No Series: Student Engagement in Language Arts

Student Engagement in Language Arts

Lesson Objective: To observe a first year teacher�s lesson and offer advice on engagement
Grade 7 / ELA / Jim Knight
14 MIN


Enjoy your first video for free. Subscribe for unlimited access.

Have questions about subscribing? Click Here to learn more.

Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. How does Michael look for engagement in his class?
  2. How does Michael ensure that students understand their role in the lesson?
  3. How does Michael make kids feel safe and encourage them to take risks by emphasizing effort?


  • Private message to Susan Beaver

Looking for students to try even if they are wrong or not sure is a great way to encourage kids. Then the reinforcement afterwards of praise for willing to attempt is a great way to keep encouraging. All the interaction by you putting a question out of where to look for the information, then the kids working in groups to come up with an answer, to the popsicle stick to answer and all the roles really keep kids engaged and interacting with the class and one another. I love all the praise used in the classroom and the positive setting. Really great ideas to take from here.

Recommended (0)
  • Private message to Mark Howard
Michael, your use of positive praise and reinforcement and making it safe for students to (at least) try, is a great way to motivate all your students to participate and potentially learn. Keep up the good work!
Recommended (0)
  • Private message to Sandra Brown
Good video with the sharing of great ideas!
Recommended (0)
  • Private message to UMSL Admin
I want to share the idea of the popsicle sticks shaking in a tin can to get students' attention.
Recommended (0)
  • Private message to Celestine Hill
Very effective feedback, and I like the idea of having cushion time activities to keep the students working. I also am with the consensus of everyone else who is in favor of the popsicle sticks and tin can method to answer questions to increase engagement
Recommended (1)


  • Student Engagement in Language Arts
    with Michael Covarrubias and Jim Knight

    Moderator: [00:00:16] Michael Covarrubias is a first year, seventh grade language

    Student Engagement in Language Arts
    with Michael Covarrubias and Jim Knight

    Moderator: [00:00:16] Michael Covarrubias is a first year, seventh grade language arts teacher at a middle income, urban school in Phoenix, Arizona. [00:00:22]

    Covarrubias: [00:00:23] All right guys, so we’ve been working on coming across—when we come across a word we don’t know, and often we do, how do we find out the meaning of the word. [00:00:34]

    Moderator: [00:00:36] Mr. Covarrubias is having instructional expert, Jim Knight, observe his class so he can gain feedback on the classroom management strategies he is employing and explore new strategies that will help him increase student engagement. [00:00:48]

    Covarrubias: [00:00:48] Today, I will create a paragraph with several context clues so the reader can decipher the meaning of the vocabulary word. That’s our project today. [00:00:57]

    [00:00:57] We have to engage our students because the second we lose them, the lesson—you could be doing the best lesson in the world, it’s irrelevant, so we have to keep up them engaged constantly. [00:01:09]

    [00:01:09] I know you guys are all super smart. I know you guys most of you know what a villain is, but let’s pretend like we don’t. Okay. [00:01:16]

    Knight: [00:01:16] When you’re looking for engagement, what’s it look like? [00:01:17]

    Covarrubias: [00:01:18] You know I’m real careful to look at the body language. I want to see their eyes on me, and I want to see them focused. I want to know that they’re here, not taking a mental vacation. Because sometimes I think this is going to be a great lesson, and it’s just like crickets in here. I have to adjust real quickly cause that’s another minute I’m never going to get back. [00:01:33]

    [00:01:34] Remember, if I don’t know this word, I’m going to look at a dictionary, thesaurus, Fabian? [00:01:38]

    Child: [00:01:38] Encyclopedia. [00:01:39]

    Covarrubias: [00:01:39] Encyclopedia. Okay good. [00:01:41]

    Knight: [00:01:41] I liked sort of the noble way you communicated with the students. That I like it isn’t so much is just how it felt to me when I was here. [00:01:48]

    Covarrubias: [00:01:48] Remember, at all times in this class, we expect the best out of ourselves. Remember here at Magnet, we set the bar real high. We’re the best there is, and you guys will get there. But we accept nothing but the best from you guys. Any questions regarding that? Nothing but the best. [00:02:10]

    Knight: [00:02:11] I have some ideas about engagement but I want to put them in the context of what I saw here when you started this activity. [00:02:16]

