Like many health and PE teachers, I believe my content areas are vitally important for students. Yet in most schools, students don’t attend health education class daily. Some of us see our students every six days, while others teach students for just one semester.
Maximizing all available time with students is critical — which is why it’s so important to use strategies that engage students in content and skills. Engagement is the key.
In my health education class, I have established a mindset that “everyone does everything.” Yep, that’s right. There is no hand-raising. There are no opt outs. My classroom is a “no chill” zone. Everyone. Does. Everything.
Here are 5 of my favorite engagement strategies:
- Eliminate hand-raising. I bet you thought my #1 strategy was going to be the good ol’ pair-share strategy. And to some degree, you are right. For me, cold calling holds everyone’s attention. When teachers use hand-raising, typically only those students who think they have the right answer will raise their hand.
And guess what? They are usually right. It tells me they know the information or have an opinion, but it doesn’t give me a pulse on the class as a whole.
Calling on students who raise their hands promotes a “chill” zone for other learners. When I only call on students who raise their hand, others can come to my class, sit back, and chill … without a concern that I’m going to ever call on them for an answer or opinion.
Even though I use cold-calls, I still give students the chance to answer a question correctly or talk out their thoughts before throwing them out to the wolves. I DO use the pair-share strategy. In fact, I love it. It gives each student a chance to think through their thoughts, ideas and answers. But it also gives students a chance to be wrong and change their mind or learn.
Plus, after a pair-share, I KNOW that each student has some sort of an answer, whether it was their original answer or one they discussed with a partner.
- Stand Up. Hand Up. Give One. Get One. This is probably my favorite strategy for health education class (click here for details) because it allows for several mini-conversations with a variety of different students while moving around the room. And to be honest, it’s a bit of a twist on pair-share.
To ensure this strategy is successful I recommend two things: 1) Be relentless in reminding kids to put their hand up to signify they need a partner (If you have a class of 30 like me, it’s hard to know who needs a partner if hands aren’t in the air.) and 2) Remind students that it’s called “Give One, Get One”… not “Give Your Whole List.”
I find that if I teach students how to participate in this activity through modeling and guided practice, they catch on quickly and need to be reminded about hand-raising infrequently.
After the activity has concluded, I can go back to cold calling for a large group discussion because I know everyone has a list of many ideas that they can share in a class discussion.
- Talking Chips. Have you ever had that one student in class who wants to answer every single question? Or wants to give their input on every single topic? Or how about the student who avoids all eye contact, hoping they won’t have to talk in front of the whole class? What I love about talking chips is that it puts an end to all these scenarios and creates equity in the conversation.
Talking chips are manipulatives given to students in small group discussions. You can use paper tokens, game pieces, or — my favorite — poker chips. Generally, I give each student two or three chips.
Each time a student wants to speak, they “spend” a chip by placing it in the middle of the group’s table. When a student no longer has chips, they must wait to speak until everyone has used their chips. This strategy encourages students to conduct a balanced group discussion by hearing from everyone in the group while ensuring one student does not dominate a discussion.
Again, my room is not a “chill” zone, so everyone is accountable for sharing their thoughts, ideas and opinions.
- Games: There are many games teachers can play to engage students in health education class, but one quick way to help students master important vocabulary or content-related facts is a deck of “I Have Who Has…” cards. This wrap-around game can be made on virtually any topic and the cards are great for class starters and closers in both small and large groups.
You can find several templates out on the web, but I’ve attached my own version here.
- Movement: Nothing engages students in health education class more quickly than asking them to get out of their seats and move around the room. I make it my goal to incorporate some sort of movement activity into each lesson. Sometimes the movement in the classroom complement the learning activity, but other times it can just be as simple as giving the students a chance to stand and stretch.
Here are a few of the educational movement activities and options I use with students:
- Four Corners: Not only does this strategy get students away from their desk, it also provides formative feedback for me to gauge understanding. I also add a “turn-and-talk” before discussing the answers with the whole group.
- Gallery Walks: This is a discussion technique that allows students to first brainstorm in small groups before bringing the conversation back to the whole class. It gets students out of their chairs and again, gives me formative feedback.
- Standing Desks: My classroom has four standing desks that are available to students on a first-come, first-served basis. These desks are usually so popular that my high school students are racing to class to be one of the first four though the door!
- The Essentials of Teaching Health Education
- Lesson Planning for Skills-Based Health Education
- Appropriate Practices in School-Based Health Education
- SHAPE America #SHAPEHealthEd Twitter Chats
Leah Swedberg is a health and physical education teacher at West Fargo High School in North Dakota. She has taught for 11 years at the secondary level and was named the 2019 Central District Health Education Teacher of the Year. She can be reached at email@example.com.