3 Easy Active Learning Strategies (That Also Work Virtually)

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Hello there, teacher friend! Today, I’m going to share three active learning strategies that will engage your learners whether you are in person or teaching virtually. Plus, if you’re teaching virtually, I’ve got a tool especially for you at the end – The Virtual Classroom Survival Guide. Did you know that I’m sharing content in a new podcast? If you’d rather listen, you can find it HERE.

What is Active Learning?

Fellow primary teacher, we know the importance of movement to our learners, don’t we? When our little people sit at their desks and squirm while trying their best to focus on a lesson, they are asking for help! Fortunately, there is a way to meet their need to move (super important to them) and their need to learn (important to us) at the same time. How? Active learning!

Active learning is formally defined as “any learning activity in which the students interact with the learning process rather than just passively taking on the information.” If that’s a little dry, here’s Benjamin Franklin’s explanation, which I just love: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”

That makes so much sense, right? I like to put it this way:

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If you listen to the podcast episode, you can hear my interview with Dr. Jean. One of the things she pointed out was, “It takes seven to 25 times for muscle memory, so that’s the advantage of playing a game or singing a song. You’ve got that natural, built-in repetition that they will want to do it again and again.” Isn’t that true? Let’s put that into practice! Here are three super easy active learning strategies you can use today, whether you are in person or virtual with your learners.

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Active Learning Strategy #1: Use Motions or Sign Language

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Our first active learning strategy is to use motions or sign language. Here’s how I incorporate movement specifically in my sight word and letter and sound instruction. For each word, I created a simple motion. In the classroom we call those signals, and that the students use them whenever they see that word.

If you think of the word look, the signal is to hold your hands like binoculars over your eyes. Then I have my students use a simple phrase, “I look through my binoculars. Look, look, look.” On each of the three looks, they’re holding their binoculars to their eyes. When they repeat that over and over and over when they see that word, it becomes more memorable to them.

I also use the same strategy for letters and sounds. I have a simple motion that they use to associate each letter with the sound. If you think of the letter A, we associate it with the word apple. They hold their hand out like they’re holding an apple, and then when they make the sound they move it toward their mouth. It goes like this: “A, apple, a, a, a.” Those simple motions and movement are a great way to incorporate active learning.

If you’d like to have access to those motions that I use for sight words, you can get your free copy HERE or if you’re interested in the letter and sound motions, you can get that HERE.

Active Learning Strategy #2: Show Me

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Active learning strategy number two is a fun game that Dr. Jean introduced to me. There are suggestions on how to make this work for distant learning in The Virtual Classroom Survival Guide, which I’ll tell you more about later. For this game, every child is involved, and you can adapt this to use with whatever skill you are teaching at the time.

If you are teaching sight words, each student would have a group of six or eight index cards, each with a sight word on it. The teacher says, “I’m looking for the sight word ball. Can you find that sight word?” Every student picks up a card, and the teacher says, “One, two, three, show me!” Then each student holds up their card. They can look around and see what everyone else chose. If they didn’t get it right, they can self-correct with that immediate feedback.

This game is simple to prepare, and it would make a great learning experience for the most recent content you are teaching or a review for a topic from earlier in the year. This game is so versatile you can use it with sight words, phonics, science, math, you name it! If you’d like to see this game in action, there’s a video Dr. Jean made that explains more about it HERE.

Active Learning Strategy #3: Musical Chairs

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The third active learning strategy is Musical Chairs, and I learned this from Laura Buonadonna, who helped create The Virtual Classroom Survival Guide. This is another great, simple way to get our students moving, and it can also be adjusted for any content you are teaching.

Find your catchiest music for this one! Each student stands and marches around their chair while the music plays. When it stops, they sit in their chairs and get their white board or a sticky note. The teacher shows a prompt like a dot card. The students would write that number on their white board or paper and hold it up.

Similarly to Show Me, students get immediate feedback and can self-correct. Dr. Jean also points out that this strategy is wonderful for developing executive functioning. This game requires students to start and stop a task on demand. They get this extra practice of task initiation and task completion, which helps them learn to self-regulate. This skill may not be a content skill, but it is vital in our learners’ ability to be successful in school.

The Virtual Classroom Survival Guide

Now, here’s more about the book I mentioned earlier! Three teachers and I teamed up to create a guide to help you teach virtually. Good news – it emphasizes active learning! Yes friend, we’ll show you exactly how to make active learning possible whether you see your learners face to face or over a screen.

Ready

The book is divided into four sections. The first section, Ready, will enable you to make connections and build relationships. It can be done, even in distant learning. Engaging your students’ families has never been more important. We show how to encourage families to buy in to this new mode of learning. They contribute in a big way when students learn virtually, and this guide explains how families can support their children.

Set

The second section gives you tools to help your students. We share how to support emotional literacy, use visual cues, and make your teaching intentional. As primary teachers, we understand that we are entrusted with the whole child. Now, more than ever, they need emotional support. Even if you can’t give in person hugs, you can still help them through this difficult time.

Go

The third section is Go, and it provides instructional and content ideas. Just because all your students aren’t in one place doesn’t mean your teaching can’t be engaging! We share tips and ideas for activities that will activate your students’ minds more than just taps and swipes.

Just for Fun

Just for Fun is the last section. Can you guess what it’s about? 🙂 The current state of the world doesn’t take away the need to help students develop good memories and a feeling of security that is so important in early childhood. From themed Fridays to show and tell virtually, there are ways to build a sense of community and share joy. We’ll help you do that.

You can check out this guide stuffed to the brim with goodies right HERE.

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You Can Rise to the Challenge!

This school year isn’t going to look the way we’d dream it to be. We can’t change that, but we can control the experience our students have during this year. It may be one of the most memorable years of their childhood for painful reasons. Let’s give them some good memories to go with the invaluable content learning we will provide.

The teacher adds the magic. You can take anything and with your positive attitude and your enthusiasm, you’re going to make the kids love it.

– Dr. Jean

Isn’t that true? Our students look to us for tone and attitude. If we show up engaged and ready to bring them along the education journey, they’ll show up with us. We can do this, friend. I believe in you, because you are a difference maker!

Have some suggestions for active learning that work in your classroom? Looking to join an engaged community of primary teacher friends? Hop over to our Facebook group and request to join HERE!

XOXOXO

Toni

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