Lesson Plan Development



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Classroom Activities

Below are dozens of classroom activity formats that you can adapt to encourage student learning.  The listed activities are designed to trigger thinking outside of frequently used strategies like panel discussions, collage construction, role playing, PowerPoint presentations, etc.  In the hands of professional teachers these activities will help contribute to an engaging and energized classroom.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1, The activities are formats that you can easily adapt to your content area

2. You will have to adjust the activities to fit the age level of your class

3. Be sensitive to timing and frequency of use

4. The activities can easily be used to set up or lead into new learning  

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"Stand by your Quote"  Place thoughtful quotes on the walls--leave plenty of room between the quotes and make certain the print is large. Make sure that the quotes touch on different aspects of the topic under study.

Ask the participants to leave their chairs and walk around the room reading each of the quotes (there is no particular order).  Then have them stand by one quote that they particularly like.  When all participants have selected a quote (you can have more than one person by a quote), have them explain to the group what they like about their quote.

Discussion Dance Card  In this activity students mix with the full class and sign up the names of three other participants on a teacher prepared “Discussion Dance Card.”  Then during a set period of time students seek out their "dance partners" to conduct a short discussion based on given discussion questions:

Dance One: Partner: _______________________________ “Discussion question…?”

Dance Two: Partner: _______________________________ “Discussion question…?”

Dance Three: Partner: _______________________________ “Discussion question…?”


Key Words  As students read or view something, have them write down key words on sticky notes.  When the reading or viewing is complete, the students should place their sticky notes on the board.  As a class then group the notes into categories.  From the categories, students can draw conclusions. 

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Classroom Buddies  Allow students to select a classroom buddy.  Then during discussions stop on occasion to give buddies time to form a response together.  Then call on pairs to share their ideas.  TIP: After you give a set of instructions, give classroom buddies time to go over the instructions to make sure that everyone understands what they are to do.

Learning Diary  One day a week students should take ten minutes to write down in a dedicated tablet five things that they have learned in class.   It is important that students can articulate what they are learning. 

Sticky Note Brainstorming  The teacher presents three thought provoking statements about the subject under study.   Students write down a short response to each on sticky notes.  The teacher sets aside three wall spaces for the notes to be posted—one area for each statement. 

After the notes are posted, participants are divided into three groups, one for each sticky note grouping.  Each group then combines, synthesizes, rearranges, and/or groups their notes.  It is each group’s job to draw three to five conclusions based on the notes.  At the teacher’s signal, each team reports their conclusions.

Classroom Norms  Ask students the following question: “In the perfect classroom, how would students treat each other?” List their responses as classroom norms or rules for the group.

Musical Insights  Play five different musical clips to represent different class “personalities.”  For example, music that portrays a class that is quiet, stormy, indifferent, excitable, icy, divided, aggressive, disjointed, etc.  List the musical titles and play the clips.  Ask students to explain to the group which musical piece best fits their class and why.  This should open up some enjoyable discussion about classroom tone and behavior.  You can use the same pattern to open discussion about assigned readings, characters under study, or historical events.

Jig Saw Reading  Divide the class into small groups.  Give each group a different reading on a subject the class is studying.  Groups read their reading and then make a list of three to five key ideas or points.  Groups share their key ideas.

Create a Quiz  After a unit, have students work in small groups to create a quiz or test that they think would fairly cover the material.  Groups can then exchange their tests to serve as a good review.

Discussion Benefits  We often assume that students understand the benefits of participating in class discussion. It is important to reaffirm the need for students to be actively engaged in class discussions.  Write the following phrases on the board: “The power of group discussions” and “The power of listening carefully.  Students should write down a response to both and then share and discuss their responses.

Ask the Right Questions After studying a topic, ask students to work in small groups and develop five different types of questions about the material they have studied.  Place the question chart below on large cards to be completed by each group.  After they are done writing their questions, have groups exchange cards and answer or discuss the questions.

Question Type

Type Definition

Group Questions

1. Open-ended questions

Questions that encourage broad discussion


2. Clarification questions

Questions that help focus a topic or issue


3. Detail questions

Questions that request facts, details, or yes/no


4. Explanation questions

Questions that request descriptions or explanations


5. New direction questions

Questions that move thought into new areas


Problem Solving Brainstorming In groups, students relate a “real school situation or issue” that they have recently encountered.  One at a time, members relate their situation as objectively as they can.  After each example the group brainstorms for ideas to address the situation.

Slogans  Most schools have a school slogan.  As a class, have students develop a slogan for each unit that they study.  This is a simple way to keep a record of what they have studied over the course of a semester or year.

Rotation Brainstorming  List five to seven open-ended questions or statements about a topic you are studying in class.  Write each on a section of the board (or on large sheets of paper). Divide the class into small groups, one for each question, and place them at the different question stations.  Each group responds to the question by writing down a key idea or response to the question. At the signal of the teacher (blink the lights), groups rotate to the next station and add another key point(s) to the previous group. 

After groups rotate through all the stations, they end up where they started.  Here they review all the responses and identify the three best responses.  Then ask each group to present their conclusions to the class. 

