10 All-Purpose Learning Activation Strategies

When we combine novelty and challenge with social relationships, we build attachment to learning and bonds between learners. The more varied the learning strategies, the more brain branching occurs – especially in the first hour of exposure to the tasks and the content being developed.

Susan Close

Every learning journey is unique and each learner brings different background schema. How do we invite students to the learning every day anew? How do we provide multiple entry points along the learning journey? How do we create low barrier access points for all our learners over the course of our time with them?
Activate or connecting activities are tools to locate background knowledge and to lay down some foundational schema for new learning…think kicking up the mud at the bottom of the lake; activation makes the water murky (in a good way!) with related experiences, emotions and memories the learner already has but may have settled to the bottom.
These activities are meant to be fun, light, invitational, open, and never-never ever for marks!!!! They are invitations to the learning and not the learning itself.

Some possible activities in no particular order are:

1. #sixwordstory – Students choose (or are provided with) an object, picture, event, sentence…then are invited to write a story using only six words. These stories can be shared verbally or posted into a doc, a slide show, on a sticky or tweeted out. An example from my Biology class is provided below (students wrote on stickies and I posted to our Facebook group). Six words do not intimidate anyone!

6 word story


2. Found Poem – A found poem can be a collection of writing or sentences that are randomly collected or selected to create a group “poem.” Statements can be generated or selected from a text, article or video. A found poem can be created from students reading their #sixwordstory aloud in rapid succession. Students love to hear other student’s poems and you would be amazed at how much information gets kicked up!

3. Building from Clues – Clues can be objects, pictures, text, snippets of video or a mixture of all of these. This invites the learner to access background knowledge and makes predictions about what the unit or lesson will be about. In this activity you can lay clues out around the room, or show a series of pictures as slides. Invite students to cycle through, making notes and taking pictures as appropriate. Ask students to make predictive statements that summarize what they think the clues suggest. Student love mysteries!

4. Sort and Predict – Use words, steps of a lab activity, steps of the lytic cylce, parts of story, steps in baking or making, or steps of a problem. Students are challenged to put these either into groupings (in the case of words) or in correct order. This can be done with paper or by simply numbering sentences and asking student to sort these (when time is an issue).

5. Sponge – Select an article or story you think students might find particularly interesting (appropriately strange, quirky or gross ones work best).  Divide the reading up into as many parts/sections as groups you want to divide your class into. Each group reads their portion of the article or story together and then creates a summary to share out. You could spice it up by having them write a headline, draw a picture, or do a skit as a summary. If the article is tantalizing, students will read the entire article on their own with no prompting needed!

6. Checker Board – Create a checkerboard with 9-12 statements or quotes. Students silently read the quotes and highlight 1 or 2  they like or dislike, disagree or agree with (you decide which criteria to use). From this point, you could ask them to do a stand up hand up pair up (see below) to discuss their quotes and do 2 or 3 rotations. Alternatively, you could ask them to create a #sxiwordstory with a partner that represents their selected quotes. Or you could invite them to work in groups to decide on their top 3 quotes with reasons why. An example of a checker board you could use with teachers is one I made based on various quotes on learning.

7. Anticipation Guide – Select key statements, ideas from a text, story or video that you want the student to engage with. The number of statements you select can be modified depending on the age of your students (fewer statements for younger students). Intentionally make a number of the statements false. Invite students to read the list of statements (they can work in pairs or individually) and ask them to decide if the statements are true or false (depending on time, you can ask them to provide reasons for their decisions). After reading and reacting to all the statements, students watch, read, or listen to the story/text to determine whether their initial hunches were correct. Again depending on time and particular topic you can scale this up or down. Template for anticipation guide.

I created this one that goes with a 3 minute Carol Dweck video on Mindsets that could be used with teachers.

8. Is and Isn’t game – Students are invited to deduce a trend implied by pairs of opposite words. This is a great activity to begin a larger unit. Show only 2 words at a time and give them think time between each pair. They only way students can participate is by offering 2 words that correctly fall into the categories. They cannot play by simply blurting out what is being described (which is what they want to do!). My example is one done for PBL I did with teachers but this can easily be adapted for various units.

9. 100 ideas in 10 Minutes – Brainstorming can be effective and fast paced when made into a fun challenge. This strategy is useful when you need to generate a large number of ideas in a short period of time. Challenge your class by saying “who can thinks they can come up with 100 ideas in 10 min.”  Encourage students to withhold ALL judgement during this activity, even self-judgment. In this phase the object is to generate ideas but not to judge them, the judgment phase will come next. An example of this is a list of  ideas generated with a group of science teachers. We did not make the 100 mark but we got to 68 ideas in 10 minutes! They were impressed with themselves!

10. StandUp-HandUp-PairUp (or SUHUPU for acronym lovers) is like ketchup and can be added pretty much anywhere and anytime you need a quick infusion of energy in the room or need to create some conversation. Students stand up, put their hands up (for high-five action!) and quickly find a partner with whom to share or discuss the idea/reading/question at hand.

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