Teaching Beyond Worksheets - Engage Your Students with These Ideas
As a teacher, you want your students learning in meaningful ways. You want to create experiences that your students will remember and a classroom community that everyone looks forward to each day.
One of the best ways to do this is to have meaningful, engaging classroom activities. While worksheets do have a place in the classroom, they should not be the only resource in your teacher tool box.
Let’s take a look at some engaging ideas that’ll have your students learning in a way that they’ll enjoy and remember.
Read Aloud - It’s For More than Just Language Arts
Reading aloud is a very versatile strategy to use with students. And you might be surprised to find that even high school students enjoy being read to!
Picture books are often filled with rich content appropriate for older students. Non-fiction picture books are great for learning subjects outside of language arts, too. For all students, read alouds can be used to learn about different cultures, history, science and even math.
No matter what age, books help students understand the world around them. In the earlier years, students are learning basic vocabulary and how the world works. Read alouds can be used to reinforce ideas like seasons, animals, brushing your teeth, and so much more.
For students who are coming of age, there are many books where the reader has the opportunity to relate to characters who are similar to them, and to empathize with characters who are different. Books can be tools to help adolescents understand they are not alone in what they are going through, and can help them to think about challenging situations from different viewpoints.
Reading aloud in the classroom not only teaches through text, but also leads to classroom discussions among students. This deepens understanding, and builds community in the classroom. Plus, when using read alouds, all students are able to participate regardless of their reading level.
Games Your Students Will Love
Are you wanting to boost student engagement AND reinforce learning standards? Games in the classroom are what you need!
Students love playing games. And it is easy to turn boring worksheet activities into differentiated games. Here are 3 low-prep ideas that will get your students engaged and learning.
1. Tic-tac-toe Math - Have students partner up. Each pair will draw a tic-tac-toe board on their paper. You can either provide problems, or have students create problems to put in their square. Students take turns solving the problems and get to put an X or O in the box of the problem they solve.
2. Gallery Walk - This will work across ages and content areas. Instead of a worksheet full of questions, place questions in different spaces around the room. You can hang them on the wall, set them on the book shelf, have them at different desks - get creative with it. Set a timeer and allow students to walk around the room recording answers on their answer sheets.
Make sure to set expectations about how many students are allowed at each question. You will also want to choose questions that do not have to be answered in a specific order so that students can spread out.
3. Bingo - This is another activity that will work for all ages and content areas. Have students create their own bingo cards by folding their paper in half twice lengthwise and twice crosswise. When students unfold their paper, the creases should create 16 boxes on their page. (You can create more than 16 boxes by adjusting the number of times students fold.)
Next, give information to put in the boxes in any order students choose. This could be math problems, capitals, states, spelling words, or any other topic your students are learning about. When they are done, you call out the answers to the math problems, the matching state or capital, the spelling word - you get the idea! Students mark off their boxes trying to get a bingo.
These games will turn what could’ve been a boring worksheet into an engaging classroom activity. Your students will barely even notice they’re doing work!
Teach Students Through Project Based Learning
Looking for ideas to get your students learning in hands-on, inquiry based ways? Project based learning is one way to do this.
Project based learning is a teaching method where students learn through real-world, meaningful projects. Instead of completing a worksheet about a topic, or listening to a teacher explain, students are doing the research and making the connections for themselves.
PBL Works outlines the Seven Project Based Teaching Practices as:
1. Design and Plan - First, you will create a project for students from launch to culmination, while still providing room for student voice and choice.
2. Align to the Standards - Make sure that the project is hitting the standards from the key subject areas.
3. Build the Culture - Set clear expectations while promoting student independence, teamwork, open-ended inquiry and high quality work.
4. Manage Activities - Help students organize tasks, create schedules, have checkpoints and help with finding appropriate resources.
5. Scaffold Student Learning - Use a variety of lessons, tools and instructional strategies to support students throughout their learning.
6. Assess Student Learning - Use formative and summitive assessments of knowledge and skills throughout the project.
7. Engage and Coach - You are engaged in the process alongside your students. Identify when they need skill-building, redirection, encouragement and celebration.¹
One example of project based learning is to have students create a board game. As a teacher, you will go through the practices listed above to create a meaningful project that is appropriate for the ages of your students and the subjects you want to cover.
The board game could include history trivia, elements of a story, a historical event, geography, foreign language or math concepts. You can even give a list of topic ideas to students and let them decide.
Creating a board game requires critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills. You will create benchmarks along the way and help students plan and gather materials for their board games.
At the end of the project, students are able to play each other’s games. You’ll see such a sense of pride in your students, and they’ll have an amazing final product to share with their classmates.
Ditch the Daily Worksheets
As a teacher, there are so many opportunities to instill a love of learning in your students. Overusing worksheets is not one of them.
Next time you are about to use a worksheet, stop and ask yourself what other options you have.
- Do I have a book about this topic?
- Can I turn this into a game?
- Can I incorporate this into a project based learning assignment?
Switching gears from worksheets may take more time in the beginning, but the result will be a more engaged and tight knit classroom community, happier students, and a deeper, longer lasting, understanding of the content.