In between the direct instruction step and the assessment step of your planning, start adding in some of these activities:
Organize the material by similarities and differences, categorize it, label it, do something that requires students to activate schema and create connections. An inductive learning lesson would be great for this.
2. KINESTHETIC WORK
Doing short role-plays and simulations can really help students visualize relationships and processes. This can also be done by creating models with Play-Doh or cardboard, or doing some kind of a maker project that connects to your standard.
Even giving students a few minutes to discuss a topic—especially if they are taking some kind of a stance on the content and backing it up with evidence—can do so much to help them process and learn the content. But make sure all students are participating! Check out this big list of discussion strategies for tons of ideas.
4. GRAPHIC REPRESENTATIONS
Having students put the material into any kind of visual form will help them remember it better and understand how concepts are related. Graphic organizers and sketchnotes are two ways to accomplish this. Students can do these on their own or they can be constructed as a class with your support—for especially challenging concepts, this may be most effective.
5. WRITE TO LEARN
When students process ideas in writing, they are forced to synthesize the information that has only entered their brains passively, so stopping instruction every now and then to have students write short summaries or give their opinions on the things they’re learning is a really effective, efficient way to cement their learning. This video from the Teaching Channel shows just how simple this can be to implement.
For learning to be active, it doesn’t have to be a super complicated, long-term project. Students can do mini-projects that take just a day or two. This poster project, where students have to rank leaders of early America, then back up their choices with evidence, is a perfect example of a project that could be done in a short period of time.
7. ANTICIPATION GUIDES
Anticipation guides are simple forms where students state their opinions on key statements before a learning activity. This primes them for the learning that is about to come. Once the direct instruction is done, they revisit the guides to see if their opinions have changed. This would be a really simple way to boost engagement and give students a bigger stake in a lesson.
8. QUALITY NOTE-TAKING
Although students seem to be taking a lot of “notes” in class, it’s not clear that this is being done in a way that results in high-quality learning. If your classroom practices are aligned with the research on note-taking, this activity can be a powerful processing tool.
9. RETRIEVAL PRACTICE
Asking students to recall information is a great way to help them learn it better, but I’m not exactly talking about the kind of recall they do on worksheets. Whether it’s stuff that just needs to be memorized or concepts that require more complex processing, building periods of retrieval practice into your instruction will boost learning.
Most of these activities would be enhanced by some kind of collaboration: Have students share their write-to-learn responses with a partner. Do sorting tasks with small groups. Any time they work together, they’re engaging with the content in a different way, which introduces more novelty and more opportunities to process it differently.
This is not an exact science, and no teacher designs instruction perfectly all the time. But if you’re not getting the results you want, try to do more of this: When planning your lessons, ask yourself if students are doing anything with the material, or if you’re just setting things up so it’s information in, information out. If it’s the latter, start adding in ways to have students engage with the stuff they’re learning. There are a lot of different ways to do it. Even though it adds a little bit more time, you’re going to see such big benefits. Not only are your students going to learn better, you will all—both your students and you—like coming to school a whole lot more. ♦