How to Plan Well-Designed, Innovative Lessons that Boost Student Engagement

The past school year has taught us all a lot of valuable lessons. In spite of the challenges that came with a year of “non-traditional” school and experiencing a “new normal,” we also saw tremendous gains in our professional skills and in our comfort with bringing new ideas and tools into our classrooms. We've learned that we need to be flexible in our instruction, willing to step out of our comfort zones, and embrace technology and new teaching methods in our classrooms. We adapted as needed while experiencing the transitions of our classroom space. 

In addition to building skills, we become more aware of the importance of focusing on SEL and checking in with our students, especially when we are not in the same physical space. My experience with teaching virtually for nine weeks, hybrid for eighteen, and a mix of in-person and virtual this year, led me to continuously seek ways to get students more engaged in the lesson. It required me to really think about the types of learning opportunities that I was creating for students and seek more student feedback along the way.

Designing lessons

When we look at designing our daily lessons, here are some things to consider:

  • What can you use at the beginning of class, such as a quick entrance ticket or a check-in, or a hook to draw students into the lesson that will spark some curiosity and excitement for learning? 
  • What tools or methods can you use that will create more excitement for learning while also helping us to better understand student needs?
  • During the lesson, how can you create opportunities for students to drive their own learning? 
  • What options will provide a more interactive and collaborative experience, regardless of where learning is taking place? 
  • Which tools provide real-time interactions and feedback? Which tools or methods will help students to build essential SEL skills, while more meaningfully engaging in the lesson and lead to better content retention?
  • And finally, how can you keep students engaged through to the end of class? How can you close the lesson so that you have an understanding of where students are in the learning process? 
  • What are the options to determine the questions they might have and that will provide you with access to information to better prepare for the next day?

Boosting Student Engagement

Here are a few ideas for building more interactive lessons that boost student engagement and provide ways to assess student learning. Depending on your teaching setting, we do not always need to rely on technology. Hands-on learning and PBL are great choices for engaging students more in learning. Having quick conversations and doing activities with students in person makes a difference and helps us to quickly assess students’ well-being and learning. We can use the visual cues that we see in our classrooms but in the absence of being together in the space or without students having cameras on for example, we need other ways to gauge student interest and comprehension.

Hooks and Check-ins

Kick off the lesson with a check-in using some tools that offer a variety of question types or activities. For example, Ziplet is a great choice for a check-in or entrance or exit ticket, which can include two questions, one that is a text response and another that can be a rating scale or even an emoji.  Desmos is not just for math, it can be used to create a variety of check-ins and opening activities for students. Creating a quick Google Form that has questions and even short videos that are prompts for students to respond to would work for all environments. Other multimedia options that have templates and libraries of ready-to-run choices available are tools like Quizizz or Nearpod. Quizizz has lessons that can have slides followed by different question types and Nearpod has SEL check-ins, or quick launch activities that could be a drawing space, an open-ended response, or even a lesson from their library that has a VR trip or 3D object to use as a hook to prompt discussion.

The Lesson

To keep students engaged during the lesson, add in some activities that help students to focus on the content through discussion or tools that promote creativity in learning. Extend the learning by having them create something using a graphic organizer, a concept map, or write ideas or questions they have on post-it notes. Place students into groups to work together on additional activities, if in-person or using breakout rooms for virtual learning. Or using some of the collaborative whiteboard spaces that enable collaboration and interactivity for all students whether in or out of the classroom. Google Jamboard, Padlet, Whiteboard chat, or using the whiteboard space that comes within Microsoft Teams or Zoom are good choices for promoting that collaboration..


To engage all students in the lesson, creating activities where you share the content through an interactive platform like perhaps Formative, Nearpod, or Pear Deck, helps to connect students in learning, whether in-person or remote. With these options, we can add in presentation slides, images, audio or video, and include a variety of activities for quick assessments throughout the lesson, all within one space. With these tools, we can track student engagement and use this quick access to data to follow up with students and give more authentic and timely feedback.

Wrapping it up

When it comes to closing the lesson, we can use some of these same digital options, but it's also a good idea to get students to talk about their learning. Whether we have conversations in class or leverage tools like Flipgrid or Synth, it helps to extend the learning beyond class. The responses can be simply for teachers or shared with classmates to promote more collaborative learning. Other options for backchannel discussions could be GoSoapBox or Padlet.

What's nice about some of these options is that the class discussion doesn't have to end when the class period does. We encourage students to think about and apply their learning beyond just our class and in a space that may be more comfortable. Students can also think about how their learning applies to the real world, process it throughout the day, and add their own questions.

Designing a lesson that engages students and motivates them for learning means understanding our individual student needs and interests. To do so, leveraging some of these spaces where we can ask the right questions, have access to their responses, and then build upon it will definitely make a difference.

About the Author: 

Rachelle Dene is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network.   She was recently named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.

She is the author of five books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World and her newest book “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us” is now available. 

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at


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