More Writing  On a regular basis, have students write down a response to your question before you have volunteers raise their hands for verbal responses.  This helps to get more people engaged intellectually.

Postal Reminder  After a particularly engaging lesson or discussion, pass out postcards to students.  Have them write down on the post card their address and two or three things that challenged their thinking.  You may want them to write down three questions or three thoughtful statements.   Then collect the cards and hold on to them until you feel students could use a “learning reminder.” Then send the cards to their home.

A Letter to Myself  At crucial points in the year have students write a letter to themselves.  The topic should be something along the lines of… “The Power of Learning.”  Then after an appropriate amount of time, send the letters to their home.

Stop Doing List  Students frequently need to work on time management issues.  One exercise that often helps is to have students create a “Stop Doing” list.  These are things that should be changed in order to free up more time and energy.  In small groups, students may want to exchange things they are either reducing or cutting out entirely.

Clip Art Discussions  Select five humorous clip art scenes or cartoons that are (or could be) related in some way to the subject under study.  Divide students into small groups and have them write a caption for each clip art picture (each group will need a set of the pictures).  These captions should highlight something about their learning.  Encourage students to have some fun with this.  If they want they can add to each picture—thought bubbles, signs, drawings, etc.  When they are done, post the pictures around the room and give people time to view them. 

Class Expectations  On occasion it is motivating to allow the students to articulate learning expectations.  In other words, have them identify what they expect of themselves and the class.

Idea Battle  Present a provocative or debatable statement to the class.  Then let students decide if they want to work with others to support the statement or challenge it.  The teacher should define terms if necessary and clarify the scope of the discussion.  Students then move to two different preparation areas.  One group builds a case in support of the statement and the other questions it. 

After a set amount of preparation time, the two sides present their case and challenge the opposing point of view.  The teacher must closely monitor the way the discussion unfolds so each side has equal time.  After the “debate” participants physically change sides if they have changed their minds.

Appreciation Cards  Have students write down three things that they appreciate about their class, classmates, or what they are learning in class—one item per card.  Then collect the cards and post them.  This helps to generate a positive learning environment.

Scattergun Research  Introduce a subject by having the class brainstorm for questions that they would like to have answered.  Then divide up the questions and have pairs or teams go the resource center to find short answers.  Students report their findings to the full class.

Conversation Starters  Write ten Conversation Starters about the subject under study.  Instruct students that the starters are “springboards” to class discussion.  Here are a few generic starters…

  • The thing I liked best was (is) _____________________________

  • The most startling thing I learned was ________________________________

  • The most frustrating thing about this subject was _______________________________

  • The thing that will stick in my mind about this topic is ______________________________

Starter Quiz  Before starting a new unit or topic verbally deliver a ten question quiz that highlights important elements that are connected to the topic they will be studying.  These should be straightforward questions that are intended to provoke topic awareness.  They should not be written to “stump” the students.  Before you read the questions (or hand out the quiz) explain to the class that no one will see their answers.  The quiz is intended to introduce the topic, not to assess anyone.  You may want to include a few humorous questions to keep the quiz light and non-threatening.  

Then give the correct answers and use the exercise as an opening to your new unit.

Group Work Assessment  This exercise can help develop better small group interaction.  Have students take the short group questionnaire below.  Then ask the class to suggest ideas about how they can help their classmates to feel more comfortable when working in groups.

In a group, how do you feel about…

1.      Asking for help from the group

2.      Asking for feedback from group about something you have done

3.      Making a statement that might anger someone else in the group

4.      Expressing a difference of opinion

5.      Giving another group member feedback

6.      Being the center of attention of the group

7.      Expressing confusion or uncertainty in front of other group members

8.      Expressing dissatisfaction with the direction of the group

9.      Admitting you were wrong about something

10.  Giving someone in the group praise for something he or she has done.

Students rate each statement on a three-point scale (1 = I am uncomfortable doing this, 2 = I am usually ok with this, but not always, 3 = I am very comfortable with this). 

Peak Experiences  Ask the class to explain a favorite activity or exercise that they have done at some point in their school experience.  List them on the board.  Then ask the students to put them in priority order.  Explain that you will construct some lessons that utilize some of these learning formats that they identified.

Learning Overview  It is important that students understand how much they are learning.  This simple exercise helps students see the “ground that they have covered.”  Write a simple unit timeline on the board.  Give students sticky notes and have them write down five to seven things that they have learned over the duration of their time in class—one item per sticky note.  Then on the teacher’s signal, students place their sticky notes on the appropriate part of the timeline.  With all of the notes on the board, students can easily see how much they are learning.

Learning Impact  (Note: This activity is a good one to follow the “Learning Overview” activity described above.)  Have students write down their thoughts about one or two things they have learned that had an impact on them.  In other words, is there something that was learned in class that changed the way they view things?  Or was there something that surprised them? Or was there something that altered the way they think about things? Etc.

Prioritizing  Below are two simple techniques to help a group narrow a list of items or ideas. 

A. Fist to Five: The teacher restates each issue under discussion and the participants simultaneously hold up a number of fingers, fist to five, to show their opinion of it. A fist represents no vote; one finger represents a low opinion while five fingers represents that it is a great idea.

