The theme for all of these examples of Great Classroom Action seems to be: simple, but highly effective. All of the following are learning activities that are relatively simple to implement, yet dramatically increase student engagement and rigor, and also take what is often a relatively passive activity and turn it into one that is much more student-active.
Video clips: from passive to active
Like many teachers, Todd C occasionally shows video clips on different topics in his high school history classes, but rather than simply having his students sit passively and watch the video, he uses a variation on the 3-2-1 protocol.
As the students watch the video, they must look for and write down in their notebooks:
- 3 things they learned
- 2 things they found interesting
- 1 question they still have
When the video is over, the students do three 1-minute rounds of Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up, finding a different partner each time, and sharing with their partner what they wrote in their notebooks. After the third round, in which each partner shares the 1 question they still have, Todd invites individual students to share with the class something they learned from one of their discussion partners.
Todd uses this activity regularly whenever he shows a video clip. It's a simple way to add student writing, purposeful movement, and discussion to what is often a very passive activity.
Question stems on popsicle sticks
This is an activity I saw in Glasher R's high school science class. She often has students work in small groups to solve different problems on whiteboards and then take turns presenting their solutions to the rest of the class. But rather than simply listening while they wait their turn to present, her non-presenting students know that she is going to call on them to ask the presenting group a question. And to help the students come up with good questions, she writes question stems on popsicle sticks and passes them out to the students before the presentations begin. Glasher often groups these question stems into specific categories by color; depending on the activity, she may allow the students to ask any question they like, or she may require that they ask a question from a particular category (e.g., conceptual clarification, probing assumptions, etc.)
I love how this simple activity much more actively engages the non-presenting students and also helps them to develop their question-asking skills.
The "Say Something" reading strategy
I first saw this active reading strategy used in Julie M's high school science classroom, but have since seen it used in several other content areas. Julie gave her students part of a chapter from a book that she wanted them to read, and divided them into pairs. The students then took turns reading and discussing, using the following protocol:
- One partner reads first.
- Partners take turns reading aloud (stopping about every two or three paragraphs).
- After the reader finishes, the non-reading partner says something about what was read, doing one or more of the following:
- Make a prediction
- Ask a question
- Clarify something you had misunderstood
- Make a comment
- Make a connection
- If the non-reading partner can’t do one of those five things, then the reader needs to reread the section.
- The reader offers a response to what was said.
- Swap roles and repeat.
Julie had her students use a simple graphic organizer to record the "say" part of each round, though I've seen this strategy used effectively without a writing component. It's a great way to easily add a student discussion piece to a reading activity, as well as increase engagement and rigor.