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October 2023 - Year 25 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

Twenty Strategies to Engage 21st Century Learners in the Teaching-Learning Process

Shabir Hassan Banday is a former university teacher at City University College of Ajman in the department of Business Administration. He has been teaching English for 30 years now. He has worked also as a visiting faculty at Al Ghurair University, International Academic City, Dubai, UAE, at the American University in the Emirates, Dubai, UAE, and as Associate Professor, at Sharjah College (affiliated to University of Houston, USA), Sharjah, UAE. Presently, he is working as a research assistant in a College in India where he is in charge of a course on methodology. He is also author of several books translated in several languages.  




Learning to collaborate with others and connecting through technology are essential skills in this age of global based economy. The 21st skills which include creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, communication, citizenship, and ICT will enable learners to be engaged in the learning process to deepen their understanding of the content. Not only this, the teaching of today also stresses learners’ engagement in interdisciplinary schools’ activities that would be used to face new and unexpected situations, connect the content knowledge to real-world applications and problem situations that enable learners to see how what they are learning is in harmony with their lives and the world around them. Therefore, all activities implemented in class must be authentic, relevant to their life and focus on projects and problems that require learners to use the content knowledge in new ways and extend their understanding through collaboration with others.

In this paper, the author will attempt to highlight the 21st century skills and suggest activities required to meet the needs and aspirations of today’s learners and develop abilities to succeed in the information age. It is worthy to note all of these activities described below were successfully tried in class.                                                                                                                       


To prosper and succeed in today’s world, learners must be able not only to access information but synthesize and communicate it as well. Not only this, but they also have to show their readiness and capacity to work in a collaborative way regardless of differences in order to solve complex problems and be fully engaged in the teaching learning process. Effective teaching consists of getting learners involved in the active construction of knowledge. Therefore, what is required on the part of teacher is not only knowledge of a given subject matter, but knowledge of how learners acquire knowledge and how to transcend that knowledge that can be used in the learners’ lives. In other words, the aim of teaching is transforming learners from passive recipients to active constructors of their own and others' knowledge.


Definition of the 21st Century Skills

The 21st Century Skills are defined as a blend of content knowledge, specific skills, expertise, literacies, critical thinking, effective communication, problem solving, and high productivity. Paige (2009) asserts that 21st Century Skills are more than technological literacy; instead, they include proficiency in critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and team work.  In this era of globalization and technology, employers recruit people who possess communication skills and think critically (Levy & Murnane, 2005). Wagner (2008), asserts learners need the following skills if they wish to survive in a working place:

•  critical thinking and problem solving,

•  collaboration and leadership,

•  effective oral and written communication,

•  accessing and analysing information.


The problem

Although teachers are pretty aware of the importance of teaching the skills that would enable their learners to thrive and succeed in their future career, most of knowledge transmission is,  up to this day, done via long lectures and/or textbooks (OECD, 2009). As a matter of fact, this type of knowledge does not enable the learners to apply it in their daily life when they leave school. What is worse, perhaps, many will drop out of school as it does not meet their expectations and aspirations (Schleicher, 2012).


The solution

To meet learners’ needs, aspirations and expectations, teaching differently becomes a must. Teachers need to be aware of the skills needed in the 21st century class. It must be borne in mind that for learning to take place, learners must be engaged in the teaching learning process.

A large body of research reveals that there is a significant correlation between learners’ engagement and improved achievement. Research also tells us that learners become demotivated, lose interest in classroom activities when they are assigned tasks do not promote engagement. For learners to become fully engaged in the teaching learning process, teachers are required to move from traditional lectures to interactive lectures. They can do so by:

  • devoting more time for learners’ talk,  
  • using questions that require critical thinking (high order of thinking),
  • encouraging learner- learner interaction and group work,
  • correcting misunderstanding during the lecture,
  • assigning problem solving activities that lead to discovery,
  • allowing learners to be the main agents, not the teacher (Adler, 1982),
  • making the curriculum relevant to learners (Perkins, 2010),
  • encouraging learners to transfer their skills and knowledge to another discipline.


Taxonomy of engagement strategies

For learners to be fully engaged, they need to be committed to the task and aware of the importance and value of what they are actually doing. Using engagement strategies is a powerful teaching tool to promote learners’ critical thinking and enhance learning for several reasons:  

• Learners become the centre of interest.

