Tools of Engagement

I’ve been in the education field for the last 18 years. One truth that has become glaringly obvious to me is that students need to be involved in the work of learning, and that means they need to be engaged in the process of learning.  That’s why STEM subscription boxes work so well.  This became much easier for me when I began teaching in a 1:1 classroom, where I discovered a variety of tools that helped me engage students. Here are three that I have found effective in involving students in their own learning:

1. Socrative Space Race

If you haven’t heard of Socrative, you need to go check this tool out. It was recently purchased by Mastery Connect and has undergone some minor changes, but it is still an easy-to-use tool that can be used to engage students. Socrative is a great student response system tool that can be used to check for student understanding. You can create quizzes and administer them to students online, and all that’s needed is two devices–one for you and one for your students.

The most engaging aspect of Socrative that I’ve used in the classroom is the Space Race feature. Students are organized into as many as 15 teams by color (I usually have the teams auto-assigned, but students can choose their colors), and then go through a quiz you have pre-selected to give. As students move through the quiz, a screen with various colored rocket ships is displayed, and every time students answer a question correctly, their rocket ship moves over to the right. Whatever team’s rocket ship moves the farthest is the winner of the space race.

Socrative Space Race Screenshot
Socrative Space Race Screenshot

I’ve run the Space Race as a whole-class game, having students on the same team huddle around one device to discuss the question first and then decide upon an answer as a team. All teams have one minute to answer, and, after everyone has put in their answers, we watch the screen to see which rocket ships move over. When the game is over, a prize is given to the winning team (a prize usually made of sugar of some sort). The “prize for the teacher is a nice report that shows you how all of the teams did, and then you can use that information to plan for later instruction.

As simplistic as this really is (if you think about it, it’s just a rocket ship moving across a screen), this game really engages students. Whenever I have done this I have never had to redirect a student back on task, and students have always requested this game above any others that I play. But the real payoff in using this game is that students remember what they got wrong and why they got it wrong if you’re discussing the answers between each question. Why? Because they’re all actively involved in the process. Trust me, this is much more engaging than reviewing a study guide on paper one question at a time in a whole-class review.

2. PowToon

If you’ve ever had to sit through a PowerPoint presentation where the presenter read every single word on every single slide and you thought you could hear your brain cells screaming in agony from inside your head, you’ll see the need for PowToon. PowToon is a slick presentation maker that makes it easy to build engaging presentations. During my brief gig as an administrator, I made the presentation below for a professional development day at that district’s high school:

The engagement factor for students with this tool comes in the process of actually creating the PowToon. In the free version (and they have free 4Edu accounts) there are plenty of options for characters, props, and animations you can include. Students can make up to a 5 minute video and export it to YouTube. The user interface is easy to figure out–I’ve seen 6th graders use this tool with ease, having a blast exploring what PowToon can do. And I’ve also seen students make some amazing products with PowToon, creating awesome presentations that are also good examples of what students know, understand, and are able to do. And, as an added bonus, they don’t make your brain cells recoil in horror during viewing. In case you’re interested in flipping your classroom, this would be a fantastic tool to make engaging videos for students to view.

3. Nearpod

I’ve saved my favorite for last. Nearpod is an online interactive presentation tool that can only be described as a boatload of awesome. Like Socrative, you’ll need two devices – one for the teacher and one for the student. You can upload an existing presentation into Nearpod that you’d like to make more engaging in order to stop torturing other people’s brain cells. Or, you can create one right in Nearpod itself, inserting slides, slideshows, or web content. (If you want to cough up the cash, you can pay to insert PDFs, twitter feeds, or audio slides by getting a Gold account.) After that, a variety of activities can be inserted, such as open-ended questions, polls, and quizzes. They even have an activity where pictures can be uploaded and students can draw on them. As a science teacher, this feature is amazing; I can upload diagrams for students to draw on to complete or to circle various parts of for identification.

But what’s really amazing is how you give the Nearpod presentation. After completing it, you open your presentation and start a live session. You then get a unique pin code that you give to students that they use to join your live session. Once they join, you basically take over their screens, and the presentation advances as you advance the slides. When the activities you insert come up, students do them, and you can then have discussions around them. Results of activities can then be shared with students after they complete them. For example, you can share poll results with students after everyone completes the poll, or you can share selected open-ended question and draw-it responses with students, and those responses you’ve selected then appear on student screens. This is a great feature if you want to share good (or poor) examples to discuss. After you end the Nearpod session, you can get student engagement reports on each student that was in your session:

Nearpod - My Reports (2)

Nearpod - My Reports (3)

I have used Nearpod with students, and I have to say that students overwhelmingly enjoy it. It has even engaged students that have a hard time connecting with the class or the content. If you really want to create a presentation that is more of an experience than a chore, Nearpod is the tool for you.


While technology in and of itself does not guarantee student engagement, the right tool used the right way in the classroom does. And we have plenty of great tools at our disposal in addition to the three described above. For more great tools that can be used to engage students, check out the links below:



Feature image adapted from image courtesy of Flickr, katerha.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.