B. Prioritizing Poll: When a group has a list of items that they want to put in priority order, give each participant three votes that they can use to indicate their top three choices.  Total all votes and then circle the top vote getters.  This is a simple poll to see which items are favored by the group. 


Good Communicators A class thrives on clear and active communication.  Students should take some time to explore the elements of good communication.  In this activity pairs or small groups explore eight dimensions of communication by listing both bad and good habits for each.  Have the students define and discuss each of the communication practices and then complete the chart below.  After the students have completed the chart, ask them to make a list of the key habits of excellent communicators. If you have a group that likes to role play, you can set up dandy scenarios portraying bad communicators. 

Communication Practice

Bad Habits

Good Habits

1.       Listening



2.       Reading people



3.       Delivery style or attitude



4.       Paying attention



5.       Asking questions



6.       Message responsibility



7.       Message clarity



8.       Adjusting the message to the audience or situation




Class Expectations  Have the students develop a class expectations checklist—“what we expect from each other and our performance as students.”  Prioritize their responses and post them as a class reminder. 

Energizers  Students should take some time to reflect on how they learn and what motivates them to learn.  To get this started, ask students to think of those things they enjoy doing the most.  Then list those things that energize them to learn.


Energy Busters  At times it may be helpful to allow students to identify those things that “bust” their motivation to learn.  Discuss how they can avoid or change “energy busters.”

Debriefing  At various times it is helpful to allow students to “debrief” their learning.   This helps students organize, articulate, and absorb what they are hearing and discussing.  To debrief ask two different types of questions: feeling and content. 

1.  Feeling Debriefing Questions--Depending on the content, ask the students to take a quick time out and tell each other how they are feeling about their learning.

2.  Content Debriefing Questions—“What new learning have you gained from our work in class?” or “What do you know now that you didn’t know before we began?”

After the students have responded to the debriefing questions you may want to ask them a variation of the following question:Where should we go from this point forward?” or “What has to be done now?”


Parking Lot  As you introduce a new unit or topic, ask the students to identify things that they would like to learn about the subject.  Use their suggestions as a spring board into the unit.  “Park” their ideas on a sheet posted in a prominent place and check off items as you cover them.


What Stuck?  One simple way to review a subject, topic, or unit is to ask students to articulate what stuck with them.  In small groups or with a partner, students should respond to the following…

§  An “Aha” moment

§  A pleasant surprise.

§  Something that you had to struggle with to understand

§  Something you don’t agree with

§  Something that you agree with strongly

§  Something you thought was particularly interesting

§  Something you didn’t expect

§  An insight or solution

§  Something you want to know more about

§  A question that you have


Bull Ring  Select seven volunteers to form a small discussion circle.  The rest of the class forms a larger circle around the small group.  Members of the class fire questions at the small group on the designated topic and the inside circle responds to the questions by having a discussion amongst themselves.  At the end, the class draws conclusions about the inner circle discussion.

Metaphors  Sometimes creating a metaphor can help trigger insights.  In this activity the students, working in pairs, discuss metaphors provided by the teacher and relate them to subjects they are studying.  Each pair is given an opportunity to explain one of their metaphors to the full class.

Here are some metaphor possibilities:

1.  _____________ is like building a pyramid.

2.  _______________ is like an ocean-going ship

3.  ____________ are like artists

4.  ______________ are like bumper cars

5.  _______________ is like a mosaic

The Power of Stories  Don’t neglect the power that stories, parables, and analogies have to generate thinking.  Here is just a simple example… A short story entitled The Gorilla Story is used to emphasize how the status quo frequently keeps people from making change or approaching things differently.

Ask a student to read the story to the full class.   Here is the story…

The Gorilla Story

This story starts with a cage containing five gorillas and a large bunch of bananas hanging above some stairs in the center of the cage. Before long, a gorilla goes to the stairs and starts to climb toward the bananas. As soon as he touches the stairs, all the gorillas are sprayed with cold water. After a while, another gorilla makes an attempt and gets the same result—all the gorillas are sprayed with cold water.  Every time a gorilla attempts to retrieve the bananas, the others are sprayed. Eventually, they quit trying and leave the bananas alone.

One of the original gorillas is removed from the cage and replaced with a new one. The new gorilla sees the bananas and starts to climb the stairs. To his horror, all the other gorillas attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted. Next, the second of the original five gorillas is replaced with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Next the third original gorilla is replaced with a new one. The new one goes for the stairs and is attacked as well. Two of the four gorillas that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest gorilla.

After the fourth and fifth original gorillas have been replaced, all the gorillas that were sprayed with cold water are gone. Nevertheless, no gorilla will ever again approach the stairs. Why not?

“Because that’s the way it has always been done.”

After the reading, ask the class to discuss the lesson of the story.  Here are some other questions that have generated related discussion: Why is change so threatening?  What is the power of the status quo?  What can people do to break “gorilla” thinking? What motivates people to move out of their comfort zones?  In schools, how is the status quo perpetuated?  Why do people react so defensively to proposed changes?


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