Teaching approaches: Active learning

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Teaching Approaches

Active learning is any learning in which pupils are engaged in regulating, and taking ownership over, at least some of their learning. That is, it need not be about pupils being physically active, but it should involve them being mentally active! Active learning might involve *inquiry-based learning and *collaboration which involves pupils in the use of subject specific language and higher order thinking, especially:

  1. thinking like a scientist and mathematical thinking;
  2. reasoning, particularly in group work settings involving effective group talk;
  3. visualisation which involves pupils in organising their thoughts, and artefacts (digital or otherwise) to work through problems, and work with other pupils to solve problems and reason together.

Explore the other pages covering these areas for more ideas, and have a look at the lesson ideas and professional development resources below.

Relevant resources


Area Circles, frustums and cylinders revision
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Measure the volumes of objects
This resource offer students the opportunity to engage in active learning(ta) - measuring and calculating using large size cylinders and frustums. This lesson brings great opportunity for small group "dialogic teaching(ta)". Open-ended and closed questioning(ta) of students can be used to draw on their existing knowledge and extend their understanding. The teacher provides a practical commentary below.
Astronomy It's full of stars
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Using a telescope and considering how those early astronomers may have worked
Astronomy(topic) has been practiced for centuries and doesn't require expensive equipment! This first session aims to train the whole class(ta) to use a telescope and, hopefully, to provide an opportunity to engage in some active learning(ta). The lesson includes some naked-eye observations and describes how modern technology helps scientists know where to look. You can explore the scientific method(ta) and language(ta) at this point, using targeted questioning(ta)/differentiation(ta). Students may be able to engage in an inquiry(ta)-based project around this work, perhaps for homework(ta).
Blogs Digital Reporters at Camp Cardboard
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Children using iPads to blog about Cardboard Sculptures
This activity is a cross curricula(subject) activity, involving a collaborative(tool) approach, giving children the opportunity to work together on a blog. Children were encouraged to engage in group talk(ta) and discussion(ta) in the classroom to reflect on the activity they were to report on. The activity furthers e-skills(topic) and e-safety(topic) through the use of whole class(ta) participation. The specific art activity provided a great stimulus for the blogging. Equally, however, this approach could be applied to any event in or out of school. The use of blogging and social media gave the opportunity for children to share their ideas with a wider audience, and also gave opportunities for real-time feedback to their work. The use of hand-held technology also enabled active learning(ta) as the portability of the iPads and iPods allowed them to be used outside the classroom.
Blogs Telling Stories about Farm Animals
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Children using technology on a visit to a local farm
This activity uses technology and the development of e-skills(topic) in young children, in order to create opportunities for speaking and listening, and language(ta) development.

The specific trip provided a great stimulus for the children's stories. Equally, however, this approach could be applied to any trip or event in or out of school. The use of a blog(tool) gave the opportunity for children to share their ideas with a wider audience, and also gave opportunities for real-time feedback on their work. The use of hand-held technology also enabled active learning(ta) as the portability of the iPads and cameras allowed them to be used outside the classroom, on the farm. The accessibility of the technology meant that this activity promoted inclusion(ta) and the visual nature of the photos and pictures was used effectively to help extend the children's vocabulary(ta).

CPD Encouraging Pupils to Ask Effective Questions
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Getting pupils to do the questioning
This resource describes some methods to encourage pupils themselves to engage in effective questioning(ta) - an active learning(ta) approach which may be useful in whole class(ta) or group work(ta) discussion(ta).
CPD Developing Good Explanations
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Say that again? Developing good explanations for classroom teaching
This resource explores some characteristics of good explanations (including linking to questioning(ta)), explaining these thoroughly and linking them to pupils' ability to engage in active learning(ta)
CPD Planning for Inclusion
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Planning for inclusion in your classroom
This resource discusses planning(ta) for inclusion(ta), in particular as related to active learning(ta), group talk(ta) and more generally interactive pedagogy.
CPD Directed Activities Related to Text (DARTs)
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Developing good pedagogy in using text based activities for learning
This resource covers a range of Directed Activities Related to Text, highlighting the importance of language(ta) and visualisation(ta) in activities, and their role in active learning(ta) and study skills(topic).
CPD Using Drama Activities in your Teaching
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A lesson by any other name...Using Drama across the curriculum to enhance teaching
This resource highlights some strategies to use drama(ta) activities in the teaching of other subjects. Drama(ta) can provide a useful cross curricula(i) way to prompt active learning(ta) and subsequent discussion(ta) and group talk(ta).
Digital Art Creating Digital Painting using iPads
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Children using iPads to create observational drawings of flowers
This activity is a cross-curricular(subject) activity, that gives children to opportunity to work independently on an art activity that also encourages the development of E-skills(topic). This activity encouraged inclusion(ta) as the children's final work was displayed as a collaborative(tool) piece, where all children had the opportunity to make an equal contribution.

