Every major has required classes that help form the core foundation of learning in a discipline. However, that doesn’t always mean that students are enthusiastic about the subject.

Take, for example, an accounting class that is required of all business majors. It’s likely that many of the students are only taking the class because it is required. They hate numbers and are intimidated by math. What can you do to engage these students and persuade them to see the benefits of understanding accounting concepts?

In his book “Engaging Teaching Tools: Measuring and Improving Student Engagement,” David Sladkey described techniques that earned him Teacher of the Year award, Naperville community School District 203, for 2007. Sladkey’s techniques included having a student teach the class something, letting students give their opinion, and having small group work in class

“For example, you could give a problem to the class and have a set time limit for group work. Then have them share their group’s findings with the class. This presents a very interactive and engaging class,” Sladkey explained.

In the case of a reluctant student, what can be done to increase engagement?


If students know why taking your course will benefit them, they will be more likely to at least give you the benefit of the doubt. It’s the old, “What’s in it for me?” motivation.

Look for ways to demonstrate to students how the concepts learned in this course will help them in their future career. For example, you might ask the students to bring in job descriptions for the type of position they would like to hold after graduation. Then tie the required job skills to what will be learned in your course.


Students need to relate to the material to be learned. In a business course you might want to use companies that they are familiar with as your examples. Apple, Sony and Pixar come to mind. One teacher I know had the students play Monopoly and make journal entries instead of using the play money.

You can also use current events, movies and pop culture to spark discussions and increase student motivation.


Consider how you can get students actively involved with the material. In her article, “Active Learning: A Foundation for the Classroom,” Dr. Jennifer Hurd explained how student collaboration brings learning alive.

“Once I started using these active learning strategies, my students were so engaged that they did not want to go back to lectures,” Hurd stated. “They were also learning the material at a much deeper level.”

College students want to make their own decisions. You can help them to exercise their critical thinking skills by allowing them a choice of assignments on a particular topic or by having them design an assignment on their own.

Role-play also increases student engagement. Students can take on the role of a person affected by a particular issue or the role of an abstract concept. They could play the part of a cell or a molecule, a historical figure or an economic principle.

Role-play can be used to:

  • Solve a problem
  • Apply a skill
  • Explore or change values

Besides, the creativity of role-play makes learning feel more like play and less like work.

How do you encourage active class participation? Share your ideas below.