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Classroom Activities to Learn for Understanding

Janelle Cox

How did you learn to ride a bike? When you were a child, you most certainly didn’t read an instructional manual, you learned to ride a bike by getting on the bike and riding it. You focused on your goal (which was learning to ride a bicycle) and you payed close attention so you didn’t fall off. If you did fall off, you kept getting back on and trying again until you mastered it. You may have even listened for feedback from whoever was teaching you so you wouldn’t fall. This analogy can go the same for learning to understand. Learners must spend their time working through classroom activities that ask them to generalize or carry out a task to help them with understanding a concept. As they work, they get feedback from the teacher to help them complete the task. When you think about a typical classroom, students spend the majority of their day completing classroom activities that help to build their knowledge but don’t always demonstrate their understanding, this usually comes later in a form of assessment. To really get the understanding we want from students, we must chose classroom activities that involve performance for understanding. Here are a few suggestions.

Classroom Activities: Offer Feedback

Feedback usually comes after students have completed a task. However, to learn for understanding, it’s important to give feedback throughout a task, this way you’ll be able to help the students who lack understanding. Feedback during a task doesn’t always have to come from the teacher either, peer feedback is another effective strategy to help students learn for understanding. This constant reflection and ongoing feedback can ensure that all students are on the right track.

Activate Prior Knowledge

When a student is learning a new concept, the first thing that they usually do is try and process this new idea by relating it to something they already know. While linking new knowledge to what is already known is something that we want our students to do, it doesn’t always mean that the students will construct the interpretations that we have has intended them to do. That’s why it’s essential to try and gauge what students already know about the subject that is going to being taught. You can do this by simply having students discuss what they already know about the new topic, this way you can address any misconceptions before you actually start teaching. The goal is for learners to use what they already know to construct new understandings.

Use a Variety of Different Learning Approaches

It’s said that a student’s learning style is as unique as their fingerprint. This means that all individuals have different ways they learn best. They also have different abilities, as well as like to use different strategies and approaches to understand a concept better. Since there are differences among learners, all students will need a range of opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and their skills. By using a variety of different learning approaches, you’ll be able to better serve all students and ensure that they are learning for understanding. A great way to find out how students learn best is to use the Multiple Intelligence Theory. You can give students a survey to help them figure out how they learn best. Once they’ve learned how they learn best, you can incorporate a variety of these methods into your curriculum to make sure you’re reaching all students.

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Help Students Get Motivated

A student’s motivation to learn can directly affect their understanding of a concept. Students can either be extrinsically motivated (motivated from something outside of themselves like a reward) or intrinsically motivated (motivation that comes from within themselves): For example, when you want to learn something new for the sake of learning it or to challenge yourself. Regardless of how they get motivated, in order to truly understand a concept, a student must have motivation to learn it. Whether you offer an extrinsic reward to get students motivated to learn, or you give them the tools to be intrinsically motivated (like giving students some control over their learning), you are helping them learn for understanding by being motivated to learn. How much they learn, and how much effort they put into it, will all depend upon their motivation.

While the majority of teachers strive to teach for understanding, it doesn’t mean that the students will understand. Offering ongoing feedback and assessment throughout tasks, activating student’s prior knowledge, as well as using different learning approaches and getting students motivated to learn, are all effective strategies to use to help students learn for understanding.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Please feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and classroom activities in the section below, we’d love to hear from you.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at

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