7 Best Practices to Keep Students Engaged in Health Class

Returning to school after the New Year is a great time to reflect on your classroom routines and strategies. If you’re looking for ways to improve, here are 7 tips to help keep students engaged in health class.

1. Movement

Keep students up, out of chairs, and moving. The less students are sitting, the more blood and oxygen are getting to the brain and enhancing learning. Pair movement with interpersonal communication so students are teaching and learning from each other.

My daily pair-share “go-tos” are:

  • Give One, Get One
  • Team Huddle
  • Contact List

Contact list is an update to the good old clock partner we all have used. Here are some directions on how I set it up and use it.

2. Flexible Seats

You’ve seen it all over Pinterest and teacher sites — flexible seating. Providing options on what chair students get for the day starts the day off right. You must set rules and guidelines, but I’ve found that students adhere to them quickly.

In my classroom, it’s first-come, first-served. So, students are eager to get to my class, find a seat, and get started. Flexible seating does not need to break the bank. I have simple things like cushions and desk chairs I found at thrift stores.

Flexible seating options in health class

3. Student Choice

As often as possible, allow students the opportunity for voice and choice in the classroom. When they get a choice, they own their learning. Let them choose where they sit. Giving students choice in their seat and tablemates allows them to feel comfortable with their surroundings.

Have the class vote on activities to use with the lesson. Ask them, “Do we want to work with a contact list or do a team huddle?” Assignments and assessments can have several options for students to show mastery of skill or information. Students may choose to write, draw or verbally represent their understanding with these choices. These little ways to include the students’ voice allows for class buy-in and student engagement.

4. Student Focus

Make sure the spotlight is on the students more than the teacher. The person who talks the most learns the most. So, give students time to talk, share and ask questions. Throw out the days of standing in front of the class reading through boring PowerPoint presentations. Instead, be the guide in their learning.

Give students resources to find answers to their questions — and then have them share what they’ve discovered with other students. In addition, use strategies such as jigsaw, clipboard crusin’ and conversation playing board to give students ownership of their learning.

A drawing of a cartoon character

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5. Teacher Flexibility

All teachers know that no two days are the same in the classroom. You write an amazing lesson plan, but the fire alarm rings or your students are glazed over from watching a late-night game. Be prepared and have a “bag of tricks” (strategies) to change it up. Don’t just go through the motions because the lesson looked good on paper or you “have” to cover that topic.

If you find a lesson isn’t working, step it up or slow it down. I once found myself struggling to teach a lesson because the article was too long for many in the class. So, I turned it into a jigsaw activity. Students became more engaged, were less stressed, and were able to learn from each other.

Also, if things aren’t going as planned you can always ask students for ideas. They love having a say and they have great ideas!

6.  Quick Transitions

Be sure to keep the flow of the lesson moving with quick, frequent transitions so students stay engaged. Don’t stay on one activity too long. Sitting and being stagnant is boring — and you’ll lose students’ attention.

It’s important to have a time limit for each activity and stick to it. I recommend using online timers — either through Google or a website. One of my favorites is the rainbow timer — it counts down any amount and has a soft calming alarm with birds tweeting. I post the timer on the screen and announce the time left in increments: 2 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds, 10 seconds. I expect my students to be moving back to their seat when the timer alarm goes off.

7.  Ball Toss/Cold Calls

Having a back-and-forth teacher question/student answer and whole-class discussion is a must. You can add a fun twist by using a ball toss/squishy to increase interest. I have a slew of squishy objects. Some I use based on the sports season, others are based on the type of question I’m asking, and some are just for fun.

When I ask a question, I then scan the room. Some students will have their hand up and I will call on them, but I also move to tables where there are no hands up and make cold calls. Making cold calls and switching tables ensures students are paying attention and allows me to cover the classroom, not relying on the same few to answer.

A picture containing table, indoor, cup

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As the second half of the school year begins, I hope you get a chance to try some of these strategies to keep your students engaged in health class!

Additional Resources

Nicole Beard

Nicole Beard has taught health education in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, for the past 17 years. Her experience includes teaching at both the middle school and high school levels. She received the Maryland Health Education Teacher of the Year award in 2016 and was named SHAPE America Eastern District Health Education Teacher of the Year in 2019. She can be reached at nbeard@aacps.org or @MrsBeardhealth.