Active learning strategies are the perfect solution for taking your students from a passive state to an active state that involves higher-order thinking skills. These instructional tactics have proven to impact student achievement, enrich instruction, and engage their thinking processes. When using the active learning approach, you are creating an active learning community that focuses on analyzing, evaluating and creating — the top of the taxonomy.
Ideas for Active Learning Strategies
1.) Mindmap– In the center of a piece of paper or chart paper write the topic. Then branching off that center topic write subheadings or subtopics learned about the main topic. Off of each subtopic, have students list details, key vocabulary, and other important concepts they learned from that section. When they are finished, they should have a mindmap about the chapter broken down into the key concepts. (This can also be done with one main idea, where the supporting details are branching off of the main idea in the center, and examples are branching off the supporting details.) I have even had my students create visual mindmaps as a memory trick.
2.) “Fishbowl”– Create construction paper fish figures with subheadings written on them from a textbook chapter for instance and then place them in a bowl. After students have read the chapter, arrange in groups and provide each with a fish. Have each group summarize the main idea of the section and the key vocabulary. They will write this on their fish and present it to the class. As each group presents, have students listen and take notes. When all the students are finished, have them place all the fish on one large chart paper (with a drawn fishbowl) and summarize the entire chapter together. If desired, talk about how the subsections fit together.
3.) 3D Story Tree – While this active learning strategy sounds like it has more to do with reading fiction than any other subject, it can be used in social studies for nonfiction events. Provide students with a styrofoam cone, a few toothpicks, and some sticky notes. The students will take the sticky notes, cut them in half, fold them in half, and attach to the toothpick so it’s like a flag. (See image below.) Then they will insert it into the styrofoam cone “tree.” But, first, they need to write on those flags. Each flag is assigned its own piece. (And of course, this can be modified based on what you’re studying!)
- 1 flag for the setting or location the event occurred
- 1 flag for the characters or people involved in the event
- 1 flag for the conflict or the event that occurred (if desired, use multiple flags!)
- 1 flag for the theme (this one you could skip in nonfiction or trade it for something else)
- 1 flag for the resolution or outcome of the event
- At the bottom of the cone tree, have students create a title for the book, event, or topic.
4.) Concept Treasure Hunt – After studying a concept, have students search 10 things in their home, the classroom, or outdoors that represents those main concepts. After they find them, have students tell how and why they represent those ideas. This is similar to the forced relationships activity. It really gets students thinking at a higher level.
5.) Facing Rows – Create two equal rows where your students face one another. One row will begin by asking a question related to the topic to their partner directly across from them. They will discuss for one minute (or two depending on your classroom). Then after time is up, each person in one row will scoot down 1 person (and the last person in the row will return to the first spot). Then the entire activity will start over again. The same row will always move, while the other row will always ask the questions. You can choose to have each person have a different question than the person next to them or different questions each time (but everyone has the same question). Either way, make sure the questions are different each time there is a scoot. You can definitely mix this up a bit each time. This is one of my favorite active learning strategies because it gets students talking to kids they don’t usually talk to and almost everyone in the class.
There are many more ideas for implementing active learning strategies in your classroom. The main thing is making sure that you are taking your students from a passive state to an active state. When I say the active state, I don’t necessarily mean movement as in kinesthetic but as in their mind is active. When the mind is thinking critically, it is active and learning!
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