• Learning is supported with specific skills that enable learners to use them outside the class.

• Learners develop a positive attitude towards learning as they make associations with the

   outer world.

To facilitate learners’ engagement some key factors ought to be taken into account:

• The purpose of each task must be clear.

• The instructions must be explicit.

• If any material is needed, it must be stated.

• Learners must be guided all through the task.

Below are some engagement strategies for use with whole groups, small groups, and individual learners:


1. Think, pair, share

This strategy works well at group time to ensure that each learner has an opportunity to respond to questions. After posing a question, the teacher tells learners to take a moment to think of an answer and then turn to a partner to talk. After everyone has had a chance to talk with their partners, volunteers share a few ideas with the whole group.


2. Beginning class with a question

Teacher begins the class to make learners involved with each other and with the instructor. A variation is in sharing a picture and asking “what do you see?”. The answers given, by individuals or small groups, lead directly to the topic of the day.


3. Find the Fib 

Learners work together to figure out which two statements are true and which statement is false.


a.  Divide the learners into groups.

b.  After reading an assigned passage of text, each group develops three statements.  Two of the statements should be true, and one of the statements should be false.

c.  Allow the groups to collaborate and decide which statement is false.


  • Have learners write their own set of “Find the Fib” statements.
  • Have the learners explain which word(s) in the statement makes the statement true or false.
  • Complete as a whole group activity where the teacher says the statements aloud and the learners collaborate to find the fib.
  • Allow learners to respond to statements using Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down or Response Boards.
  • Put true/false signs on different sides of the room.  Learners move to the answer that they agree with and discuss why they chose that answer.
  • In math, provide three problems and answers.  Ask learners to find the incorrect answer by working the problem.


4. Round Robin

The purpose of this activity is to help your team generate as many answers to the question as possible. Unlike other versions of brainstorming, round robin involves taking turns and having teammates contribute one answer at a time.

Spoken version

  1. Listen to the question.
  2. Think about all the answers that might be appropriate.
  3. Contribute one answer out loud.
  4. Listen to the one answer that each of your teammates will share.
  5. Contribute an additional answer that no one has mentioned when it is your turn again.
  6. Listen to the additional answers from your teammates.
  7. Continue contributing answers, one at a time, until time is up.

Written version

Take out one sheet of paper for your team to use.

  1. Listen to the question.
  2. Think about all the answers that might be appropriate.
  3. Write one answer on the paper while saying it out loud.
  4. Pass the paper to the teammate on your left.
  5. Listen to the one answer that each of your teammates will writ
  6. Write an additional answer that no one has mentioned the next time the paper comes to you.
  7. Listen to the additional answers from your teammates.
  8. Continue contributing answers, one at a time, until time is up.


5. The roving reporter                 

Learners are assigned the task/responsibility of writing an article about what happened at school today. As learners move through the day, they jot down some main ideas about things that happen during the day. Then, when they get home, they use these notes to write an article.


6. One minute paper              

The One-Minute Paper Strategy is a quick assessment strategy that answers the teacher's question, "What did my learners understand today?" With the one minute paper, the teacher will be able to match his/her instructional goals for the class with the learners ' perceptions of their own learning. The teacher will then use their responses to guide instruction for the next class.


  1. Stop instruction 2 or 3 minutes before the end of the session.

  1. Ask learners to take out a half-sheet of paper (some teachers use
  2. "post-it" notes.)

  1. Ask learners to respond briefly (one minute) to some variation of the
  2. following questions:

  1. What was the most important thing you learned during this class today?

  1. What important question remains unanswered?

  1. What are you still confused about?

  1. Collect their papers (or ask them to stick the "post-it notes" to the door as they leave the room.)                                                                                                                                                            

  1. Use the information you gather to guide your instruction the next day.                                           


7. Three-step interview

Three- Step Interview is a strategy that is effective when learners are solving problems that have no specific right answers. Three problem-solving steps are involved in this process. In step one, the teacher presents an issue about which varying opinions exist and poses several questions for the class to address. In step two, the learners, in pairs become the interviewer and the interviewee. In step three, after the first interview has been completed, the learners’ roles are switched. After each learner has had a turn, the pairs read their interviews to the class. After all interviews have been done, the class writes a summary report of the interview results.


8. Group investigations

Group Investigations are used to emphasize higher-order thinking skills such as analysis and evaluation. Learners work to produce a group project, which they may have a hand in selecting.


