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Keeping students engaged

Educators talking about how to engage young people.
they’ll walk in, are we doing practical today, sir? They love that, so it is difficult sometimes to do the written theory side of it. But I think the thing is to do is to introduce it in an interesting way. Sometimes it can be a video clip, sometimes it can be a practical demonstration to the class. You do tend to find actually, in some cases, when you got quite a lively class, sometimes the theory side of it is quite a calming thing and it’s nice to introduce that every now and then with inside the practical coursework. I communicate with students in a number of ways really. My key subject areas are food and textiles, very different to one another.
If we take food, for example, I often do a demonstration at the front of the room to the whole class, where I’ll do short quick fire up questions to them and they’ll answer them. I’ve often do a demonstration where they watch in silence and they’ve just written down. I made mistakes along the way and they written down where I’ve gone wrong and where I could have improved, that’s kind of like a silent dem. Once the practical’s underway, I just maneuver myself around the room supporting students, keeping a visual of everybody in that room at all times.
So in practicals, it’s really important to try and stand in the corner of a room so you can see the whole room, never ever have your back to anybody. At various points, we’ll have pit stops where I’ll ask people to stop. There might be a student that is finding something a bit challenging and I’ll draw everybody back to that student. And I’ll show them all via the student where they’re going wrong and what they could do to improve it. Similar in textiles but more small group work in textiles. Our students are working on tables of perhaps four to six, I’ll maneuver to each group, working with the group.
If students are slightly ahead of one another, I might get a student to come and then support a table that is slightly behind, so they’re actually teaching students rather than me. At the moment, I’ve got a year seven systems control class. I may give a whole class demonstration just to show how to use a soldering iron and the solder when we’re trying to solder the components. At the beginning, that is absolutely fine to be able to do it in front of the whole group. However, you always see some students that may be a little bit nervous of some of the equipment or just need that extra bit of support.
So then I would go around the classroom and perhaps if there was a few students that seemed to have the same sort of difficulties, I might pull them to one side and then show them a smaller demonstration. [MUSIC]

Picture this, you’re half way through the activity now but you’re worried that the young people are losing engagement. You’ve noticed someone doodling in the corner and you’re pretty sure one group has stopped doing the task. How can you keep them all engaged at the same time?

Watch the video above with contributions from teachers talking about how they keep young people engaged throughout an activity.

Top tips

  • Make sure students understand the task
  • Don’t make it too easy or too hard
  • Provide a context
  • Make sure the young people have enough prior knowledge
  • Make sure it doesn’t take too long or it is over too quickly
  • Make sure the equipment works
  • Make sure there is enough equipment so everyone gets to do something
  • Build in an element of competition or challenge
  • Recognise achievement


By now, you will have thought about what is going to happen in your volunteering activity and when. However, what if something in your activity doesn’t go to plan, how could you recover from this?
Identify one or two points in your activity that might be more likely to have something ‘go wrong’. Using the advice from the video and the top tips above, what will you do to reduce this risk and what might your contingency plan be?
We encourage you to read comments from other learners below and offer them advice about how they could prevent it from happening or recover from it.
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Volunteering in the Classroom: Communication Skills for STEM Volunteers

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