Student Engagement: Tips, Tricks, and Incentives

6 min read
Mar 4, 2022 10:00:00 AM

Student engagement can be challenging — but it doesn’t have to be! Here are some tips, tricks, and incentives.

Maintaining student engagement throughout the school year can be hard. And when student behavior slips beyond control, reactive measures (rather than proactive measures) may be the only way to keep up with the highest offending students.

To help you be proactive with student behavior and engagement, we’ve compiled a list of 12 tips and tricks — as well as incentives — that will help students remain engaged and focused on learning.

While it’s unlikely all of these tips will be applicable in your school or specific classrooms, you’re certain to find a few you can enact quickly. Or let them inspire you to get creative about ways to boost student engagement!

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1. Greet Each Student by Name

Keeping students on task starts before they even enter the door. Stand, greet, and welcome each student, whether they’re entering the school, your office, or their classroom.

Greeting each student by name is a non-contingent reinforcement that sets the stage for and sustains relationships. Students feel valued and in turn are more likely to value you, your teachers, and the learning you help facilitate.

Reinforcement opportunity: acknowledge and reward students who arrive to class on time and are ready to learn.

2. Use Bell-Ringer Activities

As students settle into class, ask your teachers to have a bell ringer or warm-up activity awaiting them. This can be an open-ended question that connects back to the previous day’s learning or quizzes their current knowledge of upcoming new material.

Have a set time limit, and allow students to share answers. This encourages students to make it to class on time so that they do not miss out on anything.

Reinforcement opportunity: ask teachers to provide an incentive to students who participate.

3. Use the 10:2, or “Chunk and Chew,” Method

For every 10 minutes of instruction, allow students two minutes to process and respond. This can be done by having them write or reflect about what they’ve learned, jot down any questions they may have, or discuss with a peer.

“Chunking” the information also helps them stay engaged and better retain information.

Reinforcement opportunity: acknowledge or reward students for behaviors like participation, quality of effort, cooperation, or being on-task.

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4. Incorporate Movement into Lessons

Require students to respond to a question by moving to a designated spot in the room, writing on individual dry erase boards or posted chart paper, or standing, sitting, or rotating when they are done thinking about the question.

And if there is an activity in which student movement is limited, be mindful as the teacher to make sure you circulate and interact even more than usual.

5. Provide Frequent and Effective Feedback

Make sure to allow students five to seven seconds of processing time when asking a question, and find an effective and “safe” way to have all students participate. The student names can be written on popsicle sticks and randomly drawn, or an online tool can be used to randomly select students.

6. Recognize Even the Smallest of Things

It’s easy to forget that even the smallest win is still a win. Now more than ever, it’s important to reward small positive behaviors with as much enthusiasm as the larger ones. Make special announcements and shout outs to students caught doing the right thing.

And if you have a student who typically exhibits negative behaviors, it’s especially important to acknowledge and reward them when they exhibit positive behaviors.

7. Try Using the 3-2-1 Method

At the end of class or lesson activity, have students use the “3-2-1 Method.”

With this method, have your students note:

  • Three new things they learned.
  • Two interesting things they learned or liked.
  • One question they have or a thing they’d like to know more about.

Allow them time to share their findings with a classmate, or you can collect this as an exit ticket. Be sure to acknowledge the students who participate!

8. Use Visual Cues to Increase Student Engagement

Hand gestures may take a bit of work on the front end, but they can help quickly and quietly get the class back on task.

Some examples are:

  • Holding up a hand silently to get students’ attention.
  • Holding up a hand and then showing them how much time is left via your fingers.
  • Giving a thumbs up to signal nice work.
  • Giving a sideways thumbs up to mean “check yourself” (aka, you can do better).
  • “X” with your arms followed with two thumbs up: stop, thank you, and now get back on task.

Reinforcement opportunity: acknowledge students who are on-task.

9. Fill a Candy Jar

Fill a jar with candy, and encourage students to guess how many candies are in the jar.

But this activity has a catch: students must earn a ticket to make a guess. They can earn these tickets by going above and beyond expectations. The ticket can be used as a guess. And the more tickets, the more chances to guess how many candies are in the jar.

Candy jar tip: if you really want to get students excited, create a record of prior guesses, and let students know if their guesses are getting hotter or colder.

As they get closer and closer to the real number, they’ll be clamoring to get more tickets!

10. Adapt for Different Personalities

In a class with many talkative students, do small group instruction first so they can talk. Then do group instruction. If students behave well enough to get through 20–30 success minutes of centers and group instruction, they can earn the last 10 minutes of class as free time.

Reinforcement opportunity: incentivize students to be on task. And offer an extra reward (or points) if the whole class goes smoothly and efficiently.

11. Use Tiered Incentives to Get All Students Engaged

Creating a tiered incentive program allows even lower point earners to get involved and see how it feels to be part of your positive reinforcement program. Students will often disengage if their chance of receiving an incentive is low.

Let them have a taste of what receiving an incentive feels like and how easy it really is to earn points. The lowest tier can be something small, but it will have a powerful impact on your school-wide student engagement.

12. Reward Students More Frequently

To keep your students engaged and on task, try offering them rewards with more frequency than you typically do throughout the school year. 

Maybe try awarding incentives every week instead of monthly. This will help maintain attention, especially because it’s important to recognize good behavior when it occurs.

When too much time elapses between the student’s behavior and the reinforcement, you lessen the impact of the reinforcement.

Incentives to Boost Student Engagement

So we talked a lot above about reinforcement opportunities and offering incentives to encourage student engagement.

To help you think of ways you can reward students, here are some incentive ideas:

  • Free year book
  • School store (snacks, school supplies, etc.)
  • Dress-down day
  • Locker choice
  • Gift cards
  • Tickets to local events or attractions
  • Raffle tickets for big prizes
  • Party (movie, pizza, karaoke, etc.)
  • Field trips
  • Student of the month
  • Extra seats at graduation

If your students are earning positive behavior points, try offering them double points on specific problem behaviors that your school is experiencing.

If you have specific days that are more difficult to promote engagement, like Fridays, try double points given on that day of the week.

Creating a Positive School Climate and Culture

Reiterate to your teachers and staff that incentivizing students with a reward system creates a positive school culture instead of a negative, infraction-based system.

This will shift classroom climate over time, making each classroom easier to manage and more productive.

Also let your teachers take part in creating your rewards system — as well as how your school defines different behaviors (e.g., what does it mean to show up on time and ready to learn?) and judges the “weight” of each behavior (e.g., how does being in dress code compare to being thoughtful to another student?).

SchoolMint Hero Supports Student Engagement

Many of the above tips are strategies current administrators and teachers use with SchoolMint Hero.

As a behavior management platform, Hero makes it quick and easy for principals, staff, and teachers to award points in a virtual token economy — points which translate easily to a real-life rewards system.

With many of the above tips, our Hero clients award Hero points through the iOS/Android mobile app when a student behaves as expected. Then that student’s family can see how their child is behaving at school with the family app.

If you’re ready to discuss how Hero can increase engagement with students, click the banner!


Additional Reading

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