How to Engage Disengaged Students: 10 Top Tips

disengaged student in the classroom

Published: November 29th, 2022

Poor attendance, disruptive behaviour and disengaged learning can all be prevented or solved with early identification and positive interaction between the student and their teachers. 

By encouraging learning and building relationships with their class members, teachers can create a positive learning environment for students of all backgrounds and abilities.

We’ve put together a list of top tips to help you reconnect with your students and bring life back to the classroom.

What causes student disengagement?

There are many different factors that can cause students to become disengaged. From trouble at home to poor self-esteem, mental health problems or even boredom, the causes vary greatly, and all require different solutions.

If you find that a student is not completing their homework or is engaging in disruptive behaviour in the classroom, it is recommended that you address the problem as soon as possible.

Boredom is a common cause of disengagement. It can be a result of a gifted student finding their work too easy or a struggling student being overwhelmed by the workload. Boredom can also be an indication of neurodivergence.

A student can become disengaged if they are struggling with anxiety or depression. Often this will manifest as a lack of motivation, general disinterest in the subject matter, lack of engagement in class discussions, and an inability to build relationships with peers.

Sometimes disengagement is due to a student’s learning style clashing with that of their teachers. Suppose you tend to teach mainly using auditory input, and your student learns best with visual input. In that case, they’ll struggle to engage with you and likely not show interest in the various resources provided.

Lastly, some students struggle to engage due to challenging home environments. If this is the case, you may need to meet with the school counsellor to decide the best way forward.

Ways to re-engage your students

It can be intimidating to try and come up with good strategies for student re-engagement. However, there are a number of free resources that help students to re-engage with the classroom and achieve their potential.

1- Understanding why they are disengaged

This is an important step, but it is one that requires caution. Try to get a broad idea of any external factors that could be influencing the student’s behaviour or ability to engage. If you think there is a serious problem, either at home or from a mental health perspective, you could assist them in getting help.

However, you need to avoid becoming too involved, as this can detract from your ability to reach all your students. Let the disengaged student connect with you and see you as a safe person, but be careful not to become their therapist.

Finding out why they’re struggling to engage will help you to figure out ways to make learning environments more appealing and re-engage them in the learning process. 

2 – Implement support systems

If the disengaged student is struggling with mental health, help them to set up the necessary support systems. If their struggles are related to neurodivergence, find out more about this and how best to accommodate them in the classroom.

If your student suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), they may need to have access to a fidget tool or be given the opportunity to take a quick walk halfway through the lesson.

Students who have ADHD or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) often relate to their peers differently and engage with the educational materials in a different way. Reading an extensive block of text may be challenging, and listening to a long lecture might also be a struggle.

Consider utilising more multimedia-style lessons in your teaching, and allow students to record the lessons so that they can relisten to any sections that they miss.

3 – Try to be caring and approachable 

Student disengagement can stem from a fear of authority figures, preventing the student from asking questions when they need to or receiving the necessary support during difficult times. Classroom teachers can re-engage students by ensuring they are approachable.

When students are comfortable around their teachers, they are more likely to reach out for help and engage with the course material.

4 – Offer second chances

If you notice that a student who normally performs well is underperforming, be sure to check in with them. For example, if the student normally has a high but fails a test bringing their grade down, offering them the opportunity to retake the test could be a good move.

Not only will this show that you care, but it will give the child extra confidence, knowing that you believe in their ability to achieve.

While this isn’t something that should become the norm, it can really boost a student’s morale and significantly increase their engagement and motivation. Needing to implement this protocol repeatedly can indicate a bigger problem, and you should investigate further.

5 – Be persistent

Being persistent can be draining and, at times, seem fruitless. But it is one of the best ways to reach your disengaged and unmotivated students.

If you want to engage students in class activities or help them complete various learning activities successfully, showing you are available helps to gain their trust and boosts their confidence.

Some students struggle with self-esteem and have home environments where there is a lot of criticism and little encouragement. This will likely aid in the development of anxiety and imposter syndrome, which in turn negatively affects not only their general well-being but also their ability to learn.