9. STAD (Student Teams-Achievement Divisions)

According to Aryani (2016), STAD is one of the simplest cooperative learning and has gone through under a lot of research by previous scholars. STAD is also commonly used to teach a wide range of subjects and grades. The five basic key components of STAD are the class presentation, teams, quizzes, individual improvement scores, and team recognition. STAD can be used for both low grades and high grades. Learners with varying academic abilities are assigned to 4 or 5 member teams in order to study what has been initially taught by the teacher and to help each learner reach his or her highest level of achievement. Learners are then tested individually.


10. Jigsaw

Jigsaw is used with narrative material in all grades. It is an information gap activity. Each learner listens to a different recording or part of a recording. Each team member is responsible for learning to a specific part of a topic. After meeting with members of other groups, who are the "expert" in the same part, the "experts" return to their own groups and present their findings, exchange information and do the assigned task.


11. Three-minute review

Three –minute is used when the teachers stop any time during a lecture or discussion and allows teams three minutes to review what has been said with their group. Learners in their groups can ask a clarifying question to the other members or answer questions of others.


12. The fishbowl

The Fishbowl method allows teachers to explicitly teach a variety of social skills. It offers the class an opportunity to closely observe and learn about social interactions and it can be used in any content area. Fishbowl is a strategy that aims to facilitate group discussions wherein learners inside the “fishbowl” actively discuss a topic while learners outside the fishbowl listen carefully to the conversation. They take turns in these roles to practice being both contributors and listeners in a group discussion. Fishbowl can be useful when the teacher wants to ensure that all learners are taking part in the in a discussion. Fishbowl can be quite useful in controversial or difficult topics, especially as a warm up activity or pre-writing activity to unearth questions or ideas that learners can explore more deeply.


13. Humour                                  

Humor in educational settings can serve a variety of purposes. Humor builds results always in a stress-free environment. An environment wherein learners react positively to humour and its understatement.


14. Jokes/cartoons

Jokes and cartoons are an excellent tool to introduce a new topic or theme, tense, vocabulary or any other grammatical structure or to prepare learners for the item to be presented and to engage a class. Jokes and cartoons work well when they are directly related to the topic that will follow as they stimulate learners’critical thinking in learners prior to beginning the topic. These may directly raise questions, either from the instructor or from the learners that lead to productive discussion.


15. KWL

The KWL chart, a metacognition strategy designed by Donna Ogle in 1986, prompts learners to activate prior knowledge, generate questions to investigate, and use the new knowledge that emerges from investigation. To begin a new lesson, teachers can ask children, What do you already know, what do you wonder about, and what do you want to learn?” Use of this strategy tells children that their prior knowledge and interests are valued.


16. Circulation

After learners are given a task to work on in groups or independently, the teacher

moves among learners, looking and listening, asking questions to find out about learner thinking, extend thinking, or give hints. This provides a quick assessment and often the chance to intervene on the spot. Circulation also serves as a tool for managing behaviour. While circulating, the teacher’s proximity prompts learners to stay on-task.


17. Echo

After asking a question, the teacher waits 3-5 seconds before calling on a learner to

respond or before asking a follow-up question. Wait Time allows learners time to digest a question and think through an answer. Research shows that more learners will participate if given time. Use hand signals to communicate you are waiting (e.g., hands up, palms open) and to communicate you are ready for the response (e.g., hands down, palms closed).


18. Deliberate mistakes

This technique sets a positive tone in the classroom, telling learners that it is fine to take risks and make mistakes. The key is to make the “deliberate misteaks” obvious at first and in the areas where learners commonly make mistakes. DO NOT use this technique with a concept that is being introduced. Learners might learn the mistake instead of the correct information.

Listen carefully to the learners’ corrections to the mistake to gather feedback about their

level of confidence with the content. Also, if you follow the directions the learners

provide to correct the mistake, you model for the learners the expected behavior for

when they are corrected. (E.g., 6X5=32 written on the board when multiplication facts

are well know. “Excuse me Mr. Peters. I think you meant to say 8X4=32.” This might be

a learner’s response as a correction to your “Misteak”.)


