Comprehensive Guide to Classroom Activities to Help Students Develop the Essential Skills

 “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” - Benjamin Franklin

Like the legend said involvement is imperative to make student learn and keep engaged them in learning thoroughly.  Hands-on learning is a great way to apply a twist to traditional course content and engage students on a deeper level. Such classroom activities are helpful as they not only engage students in the academia but also help them to develop some of the essential skills also known as 21st Century Skills. These skills are Problem solving, Creative, Critical & Analytic thinking, Collaboration, Communication Ethics, action, & accountability and Digital Citizenship.

In this post, I’ll be talking of classroom activities for Creative Thinking, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Entrepreneurship, and Inquiry Based Learning/Student Engagement which will help students to develop all the 21st century skills mentioned above (Except Digital Citizenship: that’s for the next time).

Check’em out!

Creativity is when a person is being able to come up with different ideas. Although many speak of it as a natural phenomenon, I think if done rightly we can help students develop and explore the creative side to them. Creativity doesn’t just happen. It needs to be cultivated. Creativity can be Allowed, Encouraged, Displayed, Recognized and rewarded, Developed and Discussed.

Activities mentioned below are to promote Creativity within your classroom.

- Think-Pair-Share: This activity is a great way for students to be able to pause and process what they have just learned. Ask the class a question that they must first consider by themselves then give them the opportunity to discuss it with their neighbor. Once they’ve discussed the question, students are then open to share their answers with the class. By giving them this time, you are enabling them to be more engaged in their learning

- Gap Fill In: Students are shown a picture, projected in the front of the room, if possible. At the top of their paper, students should write: "What is happening in this picture?" At the bottom of the page, they should answer with what they believe is happening in the photo simply in 1-2 sentences or according to the age/grade this activity is being done with.

In the middle of the page students write down all of the steps they took to arrive at that answer. Students are encouraged to write down the evidence they see that supports their conclusion.

This activity not only uses evidence, but supports Meta cognition skills by asking what prior knowledge brought you to your conclusion. This is a good activity to Bell Work or "Do Now."

- Reader’s Theater: In groups, create a dramatic script based on the ideas within a given text. Do not script word for word. The idea is to get off the page and represent the idea in the students’ own words.

- Big Paper-Building a Silent Conversation: Writing (or drawing) and silence are used as tools to slow down thinking and allow for silent reflection, unfiltered. By using silence and writing, students can focus on other viewpoints. This activity uses a driving question, markers, and Big Paper (poster-sized is best). Students work in pairs or threes to have a conversation on the Big Paper.

Students can write at will, but it must be done in silence after a reflection on the driving question. This strategy is great for introverts, and provides a readymade visual record of thought for later.

Group Based Learning helps students develop many essential skills such as collaboration, cooperation as well as helps them come up with different ideas. Listed below are activities to promote Group based learning among students.

- It’s a Mystery: Many children (and grown-ups) enjoy a good mystery, so educators must design one that must be solved cooperatively. Give each student a numbered clue. In order to solve the mystery — say, the case of the missing mascot — children must work together to solve the clues in order. The “case” might require them to move from one area of the room to the next, uncovering more clues.

- Case study: Create four to five case studies of similar difficulty.

Have students work in groups of four or five to work through and analyze their case study.

Provide 10-15 minutes (or adequate time to work through the cases).

Walk around and address any questions.

Call on groups randomly and ask that students share their analysis. Continue until each case study has been addressed.

- A Shrinking Vessel: This game requires a good deal of strategy in addition to team work. Its rules are deceptively simple: The entire group must find a way to occupy a space that shrinks over time, until they are packed creatively like sardines. You can form the boundary with a rope, a tarp or blanket being folded over or small traffic cones.

- Go for Gold: Teams have a common objective, but instead of each one having the same materials, they have access to a whole cache of materials. For instance, the goal might be to create a contraption with pipes, rubber tubing and pieces of cardboard that can carry a marble from point A to point B in a certain number of steps, using only gravity.

- Minefield: Another classic team-building game. Arrange some sort of obstacle course and divide students into teams. Students take turns navigating the “mine field” while blindfolded, with only their teammates to guide them. You can also require students to only use certain words or clues to make it challenging or content-area specific.

Activities for Critical Thinking Skills on next page..

Critical Thinking Skills enables a being to understand the logical connections between ideas, identify, construct and evaluate arguments, detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning. Mentioned below are few activities to help students with the development of Critical thinking:

- Keep it Real: This open-ended concept is simple and serves as an excellent segue into problem-based learning. Challenge students to identify and cooperatively solve a real problem in their schools or communities. You may set the parameters, including a time limit, materials and physical boundaries.

