The very best teachers we ever had as students involved us in the learning process. They drew us in and got us making our own connections to what they were teaching. They may have also created a sense of cognitive dissonance, or mental discomfort, that we wanted to resolve. Creating an environment of active learning that engages students promotes deeper understanding and long-term retention of the concepts we are teaching.

Here are three quick and easy ways to get your students actively learning in your classroom:

Quick Card Sort

Put students into small groups and give each a set of index cards with 8 to 10 content-area vocabulary terms, one word on each card. Explain that this activity only includes 1 task and 1 rule. The task is to read and sort the words any way you like. The rule is that everyone in the group has to know why the words are grouped that way. Be sure to let the students know that there are no wrong answers as long as they can explain their reasoning for the groupings. This strategy helps students build background knowledge, encourages divergent thinking, and increases instructional conversations. Plus, it sets the stage for you to clarify any misconceptions and guide the students into the content. Finally, you can save the card sort and let students adjust the groupings as they learn more about the topic at hand.

Let’s Move Game

Create 3 to 5 statements about a topic you’re teaching. The statements can be true or false and should include important content area and/or academic vocabulary terms. Next, explain that the right side of the room will represent those who AGREE with the statement and the left side will represent those who DISAGREE (posting a sign on each wall can provide a visual clue as well).  Finally, read each statement and have the students silently move to the side of the room which represents their thinking. Have students discuss with each other why they chose their position. Then call on students to share each side’s reasoning. Repeat the process with each statement. This strategy provides movement, lots of instructional conversations, and the use of higher-order thinking skills to justify reasoning.

NF (Nonfiction Features) Puzzle

Choose any content area illustration, picture, graph, table, chart, etc. that is meaningful to the topic you are teaching. Make enough copies for groups of three to four students to each have one. Cut each copy into four pieces to create a puzzle. Give one puzzle to each group, face side down. Instruct students that they may only turn one piece of the puzzle over at a time based on your direction. After turning over each piece, explain that the students need to discuss all they know about the piece using as many content-area vocabulary terms as possible. Model this for your students using one of the pieces. Then facilitate the groups turning over each piece until they’ve put all four pieces together to create the original image of the nonfiction feature. Utilizing this discovery method of text feature analysis promotes active learning as students discuss, predict, and respond to the upcoming content-area ideas!