Engaging Students Early: The 3Ws Method

April Ondis

Find out how sharing the 'Why, How, and Who' can help kick off a new term with a more engaged, interactive learning environment in your classroom. 

3 Ws: Why, How, and Who

1. Share the Why

At the start of the term, students are rarely enthused about using course materials, especially given the less-than-pleasant experience of buying them. One reason is that they don’t appreciate why textbooks and learning tools were chosen. However, students report feeling more interested in doing the reading after instructors explain the relevance of each resource. 

Example: Introduce Course Materials - Describe the unique properties of each text and program, emphasizing what the students will gain from each of them. For each resource, explain how it will help them succeed on exams and participate in class activities. Build trust and encourage critical thinking by sharing your opinion of the pros and cons of each tool. 

2. Share the How 

When focused on the syllabus, a simple icebreaker can be a practical and effective strategy for establishing expectations and creating a comfortable learning environment. 

Example: Connect to the Syllabus - The instructor asks students to review the syllabus, identify one item that they are most curious or concerned about, and write their anonymous question about the course on a blank index card. Then, the instructor collects the cards and selects 5-7 questions to answer, encouraging the rest of the class to participate in the discussion. This encourages sharing among peers and allows the instructor to proactively address topics of concern and reiterate ways to access help via office hours, TAs, and tutoring resources. 

3. Share the Who

Peer grading assignments motivate students by involving them in the process of evaluation.

Giving and receiving peer feedback shifts the classroom dynamics from passive listening to active participation and prompts students to think critically about their own and others' work. 

Example: Integrate Peer Grading - Start with a peer evaluation rubric specific to a presentation assignment that includes elements such as content accuracy, relevance, and presentation skills like clarity, engagement, and visual aids. To prepare students to provide peer evaluation for in-class presentations, assign them to read about best practices for student presentations, and use class time to set expectations and establish that reviews will be anonymous. 

For further reading: 

Harrington, C. (2023). Keeping us engaged: Student perspectives (and research-based strategies) on what works and why. Taylor & Francis. 

About the Author:

April Ondis is the Director of Content Marketing at Labster where she focuses on promoting best practices for adopting immersive learning technologies. She is currently a candidate in the M.Ed. in Education Technology and Instructional Design program at Western Governor’s University and holds a Doctorate in Business Administration.

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