- Barometer-Taking a Stand on Controversial Issues: When posed with a thought-provoking prompt, students line themselves up along a U-shaped continuum representing where they stand on that issue. The sides of the U are opposite extremes, with the middle being neutral. The teacher starts a discussion by giving equal opportunity for individuals in each area of the continuum to speak about their stand. The students use “I” statements when stating their opinion.

- The Worst Case Scenario: Construct a scenario in which students would need to work together and solve problems to succeed, like being stranded on a deserted island or getting lost at sea/jungle/town. Ask them to work together and come out with a solution that ensures everyone arrives safely. You might ask them to come up with a list of 10 must-have items that would help them most, or a creative passage to safety. Encourage them to vote everyone must agree to the final solution.

- If You Build it: This team-building game is flexible. Simply divide students into teams and give them equal amounts of a certain material, like pipe cleaners, blocks, or even dried spaghetti and marshmallows. Then, give them something to construct. The challenge can be variable (think: Which team can build the tallest, structurally-sound castle? Which team can build a castle the fastest?).

You can recycle this activity throughout the year by adapting the challenge or materials to specific content areas.

- Zoom: Zoom is a classic classroom cooperative game that never seems to go out of style. Simply form students into a circle and give each a unique picture of an object, animal or whatever else suits your fancy. You begin a story that incorporates whatever happens to be on your assigned photo. The next student continues the story, incorporating their photo, and so on.

Inquiry Based learning activities help students to reflect back and get a better grip on their knowledge by getting assessed along with learning. Also, these activities promote Student Engagement as class participation is at its max while conducting them.

Few activities are mentioned below.

- Stand Up Sit Down: Teachers can use this to help students differentiate between any two categories. For instance, when a teacher is trying to help her students distinguish between common nouns and proper nouns, she would give an example then instruct them to either stand up if it is a common noun or sit down if it is a proper noun. This is a great way to see how much of your class is actually grasping the material. It’s also a great way to get your students’ blood flowing to keep them alert and engaged.

- 3-2-1: This activity is very quick so it’s perfect when you’re pressed for time but still need to give your students a chance to process the material. First you’ll have them write three facts they learned about the topic. Next, two questions they still have about the topic that might not have been covered in class. Finally, have your students write one opinion they have about the material.

- Quick Writes: Studies show that the proper ratio of direct instruction to reflection time for students is ten to two. That means that for every ten minutes of instruction teachers need to provide students with two minutes for reflection. This activity is a great way to provide students with that much needed reflection time! In this activity, the teacher asks a question about a topic or concept that has just been taught. Then the student produces a written response and either shares it with a neighbor or is invited to share it with the entire class.

- Publish and share: Not an activity but a continuous task which if done rightly can help students for a long time. As the idea is that Inquiry-based classrooms share knowledge. This can be accomplished via a class wiki, blogs, and websites. Students understand how to embed articles and projects onto the internet or class network so its shared by everyone. They accept that part of their responsibility as a student is to ask questions about these shared materials, read and comment on them, and use them as resources. We all grow when one of us grows.

Entrepreneurship is not a skill but an act which leads to attainment of many skills, knowledge, information and a sense of running a business which bring the responsibility of being the authoritative person. These activities may be apt for the older students or can be modified according to the age adaptability.

- The Business Project: Divide students in teams and assign all the teams a same topic (say starting a cafe). Now the teams have to make a blue print of how they are going to start with their business on the assigned topic. What will be their course of action to generate revenue. How the investments will be raised and so. Students have to come up with different ideas to top among all the teams and All the business activities that they will include in the blueprint will help them identify the needs of a business.     

- Ask students to define and write down their top five goals. In order to increase effectiveness and feeling of accomplishment, make sure that each goal is S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely).  Follow it with making them write down five actions necessary to accomplish these goals. Don’t forget to put them up somewhere where you and your children can easily see them. Encourage and support your children in reaching their defined goals and be sure to enjoy the rewards together. This is to help them to initiate with the critical and creative thinking as they are being asked to come up with actions they need to do in order to achieve their goals.

Share the activities you conduct in your classroom! Make a mention in the comment section below!

About the Author
Author: Priyanka Gupta
Priyanka is a blogger by profession and has an increasing interest to write about the edtech space. While writing she keeps in mind the educators to come up with right resources and ideas which might be relevant for them in relation to effective use of technology in their profession and institutions/classrooms.
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