Five Ways to Effectively Engage Students

I am frequently asked, “How do you do what you do?” and I always say, “I just do it.” So,when prompted to discuss how I engage students in my classroom, I’m always a little bit befuddled. Sure, I use blends of pedagogy, and I’m a theory fanatic, but why do students like my classes so much (especially when I make them work!). Well, I’ve managed to come up with five techniques I use to “get them on my team” and I would say that they are 95% effective.

  • I am unapologetically me. If you know me, you know that means I’m a lot of person. I’m loud. I love to smile. I laugh. I don’t walk into class as Professor Franklin or Dr. Franklin, I’m Kelly. I ask them to call me Kelly. I’ve found that students have the most success in the classroom when they feel as if they are in a community. I make myself a part of that community, not a leader or an outsider, but a part of it. We learn together, from day one. I always give students the option to call me Ms. Franklin, but they typically go with Kelly. I have never once felt disrespected, and I immediately feel as if I have more of their attention.
  • I get to class about ten minutes before it starts to set up. Sometimes students have already arrived, and while they are getting set up, I put music on. I have several playlists that I have created to match the mood of a semester, with all genres of music represented. I must admit, it’s always a good time to see their expressions when “99 Problems” starts playing. This seems to help them ease in and get comfortable. I also play music during their 5-10 minute free write, and during group work (so they can’t cheat and hear the other group). I have had students write, in their evaluations of me, that music is what made them the most comfortable and welcome in my classroom.
  • I walk around the classroom A LOT. I do not stay up front. I wander about, sometimes I sit on desks. Sometimes I teach from the middle of the room, sometimes from the back. Sometimes I sit down beside them. This makes it impossible to hide from me because I’m like a ninja!
  • I’m not good at arts and crafts, but we do them anyway. We also run relay races! I know, you’re thinking: “Relay races in a comp. classroom?” Well, let me tell you something, they love it. It’s a great way to introduce them to brainstorming exercises, and also a wonderful community building activity. Students are more willing to go the extra mile for themselves, and you, if they love the community you have built for them.
  • Ask them their opinions. When I design an assignment for a unit of study I tell my students why we are doing it, and how I feel it will help them reach the connected learner outcome AND grow as a writer. Then, I ask them what they think. Sometimes they give me ideas as to how I can make the assignment better, but most of the time they simply enjoy me asking them their opinion. They trust my judgement.


As mentioned earlier, it really is quite hard for me to narrow down my techniques, but those are some of the things I do. Above all, I let them know that I love what I do. That my job isn’t a job, it’s my life, and I’m happy to have them in it (even if sometimes during the semester I have to resort to my 90s grunge playlist just to handle them).


Featured image courtesy of
English Instructor at Southwestern Community College Iowa

Kelly Franklin is a full-time English instructor at Southwestern Community College in the hills of southern Iowa, and originally hails from central Illinois. On a typical day, Kelly can be found teaching: Intro to Composition, Research Writing, Technical Writing, Young Adult Literature, Dramatic Literature, and African American Literature. When she isn’t teaching, she can be found in the theater directing the SWCC Drama club, or at home with her four children, three cats, and two dogs. Currently, Kelly’s research interests are centered on feminism in media post-9/11, and gender performance. She is preparing to defend her Doctoral Capstone Project (about reading comprehension at the community college) in the summer of 2017. She is a passionate teacher, and avid Dr. Who fan.


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