19. Wait time

Wait time refers to two specific practices where teachers deliberately pause. First, wait time 1 constitutes a 3-5 second pause between asking a question and soliciting an answer. Second, wait time 2 is a 3-5 second pause after a student response. This time provides learners with time to think about the question and develop a response, either to the instructor’s question or a peer’s response. As a result, more learners may be willing to answer the question and responses may be more thoughtful. While this deliberate pause sounds simple to implement, many instructors have been habituated to resist any silence in the classroom and may find it surprisingly difficult to enact this pause.

Wait time in the classroom was first studied and defined into two types by Dr. Mary Budd Rowe in the 1970s. The 1970s and 1980s were pivotal in the study of quality in education. Rowe studied wait time as a teaching variable and, through research, determined that students whose teachers incorporated longer wait times tended to be more successful in learning. Rowe examined classroom recordings to discover that, on average, most teachers waited less than a second between asking a question and soliciting a response. When teachers were encouraged to extend that wait time to an average of 3-5 seconds, student and teacher attitudes improved, as did the use of language and logic.

Wait time is meant to allow students time to reflect and formulate thoughtful and detailed responses. Wait time has been shown to encourage these responses, and may also give more students a chance to participate since they have more time to arrange their thoughts before speaking. Enhanced wait time creates an engaging classroom where students and teachers interact with each other and with learning.


20. Socratic seminar   

Socratic questioning is used to help learners apply the activity to their learning. The pedagogy of Socratic questions is open-ended, focusing on broad, general ideas rather than specific, factual information. The questioning technique emphasizes a level of questioning and thinking where there is no single right answer. It starts with an open-ended question proposed either by the teacher. There is no first speaker. As individuals participate in Socratic circles, they gain experience in answer effectively.

The role of the teacher is to keep the topic focused by asking a variety of questions about the text itself, as well as questions to help clarify positions when arguments become confused. The leader also seeks to engage reluctant participants into the discussion, and to limit contributions from those who tend to dominate. She or he prompts participants to elaborate on their responses and to build on what others have said. The leader guides participants to deepen, clarify, and paraphrase, and to synthesize a variety of different views.

The participants share the responsibility with the leader to maintain the quality of the Socratic circle. They listen actively in order to respond effectively to what others have contributed. This teaches the participants to think and speak persuasively using the discussion to support their position. Participants must demonstrate respect for different ideas, thoughts and values, and must not interrupt each other.



When teachers administer innovative tasks, learners are inspired and demonstrate willingness in learning. The strategies described above are by no means exhaustive, so  teachers, policymakers, and leaders should be involved in an on going self development and reflection to refine ideas to make education in full harmony with 21st century learners.

The reasons why it is important to revolutionize the way we teach is that is increasingly important to keep pace with changing times. The work force has witnessed transformation. It has become technology-driven, and directly connected a global economy which resulted in the expectations of graduating learners. The expectations of today demand that the educational system should be connected and relevant to s learners’ everyday lives (Tapscott, 1999; Prensky, 2001; Rychen & Salganik, 2001; Levy & Murnane, 2004)

This paper has attempted to highlight the importance of 21st-century skills, their implications for entire educational system, and how best to teach those skills which have. Since education standards and the purposes of education are changing, curriculum frameworks, instructional methods, and assessment strategies must also change. Those changes in curriculum, instruction, and assessment have many important human capital implications, including those related to teacher training, professional development, and general cultural standing of the teaching profession. Ideally, teachers should use a wide range of engagement strategies and then masterfully facilitate their implementation. Not only do engagement strategies enable teachers to capture the interest of children as they learn the skills and concepts necessary for success in school, but children also experience what it feels like to be engaged in learning—a lifelong gift.



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Levy, F. & Murnane, R. (2005). The new division of labor: How computers are creating the next job market. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Levy, F., & Murnane, R.J. (2004). The new division of labor: How computers are creating the next job market. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. (2009). Creating effective teaching and learning environments: First results from TALIS. Paris, France: Author.

Paige, J. 2009. The 21st century skills movement. Educational Leadership, 9 (67).

Perkins, D.N. (2010). Making learning whole: How seven principles of teaching can transform education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants, part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1–6. Retrieved from: Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf.

Rychen, D.S., & Salganik, L.H. (Eds.). (2001). Defining and selecting key competencies. Göttingen: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers.

Schleicher, A. (2012). (Ed.). Preparing teachers and developing school leaders for the 21st century: Lessons from around theworld. Paris, France: OECD.

Tapscott, D. (1999). Growing up digital: The rise of the net generation. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need — and what we can do about it. New York, NY: Basic Books.


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