4 “Paperless” Strategies for Engaging Students in a Unit of Study


Engaging students is important for increasing student achievement, and in fact, a requirement of the standards for secondary students. And doing so without creating more papers to grade or produce can be a lifesaver for busy teachers who are invested in their students’ success.

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In some cases, your students might already recognize their interest in a Unit of Study—for example, if you’re teaching Divergent or Zombies, your students’ engagement might even outrank yours. However, in some cases, perhaps in the case of Women’s Rights, you might need to first provide some background knowledge to show students how the issue at hand is important in their world.

Teengagement® provides you with a starting point in the High-Interest Reading Instructional Guide, usually through informational articles or videos, and through the Critical Thinking Connections available to Teengagement.com subscribers. Sometimes, because you know your students best, you’ll want to pull your own resources to hook your students.

Teaching the unit Women’s Rights, you could project this article about the dreams and fears of Afghan Teens, or use one of the resources discussed in Resources for Teaching Women’s Rights.


Another effective way to engage students whose attention is waning is to encourage them to exchange ideas. Think-Pair-Share is a quick discussion strategy in which students partner up, discuss a question, and share their answer with the group.

I recently attended the Leadership for Educational Rigor webinar by Barbara Blackburn and she shared a simple way to increase rigor and engagement through Think-Pair-Share. Instead of each participant sharing their own ideas with the group, have students share their partner’s ideas.

You could incorporate Think-Pair-Share, or another form of collaboration, into the Women’s Rights Unit to answer a text-based discussion question such as, “Based on the text, how has intimidation negatively affected the fight for gender equality in nations like Afghanistan?”

Get them Moving

Especially for those who teach in 90-minute blocks, strategies like Creating an Answer Train and 4 Corners get students up and moving, revealing not only students’ understanding of a concept, but refocusing their energy onto the task at hand while engaging them in the process.

4 Corners can be used with any of the Women’s Rights selected-response questions by assigning each corner of the classroom one “letter” response. Read the question and response choices, and have students stand in the corner corresponding to the response they choose. Allow a representative from each corner to explain the textual base for their answer, and permit students to change their corners as the evidence is presented. This activity requires students to use auditory processing, combined with analysis of the text and gross motor action, engaging their whole body.


Allowing students to participate in a debate is an excellent means of gauging student understanding and engagement with content. Debates are a wonderful tool for summative assessment at the end of a unit of study, but an alternate way to use them is to have a short but structured debate as a warm-up. This lets you to check for understanding, allowing you to quickly assess how to proceed with the day’s lesson, but also immediately engages students in the content by having them establish a position.

You might consider taking the Ethical Dilemma of Women’s Rights, which asks whether or not you should intervene when encountering a cultural norm that is potentially harmful to women, and complete a 2 Corners Debate using the rules of 4 Corners above. After students choose a corner have them quickly Pair-Share their text-based reasoning, then call on students, alternating corners, to share with the class.

As you can see, engaging students can be accomplished through simple yet powerful opportunities for them to learn and participate meaningfully in classroom content. If you try any of the methods above, please report back.  How do you engage your students?

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