Engagement Activities

What is an engagement activity?

Engagement activities, simply, are a way to spark students’ interest and curiosity in the content to be learned, and ready students’ minds for learning. The engagement activity/ies launch the lesson and sell the students on what the rest of the day will bring.

NOTE: There is a difference between engageMENT activities and engagING activities. All of your activities should be engagING – meaning that you should strive to keep students interested, motivated, and enjoying themselves while learning throughout the day and week. EngageMENT activities are those one or two initial activities that serve to introduce a new topic to the students.

Engagement strategies should:

        • Capture students’ attention
        • Personally involve students
        • Activate students’ prior knowledge

Why are engagement activities important?

Engagement activities are important for getting students’ buy-in—which is to say, their cooperation and enthusiasm for what’s to come—their understanding for why they’re going to do it, and their confidence that they can do it. Engagement activities are extra important when students are in a new place, with new people, learning new things, and they can be wary, uncertain, or nervous. In this state, students are not ready to dive in and explore what you’ve planned for them, and learning will not be absorbed. If students can be “hooked” with an engagement activity, they will be ready to get everything out of the lesson that you intend.

Tips for engagement activities:

· Recall prior learning

· Draw on students’ existing interests and lived experiences

· Gauge what students already know about the topic

· Ask for students’ opinions or ideas

· Ask for predictions

· Demonstrate new processes

· Bring up interesting questions that the students are excited to investigate

· Provide a shared experience that can act as a foundation for new learning

· Avoid lecture or “front-loading” information

· Make them fun!

At the very beginning of the week, an important engagement activity is the initial exposure to the museum/institution space.

When the students first arrive, bring them through the main entrance of the museum, and allow them just to look around and make some observations. Help them understand what your institution is about, why it exists, and how what they’ll be doing this week relates. Even if the students have been to the institution before in previous SITP years, they’ll benefit from the reminder… plus, it just makes for an exciting start to the week!

Examples of engagement activities

Ideas for engagement activities can be found here: http://bit.ly/SITP-Engagement

We can also go back to our photography and media sample curriculum and come up with some engagement activities for Monday!

Because media is very relevant to students, and something they have a lot of experience with and opinions about, we would definitely want to activate that as part of our engagement activities.

We want to launch the concept that media-makers create their work with a specific audience and purpose in mind. Even though students may never have consciously thought about media this way, we can guarantee that they will understand it. We just want to make that connection for them, between their existing knowledge and the idea we want to teach. Some activities to achieve this might be:

These are just three examples of activities the museum educator could use to engage their learners in the topic. The ME might use just one, or more than one engagement activity.

Looking back at the list of tips above, these activities effectively draw on students’ existing interests and lived experiences. By showing the students that they already have some existing expertise with a topic, we can foster an immediate sense of competence, letting the students know right away that this will be a topic they can master.

Now let’s try a topic that students are less likely to have prior experience with. On Wednesday in our sample media and photography curriculum, one of the concepts is “different photographic techniques and the feelings each can convey to the viewer.” Because this topic is more removed from students’ existing experience, this would be a good opportunity to use an engagement activity that provides a shared experience that can then be used as a foundation on which to build more knowledge. Here is one idea:

Notice that no prior knowledge was needed for the students to be successful in this activity; the ME was simply asking them to make observations and share their ideas. The students now have experience analyzing the elements of a photograph and thinking about the tools a photographer has to communicate messages to the viewer. By the end of this activity, the ME has created a sense of competence in the students: they developed a beginning understanding of the concept all on their own. This sense of competence will act as a motivator for the students as they progress in the lesson.

Other ways to provide a shared experience to serve as a foundation for new learning could be:

  • Students following instructions to conduct a procedure or experiment before getting any of the information behind it, and then using their observations of what happened to launch the concept. For example, for a lesson about static electricity, the very first thing students do is follow a procedure that says:
            • Blow up a balloon
            • Rub it vigorously on your hair
            • Put the balloon on a wall and let go.

Now that the students have experienced static electricity in action, they are engaged and curious about how that happened, and ready to learn the science behind the phenomenon.


  • Students observing a demonstration – for example, watching a brief dance performance before diving into a choreographer’s style and techniques. (This one doesn’t personally involve the students, so a passive activity like this should be brief, and interesting!)

The key to structuring these as effective engagement activities is to ensure that all students will be successful – such as in the photo analysis activity, where no prior knowledge was needed and there were no wrong answers, or in the balloon activity, where it was a simple, easy-to-follow procedure.