    Covarrubias: [00:02:17] Okay so each group is at the paragraph, the Northeast team member will be the presenter. Only one person’s going to speak at a time and then you have to be prepared to share. So you got to come—you got to come to the game to play. Just so we’re all sure here, Northwest team members raise your hand. Southwest team members write down the definition of the word and write the paragraph. [00:02:40]

    Knight: [00:02:42] Okay right there. I like the fact you had them all raise their hand cause that makes sure that they’re all engaged. You have to do that or they’re not going to—they’re not going to be with you. You have to say well raise your hand up. [00:02:51]

    Covarrubias: [00:02:52] Northeast team member go ahead and raise your hand. Northeast. Okay Northeast team member you get to present to the class of your group’s work, so you’re the one that gets to talk. Teams work together or else nothing happens. So the whole team members have to contribute to the creation of the paragraph. Okay. So what I want some of you guys to do, is I want everybody in your groups, I want you guys to be watching for people who aren’t speaking. Maybe that friend of yours maybe isn’t—is kind of shy, so I want you guys to encourage them to speak. [00:03:28]

    [00:03:28] But sometimes, some of these students are scared to get the wrong answer. [00:03:32]

    Knight: [00:03:32] Right but you did such a great job of when somebody would get it wrong to really encourage them to keep going. I mean if I was a little kid in the class, I would feel man, it’s okay to be—to take the chances here. [00:03:41]

    Covarrubias: [00:03:42] Oh you got it right now, good. [00:03:43]

    Child: [00:03:43] I think it’s crown. [00:03:45]

    Child: [00:03:46] Incorrect. [00:03:47]

    Covarrubias: [00:03:47] Okay but Ben did try. I appreciate that. Thank you Ben, good job, try. [00:03:51]

    [00:03:52] I want to encourage them to try. To try. You know they may be a C student, but they’re trying, they’re going to be finding things in them that they never found before. [00:04:02]

    [00:04:03] Okay those of you just had the guts to put your hand up in the air and try it, I thank you. That’s just the first step of being a leader. [00:04:10]

    Knight: [00:04:10] If you emphasize that the student is smart, then they might be afraid to take a risk and not look smart. [00:04:16]

    Covarrubias: [00:04:17] Would you—they get stuck in that mindset? [00:04:18]

    Knight: [00:04:19] Well they’re just if they think well I can’t take a risk on this because if I fail, I might not look smart. But if you emphasize effort, then they go oh that’s the thing I got to keep working on is my effort. Effort is where the action is. [00:04:29]

    Covarrubias: [00:04:29] You maybe you’re not sure of the answer, but you want to stick your neck out there and try it. Good job. [00:04:34]

    Knight: [00:04:34] When it comes to controlling a class, people can really want to love the kids, and they let go of the structure. Then people can really want to have structure, and they let go of the love, but you see to do both. You seem to have a structure and to me you have to do both. [00:04:48]

    Covarrubias: [00:04:49] If somebody has an idea or something to share, don’t be afraid to share. Nobody has a right to laugh at you, so remember that word too, because we’re working in groups today. [00:04:58]

    Knight: [00:04:58] You need to structure that you need things to run smoothly and then things can really happen, and you have both going on. [00:05:04]

    Covarrubias: [00:05:04] Well thank you. Thank you, I work hard here, but you know. [00:05:07]

    [00:05:08] Another word for evil genus would be? Let’s see what my popsicle says, what name I’m going to get. Diana, what does your group say? [00:05:17]

    Knight: [00:05:18] I love the way you used the popsicle sticks to call out kids, because they have to get on their edge. [00:05:21]

    Covarrubias: [00:05:22] Senay 05:22, what did Erika just say? [00:05:24]

    Knight: [00:05:24] I learned this from some coaches I work with in [inaudible 05:27] Oregon. What she said to do is to put the popsicle sticks in like a tin can, and then when it’s time to call on somebody’s name, the rattle the can and get everybody’s attention because they know, oh when I hear that noise, I’m going to get a question asked. It’s just a cool little thing, but it’s a way to get people to listen to you when you’re ready to ask the question. All a person has to do is go rattle, rattle, rattle and everybody stops and looks because out comes the popsicle stick, and they might [inaudible 05:53] the question. [00:05:54]

    Covarrubias: [00:05:54] That’s a great—phenomenal idea. No that’s the things I love to hear cause those small little nuances that will change my whole class. [00:06:03]

    [00:06:03] So Southeast team member, raise your hand. Okay your job is really important. Make sure that you’re keeping the team focused. Make sure the job gets done. [00:06:13]

