Increasing Student Engagement
I have found the following ideas to be helpful and effective, the reader will decide how creative and innovative these methods are. :)
My 8th Grade History students seem to enjoy group projects that vary in length and complexity. I like to give them time to work with others because I realize that they are actually very busy young people and truly get less time to socialize with friends than we think they do. Working in groups with close monitoring by me, the "Guide on the Side", allows for task completion and a chance to develop communication skills (something that this generation tends to lack due to their dependence on technology).
Recently, one of the best group activities I've asked students to complete was a Generate, Sort, Connect, and Elaborate concept map about the Bill of Rights.
GSCE is a Visible Thinking routine that requires students to generate ideas about a topic, sort their ideas out into patterns, make connections to the material and elaborate/extend their learning (usually a writing piece created by students individually) after making their concept map. I developed a grid sheet for them to write their topics out and have them actually cut and paste their ideas down (Tip: this usually takes more than one class period--I will take a picture of their work in progress at the end of the first day and then have them rearrange their topic pieces the next day). (Tip: Each table also creates an envelope to put their pieces in--the envelopes stay in the classroom so they're not lost!)
The process of moving the pieces around to make sense of the material is a powerful learning tool, especially for kinesthetic learners. There are terrific discussions when topic placement occurs. The concentration on my students' faces shows me how seriously they take their work and I enjoy listening to their conversations and providing immediate feedback to students.
I find higher-order thinking activities and peer discussions increase student engagement for my middle schoolers.