At the Engaging Minds blog, we’re constantly seeking and sharing ways that you can increase student engagement in your classroom.

To that end, we recently asked the winners of Questia’s Most Valuable Professors (MVP) Contest and CengageBrain’s America’s Greatest Professors Award (GPA): What do you do to engage students? These winners, who were nominated for the award by students, have some interesting, creative, and classroom-tested insights and ideas to share. Below, we’ve shared three of their responses.

By the way: Your students can apply for scholarships in the names of these instructors—and others—until March 16, 2015! See below for information on how your students can apply for the Questia MVP Scholarship and the CengageBrain GPA Scholarship!


How I Engage Students: Three Classroom-Tested Ideas from Instructors

Student engagement prior to class is as important as during class. Students are encouraged to complete the reading and the accompanying pre-quiz prior to class.  This preparation helps them to present the topic to the rest of the class.  Students are not sure who I will call on to make an impromptu presentation to the rest of the class on the day’s topic.  I engage students in classroom discussion through group activities and games that have the content of the day as their main focus and call on students at random. Treating students with respect, greeting them as they enter the classroom, and calling on them by their name are also great ways to engage students to actively participate in the classroom.

—CengageBrain GPA winner Lakshmi Nagarajan-Iyer, Accounting, Business and Legal Studies, Middlesex County College (Edison, New Jersey)


One of the best ways to engage students is to connect the class materials to their lives in a meaningful way. Some students manage to do this for themselves, which is always great, but it often takes a dedicated instructor to highlight the possibilities for personal connection. I’m pretty lucky on this front because as a folklorist, that’s fairly easy to do. While students typically enter a folklore class expecting to hear about other places, other cultures, and other time periods, they quickly discover that they themselves, here and now, have a rich and valuable folk culture that’s worthy of study. I often compare this experience to attending your first Shakespeare class and discovering that though you hadn’t realized it, you’ve actually already read and memorized several of his plays. Imagine what that would be like! You’d be ready to jump into the fun stuff from day one: analysis, performance, interpretation, all the elements that makes the study of Shakespeare engaging. Students in my classes get to have this experience–once they understand what folklore is and how to identify it, they can jump right into the thick of interpretation and analysis, often learning valuable things about themselves and their own communities in the process. While it’s important to also represent the folklore of other cultures, taking the time to focus on students’ own cultures and folk groups makes for a class experience that’s not only more engaging, but also more productive, relevant, and educational.

—Questia MVP winner Lynne S. McNeill, PhD, English Department, Utah State University (Logan, Utah)


Professors who are able to find ways to relate to their students seem to have the best success in engaging them in the classroom. There are too many things competing for students’ attention now. For many students, just staying off of their phones in class is a struggle. So I combat this by making myself as personable as possible. During the semester, don’t just learn philosophy, but learn some about who I am as a person, my other interests (sports, personal financial, listing to terrible pop music, etc.), and why I’m genuinely interested in the ideas we’re discussing in class. Beyond that, the other important factor in keeping students engaged is covering topics in class that the instructor is genuinely interested in. Instructor interest rubs off on the students. It’s hard not to stay engaged when the person at the front of the room seems especially excited to be talking with you about a particular topic.

— Questia MVP winner Chris W. Surprenant, Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Director of the Tocqueville Project in Law, Liberty, and Morality, University of New Orleans (New Orleans, Louisiana)


Scholarships for College Students

Our partners at Questia and CengageBrain are now accepting student applications for thirty academic scholarships for the 2015 fall semester. College students from across the country nominated great professors they believed deserved the title of “Most Valuable Professor” (MVP) or the “Greatest Professor Award” (GPA). (Comments from three of these instructors appear above!) For the grand prize, Questia and CengageBrain pledged to establish five $500 scholarships in each of the six winning professors’ names. Those six winners have earned the honor of choosing the scholarship criteria and selecting the scholarship recipients.

To learn more about these scholarships, read our previous post: 3 Quick Tips and 30 New Scholarships for College Students. Share the post with your students! Note: Applications for these scholarships are due by March 16, 2015, so encourage your students to enter today!


What are your suggestions for engaging students in the college classroom? Share them in the comments.