    Knight: [00:06:13] When you broke down what each student would do, then you gave them a different role; one was going to be sort of the task master. One was going to be the scribe and so forth. How did you figure all that out? Is that from training or? [00:06:26]

    Covarrubias: [00:06:26] Often in group, adults in groups, they sit there and they get a group task, and they sit there and they kind of stare at each other. Then no one is really given a task, so I was thinking if the group of adults can’t figure their roles out, how are a group of seventh graders do it? [00:06:42]

    Knight: [00:06:42] Right. [00:06:42]

    Covarrubias: [00:06:42] A lot of times adults have problems working with other adults, but congratulations. You guys are doing a good job. You’re already there. [00:06:51]

    Knight: [00:06:52] I’ve seen a lot of classrooms and the vast majority of classrooms I’ve been in, they don’t come close to how positive you were with the kids. Your positives were way higher than your corrections. [00:07:03]

    Covarrubias: [00:07:03] Think of that high levels, working in groups, you guys are a well-oiled machine. Make sure you tell your parents that. Make sure I said so. [00:07:12]

    [00:07:13] Any questions? Okay you’re got 15 minutes, get to work. [00:07:19]

    [00:07:19] You know and group work is so important, because that’s what we do in our world. What’s expected of us to get along with other people, and it’s really neat to see the different roles emerge, and I like to assign roles, because I want other students get a chance at different roles. You know see what fits them better. [00:07:34]

    [Children working and talking 07:34 – 07:39]

    Knight: [00:07:39] I heard you reminding the task masters to keep everybody on a task. [00:07:43]

    Covarrubias: [00:07:43] That’s up to you to decide. It’s the task master, keep them on task. Task master, keep you guys on task. Task masters keep your guys’ group on task. Who’s the task master? Keep them on task. [00:07:56]

    Knight: [00:07:57] What was going through your mind when they were working on the task? Were you afraid they weren’t engaged? [00:08:02]

    Covarrubias: [00:08:02] Yeah you know small group is something I really like to work with, but it’s not something I’ve mastered yet. It’s like its productivity making sure they are, because I have a large class, and so—[00:08:13]

    Knight: [00:08:13] Yeah 33 kids is a lot of kids, and it’s not a really big room either. [00:08:16]

    Covarrubias: [00:08:17] No, yeah we’re bumping into each other and stuff like that. But I need to make sure that they’re on task, and I’m working against years of habits being formed and let them veered off [00:08:28]

    [Children working and talking 08:28 – 08:37]

    Knight: [00:08:38] I mean just look—look at these kids. They’re really engaged in that activity at the start of the activity. Where I was thinking there’s room for something to do is the last part of the activity. If this group gets done, if they’ve finished their paragraph and they’re still two minutes left, there’s nothing for them to do. [00:08:56]

    Covarrubias: [00:08:56] Okay. [00:08:56]

    Knight: [00:08:57] So what you can do is, and this is that thing that my friend Randy Sprick 09:00, is you can build in some second activity. He calls it cushion time. [00:09:03]

    Covarrubias: [00:09:03] Okay. [00:09:04]

    Knight: [00:09:04] So in other words, once you get your paragraph done, here’s what your second task is going to be. And the second task could be one that can go on forever basically. Like you could say, I want you to come up with as many synonyms as possible for the words you’ve been given. You can say we’re even going to do a competition to see who comes up with the most at the end, or something like that. [00:09:24]

    Covarrubias: [00:09:24] Oh okay. [00:09:25]

    Knight: [00:09:26] So then if they get done with their paragraph, they have a second activity, and you have them—let’s find out who got the most of you at the end of it, so they’re locked into the second activity. That keeps them from getting off track. [00:09:36]

    Child: [00:09:36] James was a boy who always carried around his mirror. Whenever he had time, he took out his mirror and complimented himself. He was so conceited that he didn’t pay attention to others. What is the synonym for conceited? A modest; B thoughtful; C vain; or D handsome? [00:09:53]

    Covarrubias: [00:09:54] Okay. Who thinks they know the answer and can say it in a complete sentence? Who is somebody who has not tried before? All I’m asking is that you try. Christy hasn’t tried; okay, go ahead Christy. [00:10:09]

