When students are working with each other on a task that requires cooperation, you will get engaged students. Don’t think that just assigning a student a partner is enough though. The task they are completing should be sufficently difficult that it requires their cooperation to complete, otherwise you may have one student doing all the work and the other student coasting. One great example of this is to have your students write a dialogue between two people in history and then perform a quick puppet show. Students love getting a chance to act out history with simple props.
Give students choice in either their method of learning or their method of showing their work. You don’t have to create a menu of options to provide choice, one other option is enough to provide engagement for your students. If you have a station activity, choice could include the order your students complete their stations, or the activity they choose at each station.
Ask yourself a question about the work you are assigning – is it new or novel? An example of this could be a review game you play. The first few times it may be exciting to the students, after that it will lose it’s novelty. You can make old new again by changing the way you play a game. The elementary game of Memory can be challenging if you add different elements like pictures and definitions.
And speaking of games… play them! Often! The littlest activity can become a game if you add the element of competition. Just by challenging students to complete a task faster (and correctly) than another group can add an element of fun to your class. Take an activity like sequencing the Events Leading to the American Revolution and challenge your students to place them in the correct order.
Let me know how these engagement strategies work with your students!