Class Management

How to Engage Disengaged Students

How to engage disengaged students

Any student can disengage from the school experience. Some students see school as the place that identifies them as being not quite “as good as” their classmates. For other students, their academic success and resulting acknowledgements are not enough to maintain a sense of engagement. And some students fly under the radar, while waiting for the school year to be over: they are present, assignments are completed and they pass the grade. Here are three ways to re-engage students.

Link a student’s interest to the curriculum

If the student is interested in a wide range of sports, connect sports with different school subjects. With a junior high student, integrate performance statistics and probability when teaching math. For history, look at sports in early civilizations or their development over the years. For art, consider portraying physical movement through the arts. And for media, critically analyze the coverage of doping scandals.

Integrate movement into lesson plans

The classroom routine of sitting for long periods of time is often a source of disengagement. Opportunities to move provide chances for student’s to use their pent-up energy in ways that renew involvement in thinking and learning. The purpose of physical education is exactly the same as the purpose of any subject, which is to develop the ability to access and use knowledge to think and problem-solve.


If you are concerned that increased movement might lead to chaos, make note of which movement activities most engage students and search for ways to connect them to lessons. Involve students in the planning process to give them a vested interest in creating a successful and non-chaotic solution. Once students become used to the possibilities for movement and feel the success associated with learning something new, they will see it as routine and not as an opportunity to misbehave.

Encourage students to think with technology

Use technology to encourage the full process of thinking and not simply for endless searching. Engagement often begins with an opportunity to listen and observe. Allow student to do this by visiting “thinking sites” in your lessons. The TED website provides students with access to the thinkers of our times. A visit to TED, the Creators Project and varied student podcast sites encourage students to value how different our interests and thought processes are. And with each opportunity for students to listen and observe, you can make note of the types of topics that hold their interest.

The preceding was adapted from Engaging the Disengaged by Beth Critchley Charlton, published by Pembroke Publishers