Building Curiosity and Maximizing Engagement

Published on 18 July 2023 at 15:46

Maximizing the potential of the participants in a lesson or session starts the moment they enter the room. A few small changes in the beginning can take a good session to a great one.

We have seen this across teaching or facilitation as the “Do Now” or the “Starter Activity”. There is value in giving participants something to do immediately. It sets the tone of the lesson and provides an opportunity for immediate thinking and learning.

The best way to maximize participant engagement is with an open-ended question. When a task has a finite answer, the engagement with the task ends when the answer is found. If the task has a more open-ended answer, the thought process can continue until the allotted time for the activity has been reached.

It is not just any open-ended question that engages curiosity and conversation but a low-floor high-ceiling task. The low floor means that anyone will be able to contribute. The high ceiling means that the more effort that is put into the question, the deeper the thinking goes. Everyone achieves a measure of success.

One of my favorite examples is very simple. Participants are given a topic, asked to write the alphabet vertically on a whiteboard or paper and brainstorm words that align with that subject. The goal is to find the longest word or phrase possible for each letter. If you want to gamify it, have the participants score themselves by counting the number of letters at the end of the time.

To increase engagement in an in-person setting, assign people randomly to a group of three. Three people work best because it is not too large a group where some people feel left out, and a pair can sometimes run out of ideas too quickly. The random assigning of members evens the playing field and encourages interaction with someone new.

In five to seven minutes, this task just accomplished a few things. First, it engages the participants with content adjacent to the overall lesson. Second, it creates a natural springboard into the content. Participants can share their lists and the facilitator can highlight the specific words related to the lesson’s objective. Third, people communicate and collaborate about the subject matter. And last, it sets the tone that this will be a room for thinking, communicating, and participating.

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