There's a very blurred line between student engagement, participation, and compliance. You start down that rabbit hole and you quickly find that true student engagement is a tough thing to achieve. But somedays, and I hope I am not alone in this, you'd just be happy with whole class participation! Not every day is a student engagement masterpiece lesson, and that's okay! When I start to notice that students are a little down, a little tired, and a little too interested in their cell phones than normal, I like to throw in some fun ways to get kids motivated to participate through a little healthy competition!
Now, before we talk about two of my favorite easy strategies, I have to first say that I am not a huge fan of games in the classroom that only reward the "smartest" kids who are the fastest at answering. Being a strong mathematician is about more than being fast, especially when content is newer. When the fastest and smartest are the only ones rewarded, I actually find that games can make more students check out then check in. Why participate if Sally is just going to win every time? We all have a Sally. We know who she is. And bless her, as teachers we do love Sally. I was Sally.
I first saw this game at a CPM conference in San Francisco back a few years ago and was wildly confused until I finally tried it in my classroom and saw the simplistic beauty of it. Take a collection of problems you want students to practice solving. You know those days where you just need them to practice a skill and really hammer it home before you can dive into some of the deeper contextual connections that will truly promote student engagement? Yes, those days.
Have students sit with a partner. They are going to be competing against this partner.
Each student needs to fill out a MATHLOVE board. Here is my very not fancy version made in a table in Google Docs:
I 100% snagged this idea from a coworker. A win for one of us is a win for all, am I right? Students work in pairs and have a set number of problems to complete (I usually do about 10). Each right answer earns them a lottery number. You'll have to make sure you have enough lottery numbers for every group to claim however many they need.