3 Creative Ways to Increase Classroom Engagement

student in piano classroom

There she goes again (eye-roll).

Taking her eyes off of the music and allowing them to wander all around the room!

Sigh…

She’s such a good student when she focusses.

It’s a common scenario. Little minds wander. It’s hard to sit still. It’s difficult to focus.

But there are ways to increase engagement.

Here are three suggestions on how you can increase engagement in your classroom.

I’ve used these in larger settings, such as youth chorus, and group music classes. But they’re easily adapted to the private lesson room.

1.) Movement and Play

This one’s important. Young kids need to move! Some more than others. Believe it or not, this is a scientific fact.

In her brilliant article, Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement, Lara N. Dotson-Renta says,

Children acquire knowledge by acting and then reflecting on their experiences, but such opportunities are increasingly rare in school.

She goes on to say that kids learn through movement and play. Imagination is key!

Yet such learning is increasingly rare in early-childhood classrooms in the U.S, where many young children spend their days sitting at tables and completing worksheets. Kindergarten and preschool in the U.S. have become more and more academic, rigorously structuring kids’ time, emphasizing assessment, drawing a firm line between “work” and “play”—and restricting kids’ physical movement.

But how do we teachers encourage movement and play? Especially with our limited teaching time??

It’s a simple as reinforcing things via short games and activities.

For example, my class loves Rhythm Popcorn.

I simply line two rows of chairs facing one another, clap a simple rhythm, and then point to a student to repeat the rhythm. The student then points to one another student and he or she claps the rhythm. So on and so forth.

It’s a simple game, but it certainly increases classroom engagement. The students have fun and learn all about steady and precise rhythm.

2.) Transition

It’s easy to overlook this one.

Imagine you’re six-years-old again and asked to sit quietly on the piano bench for 20-30-minutes.

What would you feel? What would you think?

In their article What is a Normal Attention Span, Day2DayParenting says,

Young children do have relatively short attention spans and generally do best when alternating activities which require sitting still and focusing with those that allow for physical movement.

The younger the student, all the more necessary to transition, and transition often.

The article goes on to outline young children’s attention spans –

Children ages 5-6 years old typically can attend to one activity that is of interest to them for around 10-15 minutes at a time and should generally be able to filter out small distractions occurring simultaneously in the environment. They may only be able to attend to an assigned classroom activity for only 5-10 minutes particularly if they find it uninteresting or difficult for them and do not have adult guidance to stay on task.

Keep things moving along. Don’t rest too long on a particular song or activity. I’ve found 3-5 minutes to be the ideal time for each activity. Sometimes longer or shorter depending on the day and child.

Sometimes longer or shorter depending on the day and child.

3.) Visuals

Inspiration.com cites the following as benefits for visuals in the learning environment –

Visual learning helps students clarify their thoughts – Students see how ideas are connected and realize how information can be grouped and organized. With visual learning, new concepts are more thoroughly and easily understood when they are linked to prior knowledge.

Visual learning helps students integrate new knowledge – According to research, students better remember information when it is represented and learned both visually and verbally.

Visual learning helps students think critically – Linked verbal and visual information helps students make connections, understand relationships and recall related details.

Who wants to stare at the same thing for 30 minutes? Especially boring white and black notes on a page?!

Consider changing it up.

Why not print music on green or red paper around Christmas? Or orange paper leading up to Halloween?

This is a fun (and super easy) way to increase classroom engagement.

I’ve found small, handheld whiteboards to be wonderful teaching tools. Drawing examples of notes, rests, etc., on these boards and asking students to name them adds an extra layer of engagement and anticipation in the lesson room.


We need to remember those childhood feelings and embrace them. This is how we keep the sense of wonder and imagination in the classroom.

We want our students to long for the next piano lesson, asking questions such as, what’s Mr. Chris going to do this week? And, I wonder what game we’re going to play this time?!

Let’s encourage creativity in the classroom. After all, encouraging creativity, play, and imagination encourages learning.

Now teach, and teach well, you amazing teacher, you!

Beginner – Three Quick Teaching Tips

child - beginner profile looking in fthe camera while playing piano

You and I probably agree that one of the most rewarding experiences any piano teacher has is the bright-eyed, bushy-tale beginner’s first piano lesson.

There’s nothing quite like helping the young beginner place her little hands on the piano.

“Hold them up,” we say. “Oops, not too much, though,” we continue.

I remember the first time I helped my daughter place her hands on the piano. Her little thumb and pinky barely reached C-G in the five-finger position!

We quickly dove into her primer lesson book. And by the end of our first brief 15-minute lesson together, she had learned to play a song!

I’ll never forget the exuberant look on her sweet little face. Oh, what joy filled my heart to see her glow so bright!

Music has a way of doing this, right?

It touches hearts, young and old.

How many times have you witnessed this radiant look on the beginner’s face? So many times, I’d imagine.

I’ve taught a lot of beginners over the years, and I can tell you one thing from my experience – the beginner’s glow never gets old!

What a great privilege and opportunity it is to share the gift of music!

It’s not something we take lightly. We embrace the challenge and pour a whole lot of love and quality music instruction in the beginner’s bowl.

On that note, here are 3 quick tips to help you prepare for the very first piano lesson with a new student.

1.) Rhythm first and foremost!

Rhythm is the most essential and important musical element. Steady and precise rhythm lays the foundation for excellent musicianship.

It’s so important that beginning students walk away from the first lesson with a good understanding of basic rhythm (quarter notes, half notes, whole notes).

Nothing fancy. Just basic rhythm.

Nicole Murphy of Music Teacher’s Helper offers some great tips on teaching rhythm.

2.) Teach a complete song on the first day.

You want your beginning piano student to walk away from the first lesson having accomplished something. I always recommend teaching a complete song during the very first lesson.

It’s important to note that this is a simple song. Hopefully, a song that reinforces the basic rhythmic foundation you’ve laid in the first lesson.

Not to mention, parents are really impressed when their child walks away having learned a song on the very first day! Keeps them coming back if you know what I mean ; )

3.) Share your expectations with the student and parent (especially the parent)

You have to set expectations. Without them, students wander from lesson to lesson without aim! Parents do as well.

Make sure to set high, but reasonable expectations from the start. It will save you, the student, and parent heartache and headache!

Consider Alex Spiegel’s thought provoking article Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform.


What are some of your tips? What’s one of your stories? Has a student touched your heart and soul in a profound way? What keeps you coming back to the lesson room again and again?

I invite you to share your tips and stories with the PracticeHabits.co community below.

Thanks for reading!