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Engagement Strategies, High School

Page history last edited by Christine Koerner 2 years, 11 months ago


Engagement Strategies, 9th-12th


The following strategies could be used in a high school classroom to increase engagement in math activities. Strategy names underlined in blue link to videos with further explanation. Teachers should use their wisdom in knowing when and how often to employ these various strategies. Thank you to Jason Stephenson for compiling the initial list of strategies.


The K20 Center also has over 100 strategies for use in the classroom. Find more information about all 100+ at the website.


For Digital Slide Templates, visit Theresa Wills' site or click on the specific strategy templates below.


Strategy  Description 
ACE Strategy 

Students demonstrate how they know or can solve response items. They Answer, Cite evidence, and Explain (or expand). This is a great strategy for encouraging students to justify their answers and explain their process for solving.

Digital Template

Affinity Mapping 

Give students a broad question or problem that is likely to result in lots of different ideas, such as “What are strategies for solving a problem?” or “What is the most important math concept to understand?” Have students generate responses by writing ideas on post-it notes (one idea per note) and placing them in no particular arrangement on a wall, whiteboard, or chart paper. Once lots of ideas have been generated, have students begin grouping them into similar categories, then label the categories and discuss why the ideas fit within them, how the categories relate to one another, and so on.

Asynchronous Discussions 

One of the limitations of discussion is that rich, face-to-face conversations can only happen when all parties are available, so we’re limited to the time we have in class. With a tool like Voxer, those limitations disappear. Like a private voice mailbox that you set up with just one person or a group, Voxer allows users to have conversations at whatever time is most convenient for each participant. So a group of four students can “discuss” a topic from 3pm until bedtime—asynchronously—each member contributing whenever they have a moment, and if the teacher makes herself part of the group, she can listen in, offer feedback, or contribute her own discussion points. 

Backchannel Discussions 

A backchannel is a conversation that happens right alongside another activity. A website such as Mentimeter, GoSoapBox, or Backchannel Chat is displayed on a screen. A Google Doc could also work! On this blank screen students can contribute a few lines of text, the lines stacking up one after the other, no other bells or whistles. Students can use devices such as their phones, laptops, or tablets to ask questions, offer commentary, and share links to related resources without ever interrupting the flow of the presentations. This kind of tool allows for a completely silent discussion, one that doesn’t have to move at a super-fast pace, and it gives students who may be reluctant to speak up or who process their thoughts more slowly a chance to fully contribute.  

Commercial Break 

Teams of four to five are given five minutes to write a commercial promoting and selling the skills/knowledge presented. 

Concentric Circles 

Students form two circles, one inside circle and one outside circle. Each student on the inside is paired with a student on the outside; they face each other. The teacher poses a question to the whole group and pairs discuss their responses with each other. Then the teacher signals students to rotate: Students on the outside circle move one space to the right, so they are standing in front of a new person. Now the teacher poses a new question, and the process is repeated. 


This is a small-group discussion strategy that gives students exposure to more of their peers’ ideas and prevents the stagnation that can happen when a group doesn’t happen to have the right chemistry. Students are placed into a few groups of 4-6 students each and are given a problem or question to talk about. After sufficient time has passed for the discussion to develop, one or two students from each group rotate to a different group, while the other group members remain where they are. Once in their new group, they will discuss a different, but related question, and they may also share some of the key points from their last group’s conversation. For the next rotation, students who have not rotated before may be chosen to move, resulting in groups that are continually evolving. 

Elevator Speeches

Elevator speeches can be used to refine students’ understanding of vocabulary, concepts, content, and/or processes. Pair students up with partners. They have 30 seconds to deliver information to their partners. After 30 seconds, the students switch roles. Have a few share out. Then have students find a new partner. They have 30 seconds to deliver their refined understanding to their partners. After 30 seconds, the students switch roles once more. 


This website allows students to create personalized videos that they can share. They can respond to one another. Teachers have moderation rights and can create individualized online classes. The videos can be short or up to five minutes long. Students could share processes for solving a specific problem, explain a more general mathematical concept or strategy, or teach a concept to an absent student.

Four Corners

Place Agree/Strongly Agree/Disagree/Strongly Disagree signs or four different answer options to a problem (Which One Doesn't Belong problems work great for this strategy) in the corners of the classroom. Ask students to take a position on a statement by moving to the corner that matches their opinion. Once students have selected their corners, give them time to discuss their reasoning. Then call on a member from each of the four groups to justify their positions. Students may change corners at anytime as their opinions change.

Ask students to commit their thoughts to writing prior to moving to a corner. This way when discussing, students will have a reference to share their thoughts. This will also help prevent students just following their friends. 

Gist Statements

Students summarize the information in 20 words or less. To make it more difficult, they would have to summarize using exactly 20 words. Get a further explanation at ReadWriteThink, or download the template.