    Knight: [00:10:10] Let’s just say today when they had to choose between A, B, C and D. you could have them read the paragraph and put the words up, and then you could say in the groups, I want you to discuss if it’s A, B, C or D be ready to tell me why. When I give you the signal, I want you to hold up an A, a B or a C or a D, and you give them four index cards with an A, a B, a C and a D. You go okay, one, two, three, four [sound effect], all the cards come up and say I want it to look like synchronized swimming. It should be exactly at the same time. Then when the cards come out, you’ll look around the class and you say, “It looks like we have a difference of agreement. Some people say it’s A, some people say it’s B. Let’s talk about why we came to B over here, and why we came to A over here. That’s way to do it. But that way everybody is talking about the answer when the card comes up. Because I love the way you had them explain how did you come to that conclusion? That really got into the strategic thinking then. [00:11:04]

    Covarrubias: [00:11:04] Jesus. [00:11:04]

    Child: [00:11:05] I think a synonym for conceited is vain. [00:11:10]

    Covarrubias: [00:11:12] Okay now see if there’s a—now Jesus take us through your process why you thought that was the answer. [00:11:19]

    Child: [00:11:20] I used my context clues, and I saw that he put himself before others; he only paid attention to himself. [00:11:27]

    Covarrubias: [00:11:28] Okay good. [00:11:29]

    [00:11:29] I sometimes give them like 30 seconds to conference with themselves to find the answer. My hopes are to get the quieter ones talking and the leader roles will come out. I was wondering what you thought about that. [00:11:42]

    Knight: [00:11:42] Think that’s a great idea. And I think you can also have them work with a partner. If you give them a card to hold up that has the answer on it with their partner, then they’re obligated to talk to their partner and come up with—I mean they can’t not respond because the card has to come up. It’s kind of like when I was a hockey coach in sports, you could run drills where one player could do the drill. Let’s all take turns and go up and shoot a goalie, or you could run drills where every player was skating. When you use the response cards and turning, everybody is playing the game. [00:12:11]

    Covarrubias: [00:12:11] Yeah. [00:12:11]

    Knight: [00:12:12] It’s not just the one student doing it. [00:12:13]

    Covarrubias: [00:12:13] You guys were following directions. You’re by far were the best class in the school. Don’t tell anybody else, but you now know that knowledge. [00:12:21]

    Knight: [00:12:21] I’m just so pleased to see how smoothly things went, and I’m wondering if you got to that because you wouldn’t rest until the kids were engaged and you were just trying to solve the problem. Is that kind of what it is, or is it something else? [00:12:32]

    Covarrubias: [00:12:33] You know I—for me these are my investment, you know, cause I’m still young in my career. The rate the economy is going, I’ll probably never see Social Security. [00:12:43]

    Knight: [00:12:44] [Laugh] [00:12:44]

    Covarrubias: [00:12:44] You know so these are our future leaders right here, and I owe them that. They’re each one of them comes to the table with certain gifts and intelligences, and it’s up to me to find that. I have to find it because if not, the system is going to eat them alive. [00:12:58]

    Knight: [00:12:58] Right. [00:12:58]

    Covarrubias: [00:12:59] So I got to find it, and I don’t get that much time with them, so the time I do have with them, every second is precious. It’s a tough gig, but you know if not me, who then? [00:13:08]

    Knight: [00:13:08] That’s right, and if not now, then when? [00:13:10]

    Covarrubias: [00:13:10] Exactly. [00:13:10]

    Knight: [00:13:11] As sincerely as I could be, as I watched you teaching that class, what I felt was, I felt really encouraged for kids. I said I am so pleased that we have someone like you teaching the class, because you care about the kids. You put the time into the planning. I just was a pleasure to be there. [00:13:27]

    Covarrubias: [00:13:28] Well thank you. [00:13:29]

    Knight: [00:13:29] I don’t know how you felt about the whole thing, but from my perspective I sure hope you keep doing it because it was a pleasure to watch. [00:13:37]

    Covarrubias: [00:13:37] Well thank you. Thank you. [00:13:38]

    Knight: [00:13:38] It was, and I wanted to come over and say man it’s going great. It was just a treat to see. [00:13:44]

School Details

Magnet Traditional School
2602 North 23rd Avenue
Phoenix AZ 85009
Population: 518

Data Provided By:



Jim Knight
Michael Covarrubias


52 MIN

Discovering the Properties of Quadrilaterals (Uncut)

29 MIN

Heterogeneous Literature Circles (Uncut)

TCH Special
42 MIN

Webinar / Distance Learning / Engagement

TCH Special
58 MIN

Webinar / Class Culture / Coaching


Class Culture


Lesson Planning


New Teachers