Instructional Strategies

Below are a variety of instructional strategies that you might consider adding to your teaching repertoire. From Gallery Walks to Silent Storms, you're sure to find something useful!

The Wagon Wheel

Looking for a collective brainstorming/answer building strategy? You might consider trying the Wagon Wheel. This strategy encourages collective thinking, allows movement within the class and speaks to the "together we're smarter" motto teachers are using! Click HERE to learn more about it.

The Jigsaw

Interested in using the Jigsaw activity with your students? Check out THIS overview of how it works.

Anticipatory Set

Came across THIS gem today from Cult of It's a terrific list of "anticipatory set" activities. These are given at the very beginning of a lesson. They are short and aim to capture students’ attention, activate prior knowledge, and get them ready to learn.

Just Ten Words

Write or draw a ten-word story on a specific topic that you're teaching, or have students write a ten-word story describing their strengths and expertise. Another option for those who don’t want to write is creating an infographic. Click HERE for a list of infographic ideas.

Reinventing Gum

Place a stick of gum on every desk as students walk in. On five note cards, have them design five new inventions for chewing gum. Students can share and compare at the end of the bell work.

(From Ring Their Bell- Edutopia)

Beliefs Infomercial

Using images, words, colors, or technology, have students design an infomercial about a strong belief that they hold. It could be a longtime personal belief, one that they've developed through recent experiences, or one that they're beginning to question.

(From Ring Their Bell- Edutopia)

Predict an Outcome

Choose a short TED Talk or documentary and watch the first minute. Following this one-minute presentation, students will predict two or three outcomes as to how this presentation will end. This can be related to subject matter that you're teaching, or it could be a motivational video addressing social and emotional skillsets.

brain Breaks

We all need brain breaks during the day! Here are some printable "brain breaks" that you can use with your students when they/you need a break "in the action."


Say something

Place students in pairs. Have them read a small portion of text (or listen to a short video or audio clip).

Partners decide together how far to read, view or listen before pausing to "say something."

At the pause, each partner says one thing (a comment or question) related to what they read, saw or heard. Their statements or questions do not need to relate to each other.

Repeat this process until students have worked through the text or clip. Students can then have a conversation about the whole text or clip and respond to any questions or comments.

(From The Joyful Classroom)

Info Exchange

Distribute index cards with facts or quotes written on them (or have students arrive having prepared an index card with facts or quotes written on them). Give one card to each student.

Invite students to mingle and find a partner. Partners read their quotes or facts to each other and discuss them briefly.

After both partners have shared, they swap cards, find new partners, and repeat the process several more rounds.

Debrief the activity asking the students to share what they learned from each other.

(From The Joyful Classroom)

Students have to choose a position, then physically move to the side of the room that most closely represents their opinion and then talk about why they chose that spot. Click HERE for slides you can use for this. You can make a copy and customize!

(From Cult of Pedagogy)

Students are prompted to either line up in some particular order or gather in “blobs” based on something they have in common. It helps students quickly discover things they have in common. Click HERE for slides you can use for this activity. Feel free to make a copy and customize to your needs. If you are using this as an icebreaker, click HERE for a list of "ice breaker" suggestions.

(From Cult of Pedagogy)


Gather students in a circle and give them each a piece of paper.

Each student writes a short response to a focus question. They do not need to write their names.

Students crumple their papers into "snowballs."

On your signal, students toss their snowballs into the center of the circle.

Students then pick up a snowball close to them and take turns reading their snowballs aloud.

You can close with brief group reflection on common themes, intriguing ideas, etc.

(From The Joyful Classroom)

A silent storm

Form groups of four to six students.

State a topic or pose a question. For example, "What is one of the most destructive types of weather on Earth?"

Give students time to think and free write in response to the question (two to three minutes).

At your signal, everyone passes their paper to the right. They then read and respond or add to the ideas.

Repeat until each paper returns to its original writer.

Give time to collectively reflect on all the responses. Ask each group to identify 2-3 "best" responses.

Share out a few ideas with the larger group.

(From NSRF)

A walk Around Survey

Give each student a sheet with a three-by-three grid (HERE is a template you can use) that asks them to note three specific kinds of reflections. For example, three categories might be, "One thing I recall," "One thing I observed," and "My Key Insight."

Students then mingle to find a partner and exchange grids. Each fills in one box, initials it, and returns the grid.

