Active Participation: Ensuring Student Engagement

We often hear both novice and veteran teachers complain that their students are not “involved” in lessons or classroom behavior problems are impeding learning. When we discuss these topics with teachers, we can’t help but wonder what type of rapport the teachers have established with each and every student and more importantly, what active participation strategies they are implementing in the classroom to ensure student engagement. Teachers can use both covert and overt active engagement strategies to develop personal connections with their students and to help students develop an intrinsic desire to succeed. When all students are engaged in their own learning, behavior problems dissipate.

Covert active engagement strategies are as their name implies: unable to be seen by the teacher, yet hold students accountable for their learning. During these types of activities students are imagining, thinking, picturing, remembering, visualizing, reflecting, pondering, or even creating a mind movie. Although covert active participation strategies are not observable, they are essential to any given lesson because they give students time to “think” about questions elicited by the teacher before they are prompted to “perform” an overt activity.

Overt active engagement strategies are both observable and measurable by the classroom teacher. This type of active participation can also be used as an informal formative assessment because it immediately provides the teacher with feedback on the students’ understanding of a given lesson.

In this article, we’ve highlighted two active participation strategies that can be used in a reading lesson or be easily adapted to accommodate any content being taught: Brain Drain and Find the Question.

Brain Drain

Brain Drain is an activity that includes both overt and covert active participation. It is a strategy teachers can use to informally evaluate what the students understand before, during and/or after a unit of study.

Let’s give it a try! After your students have read this month’s Feature Story, “A Whale of an Ocean,” have them think-mix-pair-share. To do this, have students circulate around the classroom for a few seconds. When you call “pair,” students pair up and share three new facts they learned from the article. Repeat the process a few times.

Once the students have mixed and shared a couple of times, have them “drain their brain” of facts they learned from the article. This can be as simple as having students list the facts on paper in a limited amount of time.

All students’ understanding of the article will increase due to the covert and overt active participation activities they would have completed. Brain Drain can also give students the opportunity to organize their thoughts, facts and ideas before they are required to perform on an assessment.

Find the Question

The second active participation strategy we’ve chosen to highlight is called Find the Question. It is a great way to check for student understanding and get students involved and excited about their learning!

Find the Question is very similar to a scavenger hunt. Students circulate around the classroom trying to match posted questions and answers. The questions are based on a recently read article and the goal is to find all of the correct matches. This type of overt active participation strategy will have your students up and moving in a productive manner and provide you with immediate feedback regarding their understanding of the give topic.

We’ve created a Find the Question activity to go along with this month’s Feature Story, “A Whale of an Ocean,” and have listed the set up below. Let’s give it a try!

  • The teacher creates a list of questions and answers.
  • Each sheet of paper has an answer on top with a number and on the bottom of the paper is a question with a letter.
  • Students write the number of answers in the game on a piece of paper before beginning to play. They will use this paper to record their matches of answers and questions.
  • Pages are hung up in the classroom or out on the playground.
  • To play the game, students go to a page, look at the answer on top, and search for the corresponding question. When they find the question, they place the letter of the question next to the number of the answer.
  • The game is over for the student when he or she has a letter next to every number.
  • The teacher can quickly check for accuracy.
  • Students can play by themselves or with a partner. If working with a partner they must stay together while playing.

Incorporating both covert and overt active participation activities in your lessons will hold your students accountable for their learning and provide you with an informal formative assessment regarding student understanding.


Use these templates to incorporate Find the Question into your classroom! All the questions and answers have been prepared for you – print and you are ready to get started! An answer key is included for each grade level.

Find the Question for “A Whale of an Ocean” (Grades 2-3)

Find the Question for “A Whale of an Ocean” (Grades 4-5)

Literacy Set
Download everything you need to use this activity in your class: a pdf version of this article, “A Whale of an Ocean” illustrated books, and the Find the Question templates.

This article was written by Tracey Allen and Clarissa Reeson. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright May 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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