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4 Research-Backed Strategies to Improve Student Engagement!

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

Let’s face it: we all struggle to capture student’s attention sometimes, whether teaching in-person or virtually. Short attention spans is one of the inherent challenges of working with youth, but thankfully, educational research has provided us with several helpful strategies to keep students engaged during the school day, and we’re discussing them in this week’s blog post!

#1: Use Multiple Learning Styles and Senses

There are many theories surrounding the idea of “learning styles”, and although research on the effectiveness of catering towards different styles yields mixed results (a subject for another blog post!), science has demonstrated that using a variety of methods -- such as conveying information visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically -- improves students’ focus levels. Similarly, engaging students’ sight, hearing, and other senses (as you are able) yields similar results; to do so, consider giving children lots of hands-on tools and items to use in their learning.

#2: Add Variation Every 15 Min

It is common to hear that “students have x minutes of attention span” in academic writings, so although these exact numbers vary, changing up something in the way you teach every 15 minutes fosters greater engagement as children are constantly presented with something new to focus on. These changes don’t have to be drastic, as even telling stories or showing pictures have been shown to provide this benefit. Additionally, using one of these 15-minute variations every hour to give students time to play freely increases day-long focus.

#3: Provide the Right Amount of Challenge

The Proximal Zone of Development Theory (or the Optimal Arousal Theory, for those well-versed in the world of adventure education) postulates that youth learn best when given the “right” amount of challenge, and these benefits show in their attention spans. What’s the “right” amount of challenge? Students should be pushing themselves to understand something that is challenging to them but not so overwhelmed that learning becomes impossible.

#4: Make Content Relevant

Lastly, students stick with what you’re teaching them when it’s easy to see how the lesson applies to their lives. Hence, take the time to make connections between the classroom and the rest of the world; reading Shakespeare may have intrinsic value in and of itself, but high schoolers will stick with the plays more if they realize how they teach them about relationships and conflict.

Source: Briggs, S. (2014). The science of attention: how to capture and hold the attention of easily distracted students. InformED. Retrieved from

Looking for more activities that improve student focus (especially during virtual classes)? Check out this week’s spotlighted content creator, Mache Trevino!

Mache Treviño helped found Crecimiento y Aventura, an organization focused on experiential education and group facilitation, human and community development, quality of life for people with disabilities, measuring social impact, and self-sustainability and social business. Mache is the co-author of the book “Experiential Activities for a Better World” and has developed projects with a humanistic and experiential approach with various educational, social and corporate organizations in Chile, Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Panama and Peru. Mache is an associate facilitator of the Higher Institute of Experiential Education (ISEE) based in Colombia. Learn more at

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