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The Simple Solution That Makes Your Classroom More Engaging

NOTE: This is a revised post from my original blog site at

The Simple Solution..." Yes, by the end of this post you will understand what I am describing.

But it will not be an easy solution.

"Easy" to me implies that little effort is required.

In fact, 80% of you - corporate learning professionals or not - will stop reading this post halfway through or scan the paragraphs and acknowledge that the specifics are too difficult to implement.

Today, lack of student engagement in the classroom is still very much an issue. When I challenge my Train-the-Trainer students to "show me what you've got" in terms of how they teach, 95% of the time they give me what we all experience when we ourselves are the students: an information dump, aka show up and throw up.

They do not know how to effectively engage their students.

So we can't blame our students for not participating. The fault lies directly on us as the instructional designers, trainers, instructors, teachers and facilitators.

We come into the classroom armed with too much information for the time that we have with our students. When we approach teaching with that mindset, there is simply no room to engage our students, especially engage them consistently and purposefully.

For those of you still reading, let me show you how to make your classroom a more engaging learning environment.

There's a reason those other guys left - the process described below is not easy to first. It will require significant thought, time and prep work from you because what I describe isn't how most of us typically develop and deliver our training or teaching.

The process described below is based on the training model that I learned from Becky Pike Pluth of the Bob Pike Group. And it works beautifully.

1. Divide Your Current Training Material Into Two Categories: Need to Know and Nice to Know

Begin with the content that you normal teach or train. Now imagine that you are only given half the amount of time that you normally have to deliver that content.

What content would you keep - because that's the stuff that your students absolutely Need to Know? That's the content that you're going to work with moving forward.

What do you do with the Nice to Know? You put it aside or push it to the back of your training material. Worse case it becomes material that your students can reference after your course. If you manage to sufficiently cover all of the Need to Know content, then you can move on to the Nice to Know.

2. Break Your Need to Know Content Into 10-20 Minutes Sections

How much of the Need to Know content can you cover in 10-20 minutes? Find a logical "pause" point in each section of content, knowing that each section won't consistently be 20 minutes (some may be 10, 15, 8, etc.).

For each 10-20 minute section, what are the key takeaways that you want your students to remember? Make note of the key takeaways in each of these sections.

3. Develop Questions That Address Each Key Takeaway

For each of the key takeaways that you identified above, write a question that prompts your students to answer with the key takeaway.

It can be a quick sort of What are the 6 principles of Made to Stick? question in which one or more students can simply call out the answers.

Or you can pose a question like: Describe the 4 adult learning principles that we covered earlier. Break your students into small groups of 3-5 and have them discuss the answers in their groups and then ask each small group to present one principle.

Knowing that this will be the common flow of the question-and-answer review, create the remaining questions for each key takeaway in your Need to Know content.

4. Plan Out How The Questions Will Play Out As Activities

Now, simply emulating the question-answer flow described above (pose the key-takeaway question, get responses from individuals or small groups and repeat) will get old fast for your students as they will see it coming from a mile away.

So now that you've got your key takeaways, and the questions that you ask to uncover those key takeaways, you've got to add some variety to the flow.

This is where activities come into play.

You're still asking the question that points to the key takeaways. The difference is in HOW that question plays itself out.

For example, instead of sitting down to discuss a question with their small groups (3-5 students), have the groups:

  • Stand up to discuss

  • Write their answers on a large Post-It sheet stuck on the wall

  • Conduct a slideshow shootout

And that's just the start! I describe these and other of my most common activities in my Udemy course - Facilitation Basics: How To Easily Engage Adult Learners.

5. Make Your Classroom More Engaging Than It's Ever Been

You have completed all of the necessary preparation required to successfully engage your students. Now go do it.

You won't feel ready or adequately prepared. Or confident, especially if you've never done anything like this before. That's OK.

Do it. Execute your engagement plan. And at the end of the day, make note of what worked (yes, there will be things that DID work) and what didn't (YES, THERE WILL BE THINGS THAT CRASHED AND BURNED). Again, that's OK.

You just did what 80% of instructors don't have the courage to do.

This process is all about trying and tweaking. But as you get more comfortable, and you see how your efforts do pay off, you will begin to thoroughly enjoy teaching and training this way. And your students will thank you!

Which means you will never, ever train or teach the way you used to. Right?

I know this approach will work for you - if you put in the up-front work. Let me hear from you on your successes or struggles. Email me -


As Chief EMU Wrangler at The EMU Experience, LLC, Ken helps learning professionals deliver engaging, memorable and unexpected learning experiences. By teaching practical techniques to purposefully increase student engagement, along with methods that incorporate creativity into the design and delivery process, Ken will help you create a learning experience that is engaging, memorable and unexpected.

Got questions: Email Ken –

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