Engaging students is the key to successful learning and retention. But within a classroom of diverse learners, how do you teach in a way that effectively responds to the varying needs and gifts of students? The philosophy of differentiated instruction (DI), which we stand behind at CLC Network, provides us with a framework for thinking about diverse learners. DI means providing varied approaches to class content and processes in anticipation of and in response to students’ differences in readiness, interests, and learning needs (Carol Ann Tomlinson).
From a faith perspective, we know that each child – each learner – is a package of gift and need, uniquely created by God (Psalm 139). As teachers, we can help students grow in their God-given individuality by catering our teaching to their various learning needs (see Proverbs 22:6).
Once we’re equipped with the framework for DI, we can then implement strategies to assess students’ grasp of content and learning styles. Though there are many ways to do this, today I am going to share five practical (and fun) ways to assess and engage students in your class or Sunday school.
1) Stack ‘Ems
Use this for any content that has a correct sequence/hierarchy, or for material that can be categorized (for example: time lines, steps in a process, periodic table, sequence of story, or putting words in alphabetical order).
Materials needed: Plastic cups, Permanent marker
Instructions: Before the lesson, write the content on each cup with the permanent marker. Group the students into pairs and give each pair a stack of the plastic cups. Ask students to stack in the correct order. First pair to do this correctly wins.
2) Snowball Fight
A high school favorite, use this activity to assess what students learned during a unit.
Materials needed: Pencil/pen, Paper
Instructions: Ask students to write their name on a piece of paper, along with something they learned during the unit. Have students form a large circle around the room, crumple up their paper and toss it into the middle of the circle. Taking turns, ask each student to grab one of the “snowballs” and read it to the class.
Alternative activity: Ask students to write vocabulary terms and definitions, math problems and answers, or study guide questions and answers on separate pieces of paper and crumble them up. Again, have students form a large circle and toss their paper in the middle. Once all “snowballs” are in, have each student pick one up and find their matching vocabulary term/definition, math problem/answer or study guide question/answer.
This assessment activity can be used with fact/opinion, true/false, piece of sentence, short/long, multiple choice, etc.
Materials needed: Tongue compressors, Glue, Construction paper, Markers
Instructions: Before doing the activity with students, assemble the sticks as shown in the photo. Each student should have a pair. Have students hold up the most appropriate stick when you ask them a question.
4) Learning Styles
Another high school favorite, have students vote for the type of activity they’d like to do with sticky-notes on a white board.
Materials needed: Whiteboard, Sticky notes, Whiteboard marker
5) Bubble Wrap Response
Great for all ages, use this activity to practice and assess content comprehension.
Materials Needed: Bubble wrap
Instructions: Each student receives a sheet of bubble wrap. Ask students to pop a bubble if they hear: a noun, fact, opinion, the sculptor of the piece, a word that rhymes with “hat”, a song from the Renaissance Period, etc. They could also pop a bubble if they see: a square, President Lincoln, a picture of a soccer field, a quadrilateral, a plant cell, etc.
What games or activities do you recommend to engage and assess learners? Share them in the comment box below!
Mary Ashby is a teacher consultant for CLC Network. She shares these ideas and more in her professional development session, “40 Quick Ways to Assess and Engage All Learners” and “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Differentiating Instruction in a General Education Classroom”. Learn how you can schedule this for your school by contacting CLC Network.