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  • Writer's pictureKevin Butler

Active Learning - Part 3

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

Hey there, WELCOME to the FOURTH BLOG post of Lights, Cameras, TEACH. I believe that just like an action-packed movie, a successful classroom needs a good director. Each blog post will share ideas about why I think it is essential to keep kids engaged in active learning and how to make the classroom a place where kids want to be.

In my previous post, I posed the reflective questions regarding PLN and social media. I think when used correctly, social media is a massive asset to educators or any profession. Seventeen years ago, when I started teaching, there wasn't Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Most of the ideas I used came from my student-teaching experience and other teachers in my school. The occasional PD workshop or conference would bring in new(er) ideas, but there wasn't that one-stop place to share and gather new lessons, books, and ideas.

My advice for teachers who are looking to use social media to grow their teaching practice is to choose who you follow carefully. I try only to follow people who inspire me to be better and share content that I find valuable, avoiding filling my social media feeds with selfies, advertisements, or negativity. I have no time for the haters or posers #block #unfollow. We all showcase our best selves on social media and thus must take everything we see with a grain of salt. Social media is a powerful tool, but I warn educators to use it with caution.


Let's get real; most (if not all) of what we do in our classrooms are inspired by something that we saw someone else doing. Teachers borrow and tweak ideas from others all the time. When posting teaching content on social media, however, I think it's important to give credit to the source. I also like to tag or mention where the materials or resources came from, so others can find it.

Social media has also led me to meet some incredible people. I've made some great "real-life" friends among the people who were once just strangers on social media. I would have never met these friends if it wasn't for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Reflection questions for you:

1) How do you determine what social media handles to follow?

2) Have you built a teaching network tribe from those that you've connected with on social media?

3) What are your favorite hashtags to follow?

In this post, I am going to share two of my favorite classroom games for reviewing content. My room simulations are not the only thing I do to engage students in active learning. I think there is a lot of value in kids participating in educational games to review content, as they learn how to work collaboratively. A photo of each of these games will be attached to this post. The two games I am sharing today can be used in almost any grade or content area.

When using games to review academic subjects, I have four rules I share with teachers:

1. All students must be active participants in the game. There shouldn't be anyone sitting back just watching or waiting for their turn.

2. I don't give answer keys. Students work cooperatively to figure out if they are right or wrong. I should be the last person they ask for help regarding answers to questions on the game.

3. I don't tell students how long the game will last. Not knowing how long a game is will help muster a sense of urgency and keeps students from wasting time. Most of the games I play with my students last 3-15 minutes. Since students may not finish or win, I will often give the students a copy of the game to play at home.

4. Students should be aware of the academic objective of the game and be able to explain the purpose of the game to anyone who enters the room.


The first game is called Classmate Search. I begin this game by handing each student a question board attached to a clipboard. The question board consists of 24 rectangles. Inside each rectangle, I write a statement. For example, if I were reviewing the states and capitals with my students, I would place the name of a different state in each rectangle.

Additionally, each student is handed a headband (I buy them at the dollar store) and a 4x6 index card that I folded in half. On the front of each index card, I write a capital city. Students place the headband around their head and insert the back half of the index card between the headband and their forehead (making sure the word is visible).

The game starts with students standing up and walking around the classroom. Students search for a classmate who is wearing an answer to one of the questions from the question board on their forehead. Rather than writing the answer on the question sheet, students write the name of the classmate who is wearing the answer on their forehead. Students may not speak to each other and must keep moving around the classroom. At the end of the game, students return to their seats and remove the index cards and headbands from their heads. When we go over the answers, we yell out the name of the student who was wearing the answer.


I call the next game Puzzlemania! I take an 11x17 piece of copy paper and use a pencil to divide it up into 24 rectangles (6 columns and 4 rows). On the sides of each rectangle, I write different words. The words on the corresponding side have a connection. They may be synonyms, antonyms, typical references, a math equation/answer, or a date and an event.

For example, one edge may say 3x2, and the corresponding side from another piece says 6. After I finish writing on all the sides, I photocopy the number of puzzles I need. I then cut out each puzzle piece (along the pencil lines used to create the 28 rectangles) and secure the pieces in a ziplock bag.

After giving directions and showing students an example, they get a bag and must put the puzzle together by matching up the sides. I have students work in teams of 2 or 3. When students think they finished, I check their work to make sure they made the correct matches. Warning, this game is a lot more challenging than it appears.

Reflection Questions for you.

1) How can you use games to review content and engage students in active learning?

2) What can you do to ensure all students are active participants in classroom games?

3) Are you able to adapt one of the games mentioned above into the content you're teaching in the classroom?

In my fourth podcast episode of Lights, Cameras, TEACH, I hosted the incredible Rae Hughart. She joins the conversation about engaging students in active learning. To listen to the interview, please visit my Light's Camera's TEACH podcast now available on Apple, Google, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Since this is my last post of the decade (Happy New Year), I'm including my TOP 12 favorite classroom books I've read this year. These books weren't necessarily published in 2019 but were books I read this year and fell in love with.

The Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling

Ada's Violin, by Susan Hood

Sulve, by Lupita Nyong

Does it Fart? by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti

Because, by Mo Willems

The Bridge Home, by Padma Venkatramen

Cool Beans, by Jory John

Raise Your Hand, by Alice Paul Tapper

Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

Just Ask, Sonia Sotomayor

New Kid, Jerry Craft.

So that wraps up this post of Lights, Camera, TEACH. Before I finish, if you haven't checked out the Teach Better website, I urge you to. Teach Better is dedicated to helping teachers teach better. The website offers free resources, educational courses, podcasts, blogs, chats, and professional development workshops. I also suggest following the Teach Better team on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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