What Does Student Engagement Look Like?

Instructor: Derek Hughes

Derek has a Masters of Science degree in Teaching, Learning & Curriculum.

Student engagement is an integral part of learning at any grade level and is something you should strive for with every lesson. This lesson will help you identify what student engagement looks like so you can be sure you're achieving your goal.

Student Engagement

Student engagement is an incredibly important part of any lesson you create for your class. If students are engaged in the work they are doing, they are going to gain more from the lesson and be excited about learning. However, student engagement is an intangible quality that can't be measured on any assessment. The only way to know whether your students are engaged is to be able to identify the attributes of student engagement.

This lesson will explore three key aspects of student engagement that you should be looking for in all of your students. These aspects are focus, curiosity, and excitement. The rest of the lesson will define each of these and provide examples so you know what to look for.


When teaching a lesson to her class about the Civil War, Mrs. Adams decided to have students read directly from the textbook as a class. As students were taking turns reading aloud, Mrs. Adams noticed that several students in her class were flipping through the book, playing with their pencils and erasers, or staring off into space. She wasn't sure what was going on, but Mrs. Adams could tell that her students were not engaged.

What the students in the above example are demonstrating is a lack of focus. Focus is a key aspect of student engagement. Often, when students are not engaged in the work they are doing, they are more likely to drift off and begin paying attention to other things in the classroom. In the example, students were flipping through the book, staring off, or playing with other things around them.

If students are focused on the work they are doing or the lesson you are teaching, they won't even think to begin investigating other objects around them. The more students focus on the task at hand, the more engaged in the work they will be, and the more they will gain from the work.


After Mrs. Adams noticed that very few of her students were focused on the reading they were doing, she decided to switch gears and give students something else to work on. She asked the students to pretend they were soldiers fighting in the Civil War and write a letter home telling of their experiences. As students got to work, many of them approached Mrs. Adams asking if they could do some independent research into real Civil War soldiers and letters they may have written.

The students in Mrs. Adams' class had their curiosity piqued by this letter-writing assignment. Curiosity will manifest as a desire for students to know more about a topic and is a good sign that your students are engaged in what they are learning or doing. If students are interested in what they are learning and engaged in their work, they will most likely strive to know more about the topic. Students who are not engaged in their learning will not care to investigate subjects beyond what you are teaching them in the classroom.

In the example above, the students wanted to do some independent research into the topic they were learning about. However, curiosity may not always manifest in a student's desire to perform outside research. It may also take the form of unplanned class discussions or unexpected but relevant questions. As you probably know, students love to talk about something they are interested in. If your class becomes incredibly curious about something they are learning, you will most likely find yourself in a class discussion that engages all students.

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