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Engaging Students

The pressure is on.  The buzz words are flying.  The challenge for educators is to deliver quality material to enlighten students.  Students need a way to connect to the information and the educator presenting it; the educator needs to connect with students where they are.  This two-way street of engaging students is called active learning – actively teaching students in a way that stimulates their ability to learn.

The information on this site presents several successful teaching strategies and ideas used by veteran educators to engage students.  The information presented here is merely the tip of the iceberg and put forth as suggestions to start.

Suggested strategies and resources to engage students:


Tell us how you engage students...

How do you successfully engage students to stimulate learning here at UW-Eau Claire? What are your techniques that work? We'd love to hear your thoughts, see you in action, and have you share your successful active learning ideas with other educators. CETL will schedule and interview with you, even video you in action, and post your idea on CETL's website.

Patricia Vincent Roehling, et al. "Engaging the Millennial Generation in Class Discussions." College Teaching, Vol. 59 (Winter 2011), 1 – 6.

Overview: This short article illustrated that the millennial generation (ages 18 – mid-20s) are easily bored, expect variety, self-directed, possess high levels of self-esteem, collaborative, diverse, crave interaction, but also do not take criticism well, fear being embarrassed, and believe all opinions should be heard. Thus, traditional lectures may not be as effective as they were for teaching previous generations and classroom discussions are desirable to facilitate learning for the millennial generation. They compiled a list of 6 dos and 4 don'ts to promote in-class discussions.


  • Work to develop a comfortable classroom atmosphere at the very beginning of the semester while norms for participation are being established.
  • Engaged in exercises in which students get to know each other, increasing their level of comfort with their classmates.
  • Show respect for all opinions, even those that diverge from [the professors] own.
  • Set ground rules for civil discussions.
  • Moderate difficult discussions.
  • Show enthusiasm for the subject matter.

Don't Do

  • Let a student feel isolated or unsupported in a class discussion.
  • Argue or openly disagree with a student during a discussion.
  • Ask questions or engage in discussions in which there is only one correct answer.
  • Create an authoritarian classroom atmosphere. >pdf
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Ezzedeen, Souha R. "Facilitating Class Discussions Around Current and Controversial Issues: Ten Recommendations for Teachers." College Teaching, Vol. 56 No. 4 (Fall 2008), 230-236.

Overview: The article gave ten recommendations for initiating and promoting in-class discussions regarding controversial issues. These recommendations are applicable to conversations across subjects and are meant to encourage college instructors to experiment with conversational learning in their own classrooms.

  • Set the Physical Stage for Controversial Learning
  • Recognize and strive to overcome initial student resistance.
  • Use the grading system to support discussion.
  • Recognize student differences.
  • Adopt a modularized approach to course organization.
  • Choose relevant and interesting controversial topics.
  • Adopt current and accessible reading materials.
  • Find creative and provocative ways of launching conversations.
  • Recognize that successful conversations can be unpredictable and emotionally charged experiences.
  • Carefully balance the roles of teacher and conversational participant. >pdf
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Watch UW-Eau Claire instructors explain how they engage their students:

Angela Stombaugh - Nursing discusses how she incorporates PowerPoints, worksheets, and on-line resources in the Nursing Concepts of Practice class activities.

Angie Sterling-Orth - Communication Sciences and Disorders shows us how to engage a large class of students.

Carlos Garcia - Foreign Languages explains how he uses engagement every time he's teaching a class.

Jan Larson - Communication & Journalism shows and discusses the impact of in class group work on student learning.

Joe Hupy - Geography and Anthropology engages geography students with practical hand-on activities and lecture and finds a positive response by students.

Manda Riehl - Mathematics explains how using engagement is a learning process.

Mitra Sadeghpour - Music & Theatre Arts shows and discusses the benefits of giving students power in the classroom.

Rita Sperstad - Nursing shows her enthusiasm for using engagement to encourage critical thinking.

Laura Middlesworth - Economics describes how students prefer small group engagement activities.

April Bleske-Rechek - Psychology explains how student engagement makes students want to come to class.

BJ Hollars - English describes how he uses engagement activities to build trust in the classroom.

Don Gaber - Information Systems shows and discusses how he engages students in a large lecture hall.

Jerry Hoepner - Communication Sciences and Disorders explains his thought that the engaged student is the one really learning.

Leah Olson-McBride - Social Work shows her techniques for engaging students with pop culture.

Matt Evans - Physics and Astronomy shows and discusses how he uses i>clickers for a review session and the advantages the students have when they talk with each other about the questions.

Ned Gannon - Art & Design describes how his students enjoy not knowing what kind of engagement activities they will do next.

Sherrie Serros - Mathematics engages her students in an Active Learning Room.

Tali Lee - Biology explains how engaging students in Bilology means they get to chose what they're learning about.

Erik Hendrickson - Physics tells us how he engages his student in his labs and lectures.