At a signal, students find a new partner. Allow one minute for each encounter.

Continue until students have filled in all nine boxes.

If time allows, ask a few volunteers to share one item from their grid.

(From The Joyful Classroom)

a world cafe

Arrange the room like a cafe with tables spread out and four to five chairs at each table.

Put a card in the middle of each table making a topic for discussion. Each table will have a different topic.

Have students choose a table to sit at. Ask a focus question that could apply to all the topics. Allow five minutes for discussion.

Signal to end the discussion and invite two or three people per table to change tables.

Ask a new focusing question or repeat the previous one. Everyone discusses with new table mates.

At the end, one person from each table shares out a summary of the ideas discussed.

(From The Joyful Classroom)

The Gallery Walk

The gallery walk is an alternative to "pair and share". We want children working with and talking to each other (productively) in our classes. The gallery walk is another strategy to consider using to share student work, encourage collaboration and brainstorm ideas. Here are a few strategies for how to use the gallery walk with your students.

(From Edutopia Enliven Class Discussions)

Project Share

If your students are working in groups, pause the projects or tasks and ask your students to leave their materials (research articles, images, websites, notes) on their desks and walk around to see the process and progress of others. Afterward, debrief what they saw others doing. Follow this with a whole-class discussion so your students can share what questions they might have for other groups and how they were inspired. This can also be used as a way to "celebrate" or "present" student projects. Have the presenter create a note card which summarizes their project. Then encourage the students to make comments on the note cards as they wander.

Question-Answer Brainstorm (similar to the sticky note storm)

Students individually make their way around the room and compose answers to questions displayed (directly on the poster or with sticky notes). Invite students to also reflect on answers written by other students—a sticky note can be a response to another sticky note. An additional activity could be to then have student groups categorize the sticky notes into topics. They can then share out with the larger group (affinity mapping)


A group of three or four students make their way to a chart (station) where a question is posed. Each group discusses the question and writes comments. One student will write as the others talk. After several minutes, each group rotates to the next station. They can add new comments or comment on the comments of the previous group. Before your students return to their seats, make sure that they get a chance to see what other groups have written. The posters can then be tools for individual writing or for whole-class discussion.

Mingle Pair Share

A great activity to get kids up and moving and encourage them to interact with all of their classmates .

  • Students mix around the room silently as music plays in the background.
  • When the music stops, each student finds a partner closest to them (no running across the room to find your best friend!) and puts their hand together with their partner’s in a high five.
  • When all students have found a partner, teacher poses a question and allows for “think time” For example “Give three examples of an insect” or “Name five prime numbers.”
  • One teacher’s go, one partner shares and the other listens.
  • Partners switch roles.
  • After both partners have had a chance to speak (teacher will have to monitor this, based on the depth of the question), music starts again, students mingle, when music stops they find a new partner, teacher poses new question, etc.
  • Repeat for each question.

(From We Are Teachers)

The Sticky Note Storm

The Sticky Note Storm is one of my favorite activities. I’ve run it with 1st and 6th graders and it’s always a success.

This activity is great for brainstorming, review and thinking outside the box. It’s also a great way for students to teach and learn from one another. It works best when kids are seated in small table groups. Note: Have a supply of sticky notes available for each table.

  • Teacher poses a question, sets a time limit and gives students a moment to think before writing. For example, “In two minutes, how many math problems can you write down that have the solution 23?” Or “In 45 seconds, write down as many adjectives as you can.”
  • Each student writes down as many answers as they can think of—one idea per sticky note—and sticks it to the center of the table.
  • The goal is to generate as many ideas as possible and cover the table with sticky notes! At the end of each round, students review one another’s ideas.

(From We Are Teachers)

Chalk Talk aka Colorful Conversations

The chalk talk aka colorful conversation is a terrific way to engage all students. It’s a silent activity and can be used with any topic. It is a silent way to generate ideas and check on learning. It is done in complete silence and gives students the opportunity for thoughtful contemplation. I’ve used this activity with 1st, 4th and 6th graders- always a success.

You can access instructions to this protocol by clicking here.

Micro Lab

The micro lab is a structured activity to use with small groups of three. It requires students to use active listening skills. Great activity to use with students to answer a series of questions.

