Teaching and Learning Through Books “Learning Through Engagement”


By Thomas Cornell, Ed. D.

Webster University


How often have you taught some material and asked yourself – are my students really learning this material? Or, you discussed the book and then a week later you asked yourself – did they really remember the elements of a story? Or, you taught a unit through a social studies text and the next day you asked yourself – why do they not remember some of these major points we discussed? As reflective practitioners, we all ask these questions every day. Over the course of my career, I have learned that students learn best through activities that require them to become engaged with the material and to share that learning with others. It is not about us talking about a book or talking to them for extended periods of time. It is rather about students learning through books within a framework of engaging activities that require them to think and talk (or write, draw, etc.) about their thinking. I would like to share just a few ideas for increasing your students’ learning through engaging activities.



This teaching strategy can be used before, during, or after reading. It can also be used during a read aloud to keep your students engaged.



1. Select a major concept that you want your students to learn.

2. Ask students to draw a picture of what the concept means to them.

3. Have students share with others what their picture means.



As you listen to the story, draw a picture of how the character changes. At the bottom of your picture, write about how the character changed.



This teaching strategy can be used during or after a lesson. It is beneficial for getting all students engaged and to increase accountability for learning.



1. Ask students to mouth, air write, or show their fingers for a prompt.

2. Repeat as you see necessary.



After reviewing letters and sounds, ask them to mouth what letter the word bat starts with. Or, ask them to make a face that represents how the character felt.



This teaching strategy requires students to compare two unrelated items or topics by analyzing them carefully.



1. Give examples of similes for topics or books already discussed.

2. Ask students to explain how the simile compares the two items.

3. Ask students (preferably in groups at first) to create their own similes after learning about a topic or reading a book or part of a book.



Show students a smooth rock and say that Abraham Lincoln's words in his writing were like this rock in that his language was always smooth and flowing, but he worked very hard to get those words down on paper.



Cooperative learning is really one of the foundational supports for promoting engagement, but many activities can also be completed independently. The key is to ask our students to do something, before, during, and after reading that requires them to do more than just listen to us. They need to do the talking (writing, drawing) so that their active involvement through discourse and action helps them retain what they have learned. Real, lasting learning evolves through the engaging activities we structure for our students. The following book provides many other interesting ideas and the aforementioned activities as well as many others are also described there.


Himmele, Persida and Himmele, William. (2011).

Total Participation Techniques – Making Every Student an Active Learner

Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development





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