10 High-Engagement Strategies for Every Math Class

Posted by AVID Center on 8/27/2019

Students-Collaborate By Frances Cafferty and Karen Granato, Mathematics and AVID Elective Teachers, Samuel E. Shull Middle School

As middle school math teachers, we realize it is a difficult task to get all students engaged in their learning. Teachers have to compete with many different outside factors, such as popular video games, social media, desires to socialize with friends in class, a strong dislike for math from a prior grade, events that happen outside of the classroom, etc. We have found the best way to counteract outside influences is to develop a strong foundation of relational capacity and to provide opportunities for students to channel their desires to socialize into the activities that best support learning for each lesson. AVID offers a wide variety of strategies that provide opportunities for increased student engagement. Listed below are our top 10 highly engaging strategies!

1. Reach for the Stars

Students take the vocabulary list for a new unit, identify their familiarity with the words, and draw icons to visually represent their understanding with a flower to show I’m just learning, a tree to show I know it, or a star to show I can teach it.

2. Think–Pair–Share

Students can take any thinking they have done or writing from an activity, like Reach for the Stars, and pair up to share what they were thinking. In the case of Reach for the Stars, students would find someone with a star on a word that they had placed a flower on in order to learn the meaning.

3. Jigsaw

For topics that can be split up into multiple parts, students are split into groups and each group becomes experts on one part of the topic. They then create a poster with all the information the other groups need to learn about their part. When my classes covered ratios, I had student groups work on one of the following:

  • Writing ratios in three ways
  • Writing equivalent ratios
  • Finding unit rates
  • Modeling ratios and rates
  • Solving ratio word problems with ratio tables
  • Writing a ratio in words multiple ways

4. Gallery Walk

Once posters are done, we hang them around the room and the groups rotate around the room to take notes from the parts they need to learn about. After all groups have rotated through all the posters, students can ask each poster’s creators questions if they feel they need even more information or clarification for a point of confusion.

5. Find Someone Who…

Students group up based on a given requirement (same color shirt, same hair style, matching shoes, etc.) and discuss the answer to a question. Have students regroup for each new question based on a new requirement. This is an easy way to make unit reviews more engaging. During the review for our fraction unit test, my students met up with each other in pairs to discuss the following:

  • Definitions of unit vocabulary
  • How to convert a mixed number into an improper fraction
  • Simplifying fractions
  • Dividing fractions
  • Finding the GCF
  • Finding the LCM
  • Key words in word problems to identify the skill(s) necessary for solving

6. Turn and Talk

Have students work in a pair or triad to discuss a new skill taught, answer questions, or review for an upcoming assessment. During your lesson, take a moment to pause for a “Turn and Talk.” This can be guided with a question or students can take turns explaining definitions or algorithms. Make it fun by saying the person with the shortest or longest hair goes first or come up with your own!

7. Truths or Lies

Create two or three math statements that the students decide are true or false. In either case the students must prove their reasoning. As time goes on you can have your students challenge each other by creating their own “Truths or Lies.” I like using this to have the students think about the lesson and math misconceptions.

8. 25-Cent Pyramid

For this game create three slides on a PowerPoint with three vocabulary words on each slide. To play the game one student faces the presentation to see the words and the other’s back is to the screen. For each round have the students follow these directions.

Rules: Do NOT say the word!

ROUND 1: You may use your hands, body, and voice!!!

ROUND 2: You may use your VOICE...HANDS behind your back!!!

ROUND 3: You may use your HANDS...but no VOICE!!!

9. Estimation Station

Fill a clear container of any size with any objects (be creative!) and have the students estimate the contents of the container. To make it more interesting think about using middle school math topics like the ratio of candy corns to pumpkin candies or the percentages of each color of Skittles. I usually leave this up for a few weeks, and the students love to see who wins the jar!

10. World Cafe

During your regular centers or stations, try leaving back an “expert” from each team. The expert will have a better understanding of the task at hand and can help guide the newbies to the station. The next round, a new expert will have to stay back. This will keep students accountable for their learning and give them confidence in helping others.

Creating a math classroom that is highly engaging isn't easy in today’s world, but we feel that these strategies are great way to get started. Providing students with time to talk and move around the classroom is key. Creating engaging activities doesn't mean simpler work; use this as an opportunity to challenge your students with more rigorous problem solving.


Frances-Photo Frances Cafferty is in her eighth year of teaching middle school at the Perth Amboy School District in New Jersey. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Engineering Science, is certified to teach K–12 Mathematics, and has a master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering. She currently teaches 6th grade math and the AVID Elective. She believes building strong relationships with students is crucial for students to feel safe taking risks as they develop their critical thinking skills. She enjoys ballroom dancing with her husband, spending quality time with her family, and tabletop games with friends. To contact Frances, email [email protected].


Karen-Photo Karen is in her tenth year of teaching middle school at the Perth Amboy School District in New Jersey. She earned her bachelor's degree in Mathematics, is certified to teach Elementary K–5, 6–12 Math, and has a master’s degree in Mathematics Education. She currently teaches 7th grade math and the AVID Elective. She believes that with a little encouragement, practice, and perseverance, students can feel more confident in their math abilities. She loves spending time with her family and friends as well as cooking, baking, and going to the beach. To contact Karen, email [email protected].


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