom door. Something as simple and affordable as this can be enough to spark interest! My favorite clip artist is Beth from Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah Designs. She has clip art for everything!!

When scrolling online, I also notice teachers buying students outfits or accessories for these room transformations. A cheaper alternative is for YOU to dress up and surprise the students. I once walked into my classroom like this and my students were dying to figure out what the heck I was about to teach! ?

4 Student Engagement Strategies

Another way to “transform” your classroom is to incorporate games that use the same decor that matches your theme.

You can repurpose those graphics or clip art that you find to create games and classroom incentives. For example, from my Inventor unit, I created an inventor bingo game that allows students to earn bingo cards any time they exhibit a characteristic of an inventor (creativity, problem-solving, innovative thinking, etc). Five in a row makes BINGO and that means they earn a classroom prize!

An engaging classroom management strategy is to use these inventor mini-posters to allow students to earn small incentives.

There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Tile the black and white posters in rows, and hang a sticky note with a class prize at the end of each row. When students are showing good behavior, place a colored mini-poster on top of the black & white one. Do this until a row is filled and they earn a prize!
4 Student Engagement Strategies
  • Tile the inventor posters on your board and use sticky notes to write desired behaviors (I.e. worked independently during centers) and place on the backs of the poster. Display the posters with the stickies showing. When students exemplify one of the behaviors, they get to turn that poster around. Once they have all their inventors turned around, they get a prize.
4 Student Engagement Strategies
  • Similar to the last suggestion, you can tile the inventor posters and use sticky notes to write class prizes and stick on the back of the posters. Display on the board with the inventors showing. When students earn it, turn an inventor tile over and reveal the prize.
4 Student Engagement Strategies

One last strategy (which is my favorite) is to take a copy of your ELA student text and cut out graphics, headings, and key details. Take a poster board and write down a secret class prize, and then tape the clippings all over the board, covering up the prize. Review the clippings with the students and guide an inquiry discussion. Over the course of your unit, as you read through each text, students will find the graphics, key details, and headings and make the connections to the poster. When they find one of the items in their reading, remove it from your poster, slowly revealing a piece of the prize. This will definitely get your kids excited about reading through those unit texts! Here’s how I made mine:

#2 – Think Thematically

Use anchor charts to bring in social studies and science concepts, think of an art project that might go with the topic, bring in technology, or assign a project-based learning assignment. There are so many ways to extend your theme into other areas, and this is a great way to make a topic more engaging. For my inventor unit, I love to assign the Design Your Own App project and have students work together to create an app that solves a modern-day problem. For technology integration, students love completing a digital research report on a famous inventor. I also created a Famous Inventors PowerPoint jeopardy game to help review unit concepts (this is also gamifies things!).

Here’s a free template you can use to help you think of ways to extend your unit theme. I recommend filling it out as much as you can and then choosing your favorite ideas.

#3 – Bring in Real Materials

It’s exciting when students have a chance to get their hands on what they’re learning. If you bring in real objects that connect to your theme, you can pack them in wrapped cardboard boxes and call them “treasure chests.” Scatter them around the classroom for the kids to explore. Students will love opening the boxes and discovering objects to discuss and compare. For this inventor unit, bring in old phones, cameras, walkman CD players… even old iPods!

#4 – Let them use their hands to create!

Providing an opportunity for the kids to build or create can go a long way. Not only is it engaging, but it can really solidify concepts for children. I like to encourage students to bring regular household items in (like from the recycling bin) and combine them with the random supplies I have in my classroom cabinets. Students can construct replicas of items or inventions. They can create something to help them present their learning. Or, they can build something that allows them to apply what they’ve learned in some way, like designing a solution to a problem they’ve learned about.

These ideas are simple and frankly, not exactly “Pinterest” worthy. They’re not really flashy or Instagrammable, but they’re easy, affordable, and fun for students. And you don’t have to do it all! Even just taking one or two ideas and running with them will make an impact on your unit.

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Hi! I’m Toluca from Markers and Minions, where I help teachers feel more effective and confident with high-quality resources and an awesome teacher community!

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