Students love doing something a little different, so give them the opportunity!
It can get a little boring using the same pedagogical approach in almost every lesson. Finding new ways to present content can be time consuming, and we often forget that different approaches even exist.
To save you some time and remind you of what is possible, below are 28 activities (and counting) that you can use in your classroom to actively engage your students. Each one is one I have used and liked personally – I wouldn’t recommend a strategy that I didn’t like myself! I’ve kept the descriptions as brief as possible to save you spending ages reading through, so if you’d like more clarity or information about any particular approach, please ask!
As with any new thing in the classroom, it may take you and your class a few tries to get the hang of a new activity, so don’t give up if it doesn’t go to plan on the first try.
Students write down as many dot points as possible about a topic in 1 minute. You could spice it up by offering a prize to the student with the most points.
Students are given a text about a topic as well as a few post-it notes in different colours. Each colour represents a different question, or a different topic, etc. Students read the text and respond on the post-it notes.
I have seen this done with difficult texts where students write a list of unknown words from the text on one post it, summarise the information they understand on another, etc. I have also seen it done with specific questions on each, or in the case of science they had a different system on each note and had to write the steps/summarise.
Summarise to the class
Students summarise key points about a text/lesson/activity back to the class. This can be approached in a few different ways. You can give students time to prepare or simply ask them on the spot, and it can involve the student using their own knowledge or information given by another student.
Pairs or Small Groups
Teach a partner
Students pair off and teach each other about a specific topic they have been given that the other student doesn’t necessarily already know. You can base this off prior knowledge, content taught in that or the preceding lesson, or give them information sheets to read through first.
Have a list of key words ready to show up on the board. Students pair off with one facing the board and the other facing away. The one facing the board has to get the other to guess the word, but their descriptions cannot include the word (don’t play like charades, they need to think of definitions, descriptions and examples).
Set a time-limit and have the students compete to see which pair can correctly guess the most words. I find 60 or 90 seconds works best.
Individually, students answer a question/form an opinion/ summarise key information. They then pair up with another student and discuss both of their responses. As a pair, they then report back to the class what they came up with. Depending on time, you can have whole class respond or just chose pairs.
Divide students into groups of four. Each group is to become an expert group on a particular topic for which you will provide the necessary information (usually as a text, but if you have IT available you can also refer them to websites or videos).
After they have learnt the information, they re-form into different groups with one member from each expert group. Each member of this new group then teaches the others about their expert topic.
Students are given a marking scheme/answers and asked to create the questions it was based on. Students then pair up and quiz each other using the questions they created. They particularly enjoy it if you allow them to discuss the questions and answers after the quiz, encouraging them to critique each other’s work.
Students split into small groups (3 or 4 at most) and rotate around the room completing activities or answering questions. If you are staying away from physical activities, this works well with short text comprehension questions in science and problem solving questions in maths. Allow the students to work together to come up with the answer.
Students pair up and respond to a task/question. After a given amount of time they then meet up with another pair and discuss their respective responses. After another given amount of time each pair must find and discuss with another pair. Continue as time and behaviour allow.
Never-ending List (works best with physical items)
Have a range of stimuli around the room, with small groups assigned to each stimuli. They are given 1 minute to write a list of all of their thoughts about the stimuli. In the activity I used they had to write down as many physical properties of the item as they could.
When the time is up, groups swap stimuli. The same time limit applies and the students must add on to the current list, expanding it without repeating anything that was listed before. Continue as time permits.
You’ll be amazed how innovative and creative the answers get as the list extends!
Display several stimuli around the room, pictures work best. Students rotate and discuss and/or write down their thoughts about the stimuli.
This works well as an extended starter activity to introduce students to a new topic.
This activity is good for increasing fluency in students who really struggle with reading. Students pair up with a simple text and a timer. One student reads the text out loud and the other times how long they take, then swap roles. They repeat this a few times to see how they improve.
Students create a short performance to model a process or opinion.
Students are formed into groups and given A3 paper to respond to a topic. They then swap their paper with other groups, who can add, agree, or disagree with points made. The class then discusses each paper.
Two Truths, One Lie
The students form groups, and each person has to tell the other people two truths about something, and one lie. The other students have to question the speaker and work out which one they think is the lie.
This can be done as an ice-breaker, but it also works really well with content.
Large Groups or Whole Class
One person answers questions in the ‘hot seat’ at the front of the class about a certain topic. When they come across a question they cannot answer, choose another student to take the seat.
This can either be done in groups or as a whole class, and works best when the other students ask the questions rather than the teacher.
Silent debating line
One side of the room is for those who agree with a particular opinion/statement/comment, the other side of the room is for those who disagree. The students move according to their own opinion without verbalising anything.
Once they are in line, you could choose individual students to talk about why they took that stance. Allow them to admit they were just following a friend or the majority of the class, but then ask them to think about and discuss the opinion they subsequently ‘chose’.
Play this game using a PowerPoint template set up with questions/answers relevant to your topic (contact me if you would like a blank template!).
Have students form small groups, create a group name, and play as seen on TV. Keep a tally of points and reward the winning group – but make it fair and ensure each group gets the chance to answer some questions.
Students are assigned a somewhat political position about a topic, and must try to convince you/a judge/the rest of the class to agree with them.
This works best if it is divided over at least two lessons to give the students time to prepare their case. It also works particularly well with ethical or moral topics.
Parliamentary Role Play
Students are given a general topic to debate, and form into ‘expert witness groups’ who present facts to support their opinions, with one group the decision makers.
The decision makers need to decide on a list of questions to ask each different group, and the groups need to be knowledgeable enough to answer those questions without being exposed to them beforehand.
This may seem like a very long process, and indeed you could extend it to take multiple lessons, but I have seen it done in a one-hour session.
Students are put into two groups, lined up facing the board. A question is asked and the first student to run up and ‘splat’ the board (works particularly well with a fly swat) is able to answer. Points are given for correct answers.
Students are given a set of questions and answers. They line up and are given a set amount of time to ask and answer the questions, before moving on to another partner. As they go, they collect points for correctly answering questions. The person with the most points wins (or could be couple).
Celebrity Heads (or Who Am I?)
Students are given a name or description that they have to guess by questioning the class (e.g. Am I found in a plant cell?). The other student can only answer Yes or No. The first student to guess their name/description wins.
Students are given or create bingo cards with key terms. You read out descriptions, rather than the words themselves, and the students have to figure out if they have that word or not.
Big Question, Short Walk
This can be used as an activity in its own right, or as a directed way to move between different locations. The students are given a ‘big question’, usually something that does not have a definite or right/wrong answer, for example ‘what would happen if people grew wings’. It can be related to the content, but that’s not necessary either. They are to walk in pairs and discuss the question (quietly if they are moving between locations).
They don’t necessarily need to come to a definite answer, but should be able to share their discussion with the rest of the class (when you call them back together or reach the location you are moving to).
I would love to hear of other great ideas in the comments below! Alternatively, if you would like more information about how you could use an activity with your class, please get in touch.
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.