18 ways to engage the college classroom (Part II)

In the first post of this series on engaging the college classroom, we shared some top tips from a few instructors and The SAGE Teaching Innovations & Professional Development Award winners.

We’re pleased to bring you the second installment, which features even more teaching strategies from our additional award winners. Keep reading to see what’s working in the college classroom today.

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Matt Gougherty

“To engage students with different learning styles I incorporate a variety of group activities throughout my courses. The group activities include students pairing with another classmate to discuss lecture material, meeting regularly with a cooperative learning group, and engaging in structured group discussions. We follow these activities with a larger class discussion, allowing the students to share and reflect on what they discussed with their classmates while gaining a better understanding of the topic.”- Matt Gougherty, Ph.D. Candidate, Indiana University-Bloomington

“I keep students in large classes engaged with ‘think, pair, share’ exercises. For example, after reviewing new course material with my class, I ask students to reflect on how a specific reading, theory or concept applies to an image, graph or research question I have posted on the board. I allow students a few minutes to reflect on this independently and record their answers. Afterwards, I break them into groups of 3 or 4 and ask students to compare their answers with one another, looking for common ground among their varied responses.  Once this is complete, I bring the class together and ask one representative from each group to share what they’ve uncovered with the entire class.


Rachel La Touche

“The trick to keeping students engaged throughout this entire exercise is to reduce the assessment ‘stakes’ for them. In other words, I don’t assign a grade for the quality or content of students’ answers, but I do require that each group provide an answer. This way, students are encouraged to work collaboratively with fellow group members, without anxiety of being penalized for getting the answer wrong. When students ‘think’ about their answers before ‘pairing’ with group members, this allows them to move from the comfort of their own understanding to others’ perspectives. In the process, they become engaged not only in the substantive material, but in appreciation for the many varied approaches and interpretations of their classmates.”- Rachel La Touche, BAH, MA, Ph.D. Candidate, Indiana University

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Emily Wurgler

“I use a combination of small group activities, in-class writing, formal lectures, media content, and discussions to keep students of various learning styles engaged and participating during class time.” Emily Wurgler, Doctoral Candidate, Indiana University Bloomington

“We can engage a small or a large class by using the best curricular and pedagogical practices, given that we know our audience’s characteristics and that we grasp our students’ expectations. First, we can effectively select optimal active-learning activities if we take into account the circumstances of all our students: mature students, student-parents, international students, ESL students, students with disabilities, first generation students and racial minorities. Second, the first day of class, it can be insightful to ask students to share their expectations for the course in order to better attend to their needs. Overall, participating in professional development activities such as the ASA SAGE pre-conference workshop can contribute to expand our knowledge of activities tailored to different educational contexts.”-Johanne Jean-Pierre, Ph.D. Candidate, McMaster University (not photographed)

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Tyler S. Schafer

“I am dedicated to keeping my students active and engaged because I believe those who are doing the most work are learning the most. I try to lecture as little as possible, and focus only on issues students might not be able to learn for themselves from the assigned content. I organize the remainder of the class time around small group and class discussions and activities. I feel one of the worst things I can do for my students is to create a classroom environment in which they can come to class, sit down, and check out.” – Tyler S. Schafer, MA, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Check back for Part III, which will include additional ways to increase student engagement in your classroom.


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