Curriculum & Leadership

21 tips for 2021: Using content to keep students engaged in 2021

The Newsela Team
Dec 14, 2020

We can all agree that 2020 was a doozy, and while no one can say for certain what 2021 will bring, there is nothing like a fresh start to lift spirits and get a much needed energy boost. However, even with a new year on the horizon, keeping students engaged will be a challenge educators continue to tackle. So, whether you’re looking for some quick tips, or a deeper dive into getting the most out of your instructional resources, we’ve got you covered. Check out our 21 tips for using content to keep students engaged in 2021. 

  1. Choice is motivating! Provide students with autonomy in what they study by creating assignments with choice, while still staying aligned to your instructional goals.

  • Newsela Tip: Create a text set and let the students choose what interests them most. Check out our 12 text sets of good news here!

2. Find ways to transport students’ imaginations, even if they’re stuck at home. 

  • Newsela tip: Use the Virtual Field Trips collection in Newsela Science, where students can explore places like the Berlin Natural History Museum and learn about fossils.

3. Break down barriers between subjects and create engaging lessons that build cross-curricular skills.

  • Newsela Tip: Have students explore interactive data sets and paired reading passages on topics like rollercoasters, volcanoes, and U.S. History with Newsela’s cross-curricular text sets with Tuva Labs, included in both Newsela Science and Newsela Social Studies

4. Help students connect historical events to their own lives and see how it relates to them by pairing a primary source with a current event text to help bridge the history to the present.

  • Newsela tip: With collections in Newsela ELA and Newsela Social Studies that curate texts, teachers have ready-to-go resources that pair texts together based on topic, theme, opinion, and current or historical events.

5. No recess? No problem. Create a virtual recess on Zoom to keep students socializing and interacting with their peers.

  • Newsela Community tip: Have a stand-up, or “Zoom-up,” comedy session and have students share their favorite jokes.

6. Collaborate! Find communities even outside of your school or district to spark new ideas and connect with other educators to share and discuss teaching strategies, resources, and lesson ideas. 

  • Newsela tip: Teachers and educators can leverage the Newsela Community and join discussions that build connections to innovate change.

7. Promote inquiry-based lessons that encourage students to ask questions and look at history with a critical lens.

  • Newsela tip: Leverage the C3 Inquiries collections in Newsela Social Studies to get students to dig into compelling questions related to a lesson, and take informed action in their communities.

8. Select diverse content that affirms students’ identities. Remember that the best mirrors and windows present diverse communities in a positive light and avoid negative stereotypes. 

9. Address challenging and complex issues as an opportunity to start conversations, practice positive discourse, and engage students with the topics that are shaping the world around them.

  • Newsela tip: Read how one district used Newsela’s up-to-date and authentic texts to jumpstart challenging conversations that surrounded us in 2020.

10. Create lessons that are student-led. Not only will project- and inquiry-based lessons be more motivating to students, but they’ll also take workload off of teachers.

  • Newsela Tip: Easily build student-led lessons using the curated collections for research projects, debates, and Project-Based Learning included in Newsela ELA.

11. Celebrate student success like you would in the classroom with a “gold star” or “badge” system, so students can feel proud about their accomplishments.

  • Newsela Tip: Recognize students who hit milestones with Power Words collected or get 100% on their Newsela quizzes.

12. Utilize different multimedia channels to switch up instruction and keep students engaged with instruction.

  • Newsela Tip: Use app smashing to smash 2021 out of the park. We love how this educator used Newsela and Pear Deck to create an interactive lesson with her students.

13. Look for opportunities to bring SEL themes into standard instruction to ensure students are in the right mindset to learn. 

  • Newsela Tip: Leverage embedded SEL discussion connections, which are included in the most popular collections in Newsela ELA, to encourage self awareness, self management and more.

14. Get parents and caregivers involved in student reading by encouraging students to summarize the main idea or theme of their at-home reading at the dinner table. 

  • Newsela Tip: Encourage parents to create Newsela accounts and read and discuss articles with their children.

15. Every learner should feel confident and included, even from afar. Meet students where they are with differentiated instruction and scaffolded lessons. 

  • Newsela tip: Use Newsela’s leveled content so students can understand the context of the lesson, no matter their reading level.

16. But it can’t stop there. Ensure digital resources are accessible for all learners with features that support every type of learner. 

  • Newsela Tip: Use Newsela’s Real Aloud mode so students can listen in on any Newsela article and follow along with highlighted text. 

17. Have to teach a specific skill? Find engaging content that supports the skill to keep students interested. 

  • Newsela tip: Leverage Newsela ELA’s Standards & Skills collection that include assessments to teach specific reading skills and standards alongside authentic and engaging content. Personally, we love this article, Fancy footwork: Why NBA players love pedicures, that focuses on problem and solution text structure. 

18. Make standard homework collaborative. Have students compare and contrast assignments in breakout groups, in person or over video call. 

  • Newsela Tip: Have students use the annotation feature to highlight as they read, looking for themes, questions, or content that sparks an emotional response. Put students into pairs or small groups to discuss.

19. Include students in goal setting. When students use metacognitive skills to evaluate their own learning needs, they become more motivated and self-driven in their learning. 

  • Newsela Tip: Connect with individual students and have them rank the specific content or skill-based standards they need to work on. Then, leverage the Review collections available in Newsela ELA, Social Studies, and Science to embed specific skills/concepts into existing lessons. 

20. Have students collaborate and work together, virtually or in-person, to encourage teamwork and autonomy within the classroom

  • Newsela tip: Create a jigsaw learning activity even from afar with breakout rooms on Zoom. Leverage Newsela ELA’s Debate and Discussion collection and have each group read a different text set within the collection to debate, form an opinion, and build a case to present to the rest of their class. 

21. Lastly, don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your instructional materials in the new year to make sure they are engaging your students no matter where they are learning from! 

Additional Resources: 

What we can learn from 2020’s most engaging content

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