Five Ways to Engage Students and Other Audiences – Tips for Teachers and Presenters

I’ve been invited by West Clermont Local Schools (Cincinnati OH) to do an opening day presentation for secondary teachers. This is not the first time we’ve collaborated. Earlier this year,  I assisted them in this project – “How to Use Web 2.0 to Create On-line Professional Development.” Looks like they have their PD act together!

The topic they assigned me for this week’s presentation is “How to engage students in the 21st century classroom.” This post outlines the message I’ll take to West Clermont. While the primary audience for this post is teachers in the classroom, I think there’s also a useful message for presenters who want to connect with their audience.

1. Remember that engagement is founded on choice: A task becomes engaging when you have an opportunity to make choices about content, process and product. For example here’s a diagram that shows how easy it is to transform a traditional writing assignment into a more engaging one.

See “First Day of School? Here’s How to Get Students Thinking” for a student-centered way to kick off the school year.

2. Alter the traditional information flow: All the one-way broadcast information sources are losing audience – TV, record industry, teachers who lecture. I’ll bring my TurningPoint audience response system to give them space in the information stream. We’ll also capture “backchannel” dialog with a Wiffiti screen. More on using Wiffiti in presentations. [Note: Discussion was so lively – I didn’t get a chance to use Wiffiti. A good problem!]

3. Thinking critically is more engaging than listening: Knowledge is only superficially transmitted by telling someone something. Students (and audiences) are engaged when you create learning environments that require them to apply their own analysis and evaluation to constructing meaning. Make it partial assembly required.

As a teacher, I was always turned off by trainers who weren’t using the strategies they were advocating. My workshops give the teachers a taste of how students will respond to the strategies in an authentic learning experience. As one teacher commented in her evaluation of my workshop, “Peter demonstrated his own method for rigor and relevance while teaching us, so we participated as our students would. The workshop was effective because he made us reflect on our classroom practice and our expectations of students. Then he supplied us with techniques and strategies to improve instruction.”

4. Relinquish responsibility for learning to the student (also this blog’s tagline): Students can develop their own iTunes genre scheme – what make you think they can’t analyze, evaluate and create? Many teachers feel they’re competing (unsuccessfully) with technology for student attention. I see things differently. Students aren’t engaged with technology because it lights up and beeps. They’re engaged with technology because it puts them in charge of information they access, store, analyze and share. It gives them something they rarely get in the classroom – choice. The lesson revision I outline in point 1 is about control (not technology) in the classroom.

5. Always keep in mind that the essence of teaching (or presenting) is creating learning experiences that provoke reflection: Students who are simply asked to follow instruction have nothing to reflect upon. (The same is true for audiences who have been asked to do little more than listen). Students who are offered the opportunity to explore their own approaches and share them with their peers are well on their way to life-long learning. I’ll bet “life-long learning” is in your school district mission statement – or is it vision statement? (I could never remember if I was on a mission or having visions). For more on reflection, see my series detailing my Taxonomy of Reflection.

PS. Here’s my “handout” for the West Clermont workshop. Download Engagement-presentation (3MB pdf). It’s a glimpse into my workshop – but I can’t “hand” you the message. Remember, it’s about the experience (and reflection) not simply the content.

16 Replies to “Five Ways to Engage Students and Other Audiences – Tips for Teachers and Presenters”

  1. Peter,

    I find that the more I reflect about my craft/practice of teaching, #4 (Relinquish responsibility for learning to the student) becomes the most important concept. Really when a teacher digs deep, how much time in a class is spent on control of the students. The institution’s hidden curriculum exists to control. Without control there would be chaos, learning becomes a back seat passenger, or control becomes a backseat driver. This post comes at an opportune time, I was just commenting to staff at Northwest Passage ( that we work in a special place where the external white noise of control does not permeate our walls. To have freedom to direct owns learning for staff and students is liberating. I am distraught by the national and state level agenda to institute command and control of learning at the local level. Does a good teacher really teach or do they just fan the spark of their students’ curiosity? Dorthy Parker said it best, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” Thanks for the post.

  2. I always subscribed to “teaching as a subversive activity” Not my title, but a book by Postman & Weingartner that helped shape my thinking. If you want a laugh – read the post on supervising teacher’s evaluation of my student teaching. Ironically I was observed while teaching a lesson on civil disobedience.

    Jamie – keep stirring it up!

  3. What software did you use to design your presentation? I attended and noted that it was not PowerPoint but was interested in what you used? Thanks 🙂

  4. I presented using Apple’s Keynote. That was 90% of the presentation. I like it over PPT. Much more graphic and I can easily drop in video clips (as files) that just play within the slide.

    Whenever I asked a clicker question I switched over to TurningPoint.

  5. Peter I was just thinking about this very topic today in terms of videoconferencing. Engaging students at a distance is much like engaging in the classroom, all your tips would work wonderfully. I would love to hear any other thoughts you had on how you might engage at a distance.

  6. Hi Christina,
    Thanks for reminding us that these tips would also work in a “distance” learning environment. I got thinking of a response to your query and it inspired me to do a new blog post. “Classroom Collaboration & Brainstorming with (new) Prezi Meeting” It would make for an engaging distance learning tool!

  7. Peter,

    Great advice on presenting. I’m often surprised and shocked that teachers aren’t better at presenting information. It truly goes back to the idea of doing something correctly and practicing it will make you better; but, doing something poorly and practicing it (without reflection) will only make you continue doing poorly. Thanks for the ideas!

  8. Nice work, Peter, and applicable to adults and their continuing professional development tasks. Some I attend are so disengaging, I’m there at the back creating my next presentation on my iPad (using Keynote of course!)

    Les Posen
    Presentation Magic

  9. great tips.Question Did you have a course that specifically taught you how to develop focusing skills At this time I ask the audience.”Do you feel we are missing the boat in education.We need to acknowledge that the single most important thing in education is to engage and maintain the students attention.If we want students to learn they need to know how to learn. It may well be the most important skill they ever learn .more info.learning

  10. Thank you for some of the best information I have seen in a very long time! I can’t wait to put into practice many of your ideas!

  11. Hi Peter,
    One way I have been noticing and it seems to be the trend is that more professors are using polling in classrooms to keep their students tuned. Specially in larger colleges and universities. De Anza College in Cupertino CA uses them widely. One company we have used among many is and they are very effective. What are your thoughts?


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