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Hands-on Classroom Activities Across the Curriculum

Janelle Cox

In traditional classrooms, the most effective way for students to learn has always been through reading and writing. While this method has proven to be effective, we’re now learning that it’s not the only way that students learn best. Today’s research is now showing that students can learn and retain information better through a variety of different methods. Studies show that students learn best when learning is active, when they are engaged in hands-on classroom activities, and involved in what they are learning. In fact, scientists believe that when children use all of their senses, it helps the brain create pathways that make it easier and quicker to retain information. Brain scans show that students who took a hands-on approach to learning had activation in sensory and motor-related parts of the brain. This research shows that students of all ages can benefit from adding hands-on classroom activities to their learning. Whether you’re learning about history or language arts, math or science, hands-on activities can be added to any curriculum. Here are a few ideas on how you can add hands-on classroom activities across the curriculum. 

How to Incorporate Hands-on Classroom Activities Across the Curriculum

It’s easy to incorporate hands-on activities into any subject. Here are a few ways that you can use the hands-on approach to learning in each subject.

English Language Arts (ELA)

When it comes to adding hands-on activities to English Language Arts, there are endless possibilities. Here’s a few ways that you can engage students.

  • Kindergarteners can learn how to read and write by using pipe cleaners, magnetic letters, sand, shaving cream, or clay to form letters, practice writing letters, sentences, rhyming words, learning about opposites, and so on.
  • Plastic Easter eggs can also help students to learn opposites, learn about rhyming, or learn compound words. All you have to do is write one word on the outside of one of the egg and the other word on the other side of the egg. For example, if you want students to learn compound words, write “Foot” on one egg and “Ball” on the other egg. Then students would match the eggs.
  • Older students can learn about dialogue, imagery and character development by recreating scenes from a book they are reading.
  • They can also learn parts of speech by constructing sentences. To do this, all they have to do is write words on cards and arrange themselves in a line to create a sentence.

Social Studies Activities

Social studies involves learning about many subtopics, such as history and other cultures, geography and government, civic ideals and society, among many other topics. Any social studies sub-topic that students are learning about can be turned into a hands-on activity. For instance, during a geography lesson, a great interactive activity would be to have students create a salt map. When learning about other cultures, students can prepare a traditional meal, dress up in costume, or learn a traditional dance and present it to the class. If they are learning about ancient civilizations, they can create a model of a civilization, write their own play and present it, or recreate an artifact for that time period. As long as students are physically learning by doing, they’ll be more engaged as well as activating their brains to help them retain information better.

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Science

Hands-on science experiments are fun way to keep students actively engaged. Hands-on activities for science can entail students observing, predicting, setting up experiments, etc. Here are two simple hands-on experiments.

Sink or Float

For this experiment, all you need is a bowl of water, a cork, a stone, a coin, and a grape. Have students first predict what items will float and what items will sink in the water. Then have groups of students observe as they place the items in the water one by one.

Balance

Using a string, have students hang two plastic cups off of a hanger that’s hanging from a doorknob. Have them place items into each cup to learn about balance and see which one is heavier and why.

Mathematics

Teachers have used manipulatives (hands-on tools) to help students learn mathematics since the ancient times. Tools like the abacus, tallies, stones, beads, and wooden counting boards were just a few of the tools people used to help them learn math back in the day. Today’s teachers like to use them too. Here are a few hands-on activities you can try when teaching math.

  • When learning about coins and their value, have students use a magnifying glass to observe each coin. You can also have students sort coins into jars, as well as toss coins into the air to predict their landing.
  • When learning about money, students can count it by filling a plastic Easter egg with coins. For example, write on a strip of paper, __ dimes = 10 cents. Then students would then have to put the correct amount of dimes into the egg and write the answer on the paper.
  • Another hands-on activity to use when teaching math is to take a yard stick and go around the classroom and measure items.
  • Have students use beads, coins, or candy to help them solve math word problems.

Any manipulative that you use will actively engage students. You can even manipulate a worksheet by cutting into strips to make it hands-on.

Hands-on classroom activities are just one component to help improve student learning. When you couple that with active learning, students will be become more effective and efficient learners.

Do you use hands-on activities to improve student learning? What are your favorite go-to classroom activities? Please share with us in the comment section below, We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.


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.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.