"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:
One: Partner: _______________________________ “Discussion
Two: Partner: _______________________________ “Discussion
Three: Partner: _______________________________ “Discussion
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.
and Learning Resources
a wide selection of free teaching and learning resources in specific
areas and topics, go to
Resources for Excellence in Education.
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
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
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.
five different musical clips to represent different class
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
Create a Quiz
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.
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.
that encourage broad discussion
that help focus a topic or issue
that request facts, details, or yes/no
that request descriptions or explanations
New direction questions
that move thought into new areas
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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…
thing I liked best was (is) _____________________________
most startling thing I learned was
most frustrating thing about this subject was
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
give the correct answers and use the exercise as an opening to your
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…
for help from the group
for feedback from group about something you have done
a statement that might anger someone else in the group
a difference of opinion
another group member feedback
the center of attention of the group
confusion or uncertainty in front of other group members
dissatisfaction with the direction of the group
you were wrong about something
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
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.
are two simple techniques to help a group narrow a list of items or
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
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
Delivery style or attitude
Adjusting the message to the audience or situation
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.
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.”
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.
on the content, ask the students to take a quick time out and tell
each other how they are feeling about their learning.
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?”
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
that you had to struggle with to understand
you don’t agree with
that you agree with strongly
you thought was particularly interesting
you didn’t expect
insight or solution
you want to know more about
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.
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
are some metaphor possibilities:
is like building a pyramid.
is like an ocean-going ship
are like artists
are like bumper cars
is like a mosaic
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.
a student to read the story to the full class. Here
is the 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
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?
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?