The August/September 2004 issue of The Teaching Professor has an article about 8 simple rules for motivating students. These are great reminders of things to do in order to engage students.

1) Emphasize the most critical concepts continuously.

[These concepts are really a foreign language for the student--best learned through constant repetition and practice at recall in a variety of settings.] Repeat these concepts in lectures and assignments; include questions relating to these concepts on every exam.

2) Provide a visual aid when possible to explain abstract concepts.

A diagram, a flowchart or a mental image can help student retention of abstract concepts.

3) Rely on logic when applicable.

Show students how to use logical thinking to learn and retain new information.

4) Use in-class activities to reinforce newly presented material.

After a new idea have been presented through lecture, reading or discussion, allow students to put the concept into use. This is the acid test for whether they have really understood. Students manage well in small groups, carefully selected to include a strong student, a weak student and an average student.

5) Help students create a "link" between new material and something already learned.

You can link to prior material in your course, prior courses, and real-life experience.

6) Help students master the vocabulary.

New and/or confusing terms should be identified, defined, used and you should even periodically check for retention. (Just ask, "Do you remember what anadiplosis is?")

7) Treat students with respect.

Students treated with dignity will give you their best efforts.

8) Hold students to a high standard.

But always make sure you help them to meet those standards. This may mean trying to figure out what stands between your mediocre students and success.
9) Don't assume the worst about your students.

If they aren't studying, don't assume they are lazy. They may not know how to study your material. They may no longer believe that studying will help because they have never really known how to study effectively. They may think they are beyond hope. Criticize them and you are only increasing their hopelessness and thus their passivity. Be relentlessly hopeful and encouraging. If they aren't doing work, don't assume they don't care or that they are disrespecting you. They may not know how to budget their time; they may actually have no time. So help them learn how to think more realistically. Be sympathetic and hold your ground.

10) Be enthusiastic!

And of course, above all, let your passion for your subject and for students be visible to all! Remember, you got into this field because you love it. So why not let the students see how much fun you are having.