Increase Student Engagement with Your Lesson Design

Increase Student Engagement with Your Lesson Design

Written by Kristen Vincent, Responsive Classroom Consulting Teacher

Lesson design is about planning and structuring lessons in a way that engages students in learning, practicing, and applying academic content and skills. Well-designed, engaging lessons reduce misbehavior by keeping students focused on their learning. High-quality lessons communicate a purpose for learning, set an appropriate pace, and provide students with time for reflection.

Effective lesson design begins with a three-part structure that reflects the natural learning cycle. This structure can be used for planning any lesson, regardless of length of time or grade level. 


At the start of any lesson, students need to hear why they are doing what they are doing. Why are students reading about pioneers moving west, practicing spelling words, or memorizing multiplication facts? Tell students what they will be learning or practicing and why it matters. Help students make a personal connection to this learning so they can see the importance of it. 

Tip: Less is more. Keep your lesson opening brief. Share just a few sentences about what students are doing and why, and how it connects to their own lives. You may ask an open-ended question here to get students thinking about the work they will be doing. “When might someone use fractions at home? At work? Why?” 


This is where students engage in the work. This time might include some brief direct teaching, but this is the key time for students to move beyond watching and listening to the teacher. In the body of a lesson, students dig into their work, trying out ideas, researching, and applying new learning. Your lesson design should provide opportunities for students to practice, explore, experiment, ask questions, problem-solve, and perhaps collaborate with classmates. Your role is to observe students at work and coach as needed.

Tip: Ask students if they want help before offering it. We might have all sorts of ideas about a student’s work, but remember that it is the student’s work, not ours. Before offering advice or suggestions, ask the student, “Would you like some help with that?” or “Can I offer a suggestion that has helped other students?” If a student says no, honor that, continue to observe them at work, and check in periodically. If the academic work is appropriately challenging, a student can learn from working through problems independently. 


How lessons end is just as important as how they begin. When students reflect on their learning, they gain more understanding about themselves as learners and deepen their mastery of academic content and skills. Thinking and talking about work can also provide a sense of closure, making it easier to disengage from a task and move onto another subject or activity. 

Close lessons with a quick restatement of the purpose and a brief summary of what was practiced or learned. Then ask students to reflect on the work they were just engaged with. This is where students can assimilate and consolidate what they’ve learned. 

Tip: Use open-ended questions to promote reflection. Use questions that focus on what was learned or practiced or how students engaged in their work. Ask about what worked well, what they might try differently next time, or any problems they encountered and solved. 

The three-part lesson structure of opening, body and closing will help you plan effective lessons that heighten students’ engagement and deepen their learning.

To learn more about effective lesson design, check out “Structuring Lessons for Maximum Impact” in The Joyful Classroom or the Lesson Design Quick Coaching Guide

Tags: Academic Choice, activities, Building Classroom Community