Keeping it going! Engaging students throughout the doldrums of the semester!

It’s that time of the year! Temperatures are dropping, leaves are turning, midterms are over, and Thanksgiving break is getting closer. Even the most dedicated instructors and students might not show their usual enthusiasm about teaching and learning … and might just feel a little tired.

While the rhythm of the semester includes many emotional highs (e.g., first day of class, final exams), engaging students through the “doldrums” (Duffy & Jones, 1995, p. 159) can be challenging. In the following paragraphs, we suggest a few strategies for keeping things going and boosting morale through these times.

Understanding what motivates your students (Source: Faculty Focus)

Motivated students are more likely to engage in activities that help them learn. Thus, it’s important to understand who your students are and what motivates them. Brett Jones, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at Virginia Tech, has five simple guidelines for instructors:

  1. Empower students so they have control over some aspects of their learning.
  2. Show students that course content and activities are useful and.
  3. Value students’ efforts and help them succeed.
  4. Give students the opportunity to explore their interests by providing options (e.g., course readings, assignments).
  5. Demonstrate to students that you (and other students) care about their learning and progress.

Varying instructions and assignments

Humans are intrigued by what is new or different. That principle applies particularly well to the classroom when a class has been following a regular format. Changing instructional methods and types of assignments can push students out of established patterns and encourage them to engage with content in new ways.  For example in an online class, one could use a live web-conference instead an online forum for class discussion.  Even something as simple as switching group members can create the desired effect. But an instructor needs to be careful that changes are not too drastic, or else it might confuse students.

Having fun

Having fun and (an appropriate) sense of humor shows that we are human and not machines who walk the halls of the university. Too often we go through the motions of going to class, teaching new concepts, assigning work, grading it, and returning it. How about switching up the routine by injecting some fun? A humorous reading? A funny video clip? Students creating a skit or satire? Humor can be integrated in many aspects of the course, such as course material and assignments.

Since each class is different, it might take some time to find out what works and what doesn’t to engage students during the downtime of the semester. For ideas, feel free to contact the Office of Instructional Consulting. We would also love to hear about your methods for engaging students during the “doldrums.”


Duffy, D., & Jones, J. (1995). Teaching within the Rhythms of the Semester. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kelly, R. (2012). Five factors that affect online student motivation. Retrieved from

Marcinek, A. (2010). Ten simple strategies for re-engaging students. Retrieved from


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