18 ways to engage the college classroom (Part III)

In Part I and Part II of our blog series on engaging the college classroom, winners of The SAGE Teaching Innovations & Professional Development Award shared how they hold their students’ attention throughout a class period. Below, read about a few more top tips from our 6 remaining winners.


Stephanie L. Bradley

“I incorporate a variety of in-class activities to maximize student engagement across learning styles. For example, before we watch a documentary, students receive a list of questions answered using information presented throughout the video. To help students comprehend a conceptually difficult graph or topic, I incorporate thought-provoking activities—such as Write-Pair-Share—during which they formulate their thinking about the item before they engage in discussion with a peer, small group, and/or class, depending on class size. All aspects of the course provide an opportunity for active learning, and activities can be tailored to classes of any size.”- Stephanie L. Bradley, M.S., Graduate Instructor, Florida State University

“Student engagement begins with motivation. I find that students are more likely to see a concept or issue as relevant and significant if they can connect it with real life experiences. A brief student informational survey at the beginning of each course helps me ground sociological content in examples and contexts that students personally relate to. Students also participate in individual and group reflection activities to further tie personal experiences to the subject at hand.

Katherine Lyon

Katherine Lyon

“Additionally, I build student engagement by creating lessons that center around their involvement. For example, when learning about research methods, students collaborate to conduct a survey and an interview right in the classroom. We collectively identify the emerging data patterns and discuss which methods are most appropriate in different contexts. In this case, learning occurs primarily through peer-based application and debate. Having each group report back to the class also enhances accountability and commitment to the task.

“I engage quieter students by creating multiple communication mediums through which they can voice their opinions. In additional to reflective writing and think-pair-share activities, I use student nametags as a feedback mechanism. For example, students can signal confusion during a lecture by turning their nametag around to display a red dot instead of a green dot. Students seem to engage more consistently when they have several communication channels to express themselves.


Daniel Herda

“I also experiment with other techniques, such as asking students to assess whether we met the day’s learning objectives and inviting them to summarize their ‘muddiest’ point. More recently I am trying fill-in-the-blank PowerPoint notes to provide students with a framework for navigating a lecture, while also ensuring that they actively seek out information. Finally, I leave space for spontaneity. Students appear excited when we build upon their ideas to take a lesson in an unexpected yet productive direction.”- Katherine Lyon, Sociology Instructor & Doctoral Candidate, University of British Columbia

“My strategy is to transition frequently between different approaches during each class session. I switch from traditional lectures to discussion to multimedia to activities, as often as I can. I never spend too much time on a single approach. Keeping things moving works to maintain student interest and reach a broad array of learning styles.” Daniel Herda, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Merrimack College

“I taught an 8:30 am course and I had to keep students engaged by having a diverse set of material and good pacing.  Since the course was an hour and fifteen minutes I divided it in several segments which included: a quiz over the assigned readings; an intro to the topic; 35 minutes of traditional power-point lecture; and the rest of the course for in-class discussion.  Spending five minutes introducing the topic with a fun video, usually from a source like The Daily Show or Vox, I made sure the day began in a light-hearted way.  By changing pace throughout the class period it allowed students to remain engaged and gave a diverse style of instruction to help students of different learning styles.” -Matthew Martinez, Doctoral Candidate, University of Texas at San Antonio (not photographed)


Nicole L. Rosen

“Within each class I teach, I remain mindful of individual student’s learning styles. While it is unlikely I can adequately teach to each of these styles simultaneously, I do believe that each student has the potential to learn and grasp sociological concepts. To satisfy individual learning styles, I aim to challenge students’ understanding of the material by actively engaging them in class discussion, group work, concentric circles, the jigsaw strategy (where students are encouraged to teach each other course material in small groups), and various field-trips. By remaining flexible to each class’s personality and size, as well as feedback from students themselves, various teaching strategies are altered to more adequately reflect the students’ needs and learning styles.” Nicole L. Rosen, Doctoral Candidate, The University of Akron

“In order to keep large or small classes composed of students with different learning styles active and engaged with that class’s subject matter I use a mix of lecture, videos, and small group discussion/activities. First, to engage with my students who are auditory learners I use short (≈ 15-20 minute) lectures. During these lectures I summarize what the students read during the previous night and provide additional context to those readings. I find these lectures useful because they allow me to emphasize the points from the reading that I feel are the most important and add information that is more current, or may have been left out of the readings from various reasons.

“Second, I utilize videos to engage with my students who are visual learners. I find these videos useful because they reinforce specific points and give a visual and/or auditory dimension to the subject matter. For example, in my lecture on residential segregation I include video from a documentary on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to desegregate neighborhoods in Chicago. This video allows students can see the racial animus faced by Civil Rights workers in the North and hear Dr. King’s frustration as his efforts to desegregate those neighborhoods failed.

Jason Freeman's Website Picture

Jason Freeman

“Third, I use small group discussion/activities to engage with my student who are learners that require more active participation. I find small group discussion/activities useful because 1) they force students to read and think deeply about what they read (and the subject matter in general); 2) they force students to be engaged with the class who may otherwise “tune out” during lecture-based courses; and 3) they allow students to learn from and teach each other, which adds an additional layer to the learning experience. Overall, I feel that engaging with multiple learning modalities is crucial to having a successful class. When instructors focus on only one learning modality or another, students can fall behind and the entire class loses out on the unique insights that those students bring to the class based on their unique perspective on the subject matter.” -Jason Freeman, Teaching Fellow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

We would like to thank all of The SAGE Teaching Innovations & Professional Development Award winners that contributed to this blog series. We hope you all have an amazing time at the August ASA Pre-Conference workshop in Chicago!


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