Having a teacher who is consistent and persistent gives them a reliable and steadfast person in their lives, helping them to gain confidence and hopefully re-engage with the learning environment.

6 – Find out what excites them

Through clever lesson planning, you can find out what excites and motivates your disengaged students and use this information to tailor your lesson plans to be more engaging. For example, you could have a writing exercise where they create a blog post about their favourite pastime and why they find it fulfilling.

This gives you insight into what makes them tick and helps you to provide students with engaging course material.

7 – Incorporate educational technology

Education technology, such as an interactive display, is a wonderful way to add interest and excitement to your classroom. Modern-day students engage with technology on a daily basis and will find comfort in its familiarity when using it in the classroom.

Keep the method of education varied by using a YouTube video to explain a subject or asking students to complete a task online. Adding educational games into the classroom using an interactive whiteboard can make a subject significantly more interesting and increase students’ engagement with the learning materials.

8 – Incorporate movement opportunities

Young people often have a lot of difficult emotions to deal with, especially in their teenage years. This can manifest as excess energy, which can cause distraction, resulting in them doing the bare minimum in class.

To re-engage your students, consider improving classroom management by adding various opportunities for movement throughout the lessons. If a child is engaging in particularly disruptive behaviour, consider allowing them to take a run around the school field to blow off some steam and reset.

Not only will this help to improve the child’s concentration, but it also benefits the other students by reducing the number of distractions they are dealing with.

9 – Encourage reflection

At the beginning or end of each week, give the students a feedback form where they can say what went well, what they struggled with, and what they think can be improved. Not only will this give you important insights into the young people in your classroom, but it will additionally help them to identify problem areas and see where they can improve their work.

Examples of improvement areas can be participation in class discussions, better time management, completing work timeously, or engaging more positively with their peers during group work.

Student feedback can help teachers to help them. Perhaps you need to implement different learning strategies in the class or give them more time to practice a certain task. Knowing your students – how they learn, what holds their interest, what motivates them – helps you to convert them from being disengaged to engaged.

10 – Ask them to help

Asking a struggling student to help you with a task you know they excel at builds their confidence and motivation. Helping students to feel needed and valued not only helps you to build relationships with them but also benefits their learning and has a positive impact on their behaviour.

This can encourage them to participate in class, as they will (over time) become aware of their strengths and hopefully become less anxious and more confident.

FAQs about engaging students 

What are 6 ways to engage students?

The following are 6 tried and true methods to engage your students:

  1. Be caring and kind
  2. Give them a second chance
  3. Discover their learning style
  4. Incorporate opportunities for movement in the classroom
  5. Be persistent
  6. Involve their parents positively

How do you engage unmotivated students?

The first step in engaging unmotivated students is to find out why they are unmotivated. Once you know this, you’ll need to find out what makes them excited and ready to engage.

Combine these with switching up your teaching style, adding some more varied classroom activities and showing them that you’re caring and kind, and you’ll soon have your students back on track.

How do you deal with students who don’t participate?

In many cases, students who don’t participate are dealing with some form of anxiety. They may struggle with perfectionism and be terrified of making mistakes, or they may have experienced ridicule in previous participation attempts and are scared to face that again. Another reason may be that they’re struggling to understand the content matter.

No matter the cause, forcing the student to participate won’t be successful. Instead, speak to them individually to figure out what is going on and find out other ways to have them participate in the classroom. If they don’t participate in class but are getting the necessary grades, they may just need a bit of a confidence boost.

Re-engage students with an interactive display from Promethean 

Keeping students engaged in lessons isn’t always easy to achieve. However, with an interactive display like the ActivPanel, you can keep them interested and active in lessons. 

Speak to a Promethean expert for more information or book a free demo today!

Do you want to learn more about student engagement? Check out some additional resources below!

What is student engagement?
12 Student Engagement Strategies
How to Engage Students Without Relying Solely on Technology
How Do You Keep Students Engaged at the Beginning and End of a Lesson?
The benefits of reflection in education
How to Engage Shy and Quiet Students in The Classroom?
How to Engage Students in a Hybrid Learning Class
How To Engage University Students
How to Engage International Students