One of the most effective ways to engage students is to draw connections between the subject matter and their other interests. In a diverse class with diverse interests, the tricky part is reaching all students with the interdisciplinary connections. A way to do that is to give students agency and choice in a project that incorporates their outside interests.
When we learned about the organelles of a cell, I had each of my students invent an analogy comparing the parts of a cell to something else. Before doing so, I first modeled such an analogy by creating a handout with a list of factory parts and descriptions of their functions. Students worked in groups, looking in their textbooks and discussing what cell organelle seemed most similar in function to each given factory part. Download the handout here: The Cell as a Factory.doc. Afterwards, they explored interconnections between organelles by writing about what would happen to a factory if one of its parts malfunctioned, and comparing the consequences to what would happen to a cell if one of its parts malfunctioned.
With this practice under their belt, students then conceptualized their own analogies for a cell and its organelles. Many of them drew upon their outside interests- a student who dreamed of writing for a fashion magazine compared parts of a cell to parts of a "cell-ebrity" lifestyle; another student enrolled in a culinary arts program described the analogy of a cafeteria; and a third, who was very into civics and politics, compared a cell to the federal government and all its departments. Some of the posters are displayed below.