  • You’ll need a timer (I usually use my iphone).
  • Have clipboards w paper and pencils for each student.
  • Split class into groups of three. Have them arrange their chairs so their knees are touching. Each with their clipboard.
  • Have the students assign themselves a number- 1, 2, 3.
  • Share question 1 with them- Smart Board? Chart Paper…?
    • Allow for 2 minutes of silent, written reflection. Students should write their answers in bullet form on their paper. Use the timer.
    • After 2 minutes of writing, have student 1 share their responses. Give student 1 one minute speaking time. Use the timer. The listener(s) should not interrupt, interpret, paraphrase, analyze, give advice or break in with a personal story while the speaker is talking. They simply listen.
    • After 1 minute speaking time, person 2 shares. Follow same cycle above. Then person 3 shares. No responding, or interrupting.
    • After the 3rd person has shared, the group of three has a collective conversation about their responses. They identify 1-2 responses that they’d like to share with the larger group.
    • Have the groups share out their response to the question. Facilitator takes notes on what is reported- I’ll likely use the large sticky paper to document their responses.
    • Follow this cycle for questions 2 and 3.
    • After the cycle, debrief the experience. What went well with this activity? What did you like about it ? What did you find challenging?, etc…

You can access specific instructions to this protocol by clicking here.

Sage & Scribe

In this activity, one student plays the role of teacher and the other the attentive student. Explaining concepts clearly is a difficult skill that requires a lot of practice, and recording information helps students build note-taking skills.

  • Students work in pairs. One student is the Sage (speaker) and one is the Scribe (silent writer).
  • Pose a question and allow a few moments for Sages to think. For example: “Explain how the water cycle works.”
  • When teacher says “Go,” the Sage explains the process clearly to the Scribe.
  • Scribe records Sage’s thinking on paper.
  • When time is up, Sage and Scribe switch roles with a new question.

(From We Are Teachers)

Inside-Outside Circle/Parallel Lines

  • Arrange students into pairs (teacher or student choice).
  • Have one partner from each pair move and form a circle with students facing outward. This will be the inside circle.
  • Remaining students find and face their partners, forming outside circle.
  • Pose a question and indicate what role each partner will play. For instance, “What are three things a mammal needs to survive? Inside partner will talk, outside partner will listen.”
  • Have students pause for “think time,” then cue them to share.
  • Next, partners switch roles—outside partner talks, inside partner listens.
  • After that, outside circle rotates clockwise and each student ends up with a new partner.
  • Repeat process with new question.

(From We Are Teachers)

Text Protocol: Save the Last Word for Me

  • Divide class into groups of 3
  • All students do assigned reading (groups do not have to read the same text – this is a great place to differentiate)
  • Each student chooses a quote from the text that best supports a question, idea, prompt or significance of a character or the text as a whole
  • The first student shares the quote and the remaining two say why they think the student
  • chose that quote
  • The discussion comes back to the first student who then explains how the others were right or wrong and then finally gives their reasoning
  • You can have them take notes on what they hear to share out with the larger group at the end
  • Rotate to next two students following format above

Text Protocol: Sentence, Phrase, Word

Check out this protocol: sentence, phrase, word. A great activity to collaboratively make meaning of a text.

Students take a few moments to review the document/passage and mark a sentence, a phrase and a word that they think is particularly important in the reading.

  • First Round: Each person shares a sentence from the document that he/she thinks/feels is particularly significant.
  • Second Round: Each person shares a phrase that he/she thinks/feels is particularly significant. The scribe records each phrase.
  • Third Round: Each person shares the word that he/she thinks/feels is particularly significant. The scribe records each word.
  • The group then discusses what they heard and what it says about the document.
  • The group then shares the words that emerged and any new insights about the document.
  • The group debriefs the process.

You can access more specific instructions to this protocol by clicking here.

Everyone Loves an Icebreaker!

Ice Breakers are a great way to engage students! Active listening, collaborating, cooperating and discussing are just a few of the skills that ice breakers can tap into. I’ve found much success with these activities, not only for “breaking the ice”, but by using them in my academic classes. All of the activities in THIS document can easily be transformed to meet academic curriculum objectives.

Sole: Self Organized Learning Environment

Sugata Mitra’s Ted Talk, Build a School in the Cloud, asks us to rethink teaching and learning. He created the idea of the SOLE– Self Organized Learning Environment. Hear his inspirational talk below. A SOLE is all about empowering the students to be the drivers of their learning. It puts them in charge of the process. HERE is a template that you can use if you're interested in using a SOLE with your students.