Activity centers have long been seen as an effective way to have children or teens engage with learning material in a hands-on and experiential way. However, for many teachers, the construction of such activity centers in the classroom may seem time consuming, require non-existent funds, and/or be just another burden to one’s teaching load. Here is a simple way to use the activity center model that involves no cost, little prep time, and lots of engagement and learning for students.
Identify your learning objective. Take eight sheets of paper and some masking tape that is kind to walls. Write on each piece of paper a simple group activity that would take 2-3 minutes to complete. Tie each activity to a different intelligence using Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (and include a symbol of each intelligence on the paper so that it’s visible from a distance). Then post the pieces of paper on the walls around the perimeter of the classroom.
Before you begin the activity, create 2 by 2 inch squares of poster board that have the symbols of the different intelligences (if 32 kids, then 4 squares for each intelligence). Distribute the squares randomly to the entire class. At the sound of a bell or other cuing device, the students should get up from their seats and use their squares to determine which activity center to start with (e.g. if a student has a ”word smart” square, he’d begin by going to the area of the classroom that has the ”word smart” symbol and activity).
Give students an extra 2-3 minutes to form their group, and then have them begin to do the activity described on each paper affixed to the wall. After 3-4 minutes, sound the bell (or other cuing device), and give students time to go to the next ”station” (moving clockwise), and so on until all eight cohorts have completed each of the eight activities.
Here’s an example using vocabulary words. Note that students should be working as a group for each activity.
- Word Smart Station: ”use the word in a sentence’
- Logic Smart Station: ”look up its etymology” (have a dictionary at hand for doing this)
- Picture Smart Station: ”draw a picture of the word” (have a chalkboard or paper and markers nearby)
- Music Smart Station: ”create a chant for the word and definition, and practice rhythmically chanting it”
- Body Smart Station: ”express the meaning of the word using pantomime”
- People Smart Station: ”have a conversation in the course of which the group uses the word several times”
- Self Smart Station: ”share a personal story that includes the word”
- Nature Smart Station: ”establish an association of the word with something found in nature”
Depending on time limitations, you can have students work on one or more vocabulary words (perhaps stressing those that are more difficult and that students need extra practice with). Note that each activity center serves to reinforce the vocabulary word and its meaning in a different area of the brain, thus creating memory associations that will make remembering the words virtually effortless.
You can also use this activity center strategy for other instructional goals, including spelling words, reading passages, historical events, science concepts, math formulas, current events, and grammatical rules. This strategy gets students out of their seats and moving around, and is particularly well suited to kids who learn best through physical activity. Moreover, it is easy to set up and take down for each new class. Feel free to adapt this method to your own teaching style. Chances are you’ll be hearing from your students: ”Can we do the eight activity centers again!”
For more information on using activity centers and other learning strategies based upon Howard Gardner’s eight intelligences, see my book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 4th Edition.
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