Give One,
Get One

Students create a T-chart and write “Give One” and “Get One” at the top of the columns. Students brainstorm a list of ideas or vocabulary about a topic and record their ideas in the “Give One” column.  After writing independently, students rotate around the room, recording new information from other students in the “Get One” column. Wrap up the activity with a whole class discussion.


Two students sit facing each other in the center of the room; the remaining students sit in a circle around them. The two central students have a conversation based on a predetermined topic and often use specific skills the class is practicing (such as asking follow-up questions, paraphrasing, or elaborating on another person’s point). Students on the outside observe, take notes, or perform some other discussion-related task assigned by the teacher. 

I Notice,
I Wonder

Students provide discussion and feedback on peer’s writing using “I notice…” and/or “I wonder…” sentence starters. This can also be used to introduce a new concept by placing a problem or picture on the board and asking students what they notice and wonder. 

Online Distance Learning Adaptation Video

Online Distance Learning Template


Students can play this online game with individual devices (phones). Teachers can create their own questions or search for created games by other teachers.

K20 Center

The K20 Center has over 100 strategies for use in the classroom, including Tweet It UpWhy Lighting, and Sentence-Phrase-Word. Find more information about all 100+ at the website.

Mini Posters & Gallery Walk

Students create mini posters that reflect understanding of concepts or terms and participate in a gallery walk. Students can add their learning from the gallery walk to vocabulary- or content-specific notebooks.

My Favorite "No" (or My Favorite Mistake) Students solve one problem (problem has opportunities for multiple mistakes) on an index card, putting their names on the opposite side of their work. Teacher collects cards and sorts correct/incorrect responses. Teacher determines 2-3 "favorite" mistakes/incorrect answers based on the mistakes most students are making, work that would encourage the most discussion, and goals of the lesson (use the objective analysis and suggested learning progression sections of the framework to help you with selection the first few times you do this activity.) 


Share the Favorite No with the class, emphasizing this is the wrong answer and that everyone makes mistakes (and it is about learning from our mistakes.) The student whose answer you share should remain anonymous. Analyze the positives of the answer.


Ask the class to analyze what this student did right in the answer. Sample questions include: What in this problem am I happy to see? What is right? What do you think I like about this answer? Then analyze what made the answer wrong. Sample questions include: What made this answer incorrect? Where did this student make a mistake? How do you know that it is the wrong answer? Students should explain their thinking as they analyze the answer. End on a positive note. Acknowledge the difficulty in having a student’s wrong answer analyzed by the class. 

Numberless Word Problems

Present a word problem to students... without the numbers! Encourages discussion and sense-making.

Online Distance Learning Template


Students use this strategy to analyze visuals such as graphs, photographs, or maps.  

  • - Write a brief overview of the image. In one sentence, what is this image about?
  • - List all the parts that seem important (color, figures, textures, groupings, shadings, patterns, numbers, repetitions, etc.).
  • T - How does the title or text contribute to the meaning?
  • I - Explain the interrelationships in the image. Consider how the parts come together to convey an idea or an argument.
  • C - Write a conclusion paragraph that interprets the meaning of the image as a whole.

This online collaborative hub allows users to post words and images. The teacher can pose a question for everyone to answer. Students can brainstorm together. Students can leave questions about a lesson for the teacher to answer.


This strategy could be used as a prewriting or review method. Students focus on a topic or concept and write about it for 3 to 5 minutes nonstop. No special attention is paid to grammar or mechanics, and ideas are recorded as soon as they come into students’ minds. The Heinemann blog explains this concept more in depth.

  • Everyone solves a problem solo on a dry erase board. 
  • Once everyone is done, each person reveals their process/answer. 

  • Debate/Discuss until everyone agrees on final solution(s). 

  • Then, write the agreed upon answer on a piece of paper.

Snowball Discussion

Students begin in pairs, responding to a discussion question only with a single partner. After each person has had a chance to share their ideas, the pair joins another pair and so on.

Socratic Seminars

There are many variations to this strategy. Give the students a reading assignment and have them use the ACE strategy that has them ask questions and support their answers using textual evidence. Break them into an inner circle and an outer circle. Students in the inner circle will discuss the text for five to ten minutes while the students in the outer circle write down what they noticed during the discussions. Then, have student change places and roles. ReadWriteThink.org has a strategy guide that guides teachers through the strategy in practice. Reference Paideia.org for Socratic Seminar lesson plans.

Word Clouds

Using Mentimeter or Wordle, students respond to a question with a single word to create an instant word cloud. Teachers can use this as a formative assessment of their students’ understanding.


Students complete a 3-2-1 during or after a lesson, encouraging students to think about their learning and to check for understanding. Some variations include:

  • 3 - things I discovered
  • 2 - interesting things
  • - question I still have

  • 3 - academic vocabulary words I learned
  • 2 - sentences using new academic vocabulary words
  • 1 - paragraph using the new academic vocabulary words

  • 3- most important ideas from today
  • 2- ways to solve a problem we had today
  • 1- question students have about each of the ideas


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