In this instance, the children created observational drawings of flowers. However, the subject of the art could change to fit with any topic across the curriculum. The use of hand-held technology could also active learning(ta) as the portability of the iPads and iPods would allow them to be used outside the classroom, thus enabling observational drawings to be made in a range of locations.

Group work Active Engagement
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This resource is a longer DfES document on active engagement/active learning(ta) from which some other shorter, more focused, resources are drawn including Using Drama Activities and Using Thinking Skills.
ICT Digital Technology Presentations with ITE
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Student teachers creating presentations about digital literacy
This activity idea involves student teachers sharing practice(topic) of digital literacy use in the classroom in order to promote discussion(ta) and reflection on digital literacy and activities that promote e-skills(topic) development in the classroom. The use of student-prepared presentations promotes active learning(ta) and reflection on their learning, encouraging development of the issues explored in their assignments. It also involves questioning(ta) from an audience, encouraging deeper thinking through collaboration(ta) and discussion(ta).
ICT Digital Resources for ITE
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Student teachers reflecting upon case studies relating to Digital Literacy
This activity idea is an excellent of example of sharing practice(topic) of current teachers with student teachers in order to promote discussion(ta) and reflection on digital literacy and activities that promote e-skills(topic) development in the classroom. The lecturer uses questioning(ta) to promote active learning(ta) through collaboration(ta) and discussion(ta) of the resources.
Materials The Material World
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Exploring the properties of materials around us.
Designed to encourage active learning(ta), this study module explores the properties of materials from everyday life.
It also involves some simple inquiry(ta) and practical activities using household items.
QR codes Using QR Codes to Link to Pupil Created Information
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Children creating digital resources for use at Magna
This series of lessons provided opportunity for active learning(ta) though the visit to the Science Centre. It enabled the development of E-skills(topic) through the creation of the media and the use of QR codes. It encouraged collaboration(ta) between students, teachers from different subjects, and between the school and the wider community. It also provided a

cross-curricular(subject) opportunity for the development of language(ta). E-safety(topic) was developed through discussion with the students about ensuring that their work was appropriate for a wider audience. It also provided opportunities for whole class(ta) and whole school collaboration(ta) on a project where they were able to share practice(ta) and examples of their work with others.

QR codes Editing Using QR Codes to Engage Children with Learning
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Children using digital literacy to engage with reading and writing
This lesson idea uses technology to promote active learning(ta) as resources were produced to be located and explored in a public park. The early stage of the activity, involving the creation of the resources by the children, required discussion(ta) involving the whole class(ta). Group talk(ta) was also employed as a strategy, with the children agreeing on a narrative(ta) outline relating to the event. The creation of the online materials encouraged development of e-skills(topic).

The later stages of activity, where the children were looking for clues, required them to ask questions(ta) and to take a collaborative(tool) approach to find a solution, based on the digital texts they found.

Questioning Questioning
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Why Question? A unit exploring the use of questioning in your classroom
This resource discusses questioning(ta) and its relationship to engaging reasoning(ta), active learning(ta) and discussion(ta) as well as aspects of planning(ta) such as writing learning objectives(ta).
Video Making Movies in the Classroom
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Using Movies to develop communication and literacy skills
This activity is a cross-curricular(subject) activity, involving a collaborative(ta) approach, giving children to opportunity to engage in group work(ta) whilst making digital media in the form of films. The activity furthers e-skills(topic) and e-safety(topic). The topic of e-safety(topic) provided a great stimulus for the video(tool). Equally, however, this approach could be applied to any topic or subject in school. The use of video also encourage active learning(ta) as the portability of video recording equipment allows it to be used outside the classroom in a range of contexts.
Video Digital Video in ITE
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Student teachers producing digital media
This activity is a cross-curricular(subject) activity, involving a collaborative(tool) approach, giving student teachers the opportunity to work together whilst making digital media in the form of films. The activity furthers e-skills(topic) and also helps to develop discussion relating to e-safety(topic). The topic of location provided the stimulus for the videos. Equally, however, this approach could be applied to any topic or subject in school. The use of video also encouraged active learning(ta), with the students developing their own skills through direct participation in the creation process.