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Improve Learning with Hands-On Classroom Games, Activities

Janelle Cox

Reading and writing has always been an effective way for students to learn. It’s basically been the main way students have been taught since the beginning of time. But research is now showing that students learn and retain information better when they are given multiple facets. Studies show that students learn best when learning is active, when they are engaged in hands-on classroom games and activities, and involved in what they are learning. 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. In fact, students of all ages can benefit from adding hands-on classroom games and activities to their learning. Whether you’re learning about math or science, history or language arts, hands-on classroom games and activities can be added and adapted to any curriculum. Here’s how.

Social Studies

Social studies involves learning about history, geography, and government, among many other topics. Any social studies sub-topic that students are learning about can be turned into a hands-on activity. For example, when learning about maps, students can create their own salt map. If they are learning about Native Americans and their culture, 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.

Language Arts

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There are endless possibilities for hands-on activities when it comes to language arts, especially for elementary students. Here are a few ideas.

  • Use pipe cleaners, magnetic letters, sand, shaving cream, or clay to form letters, practice writing letters, sentences, rhyming words, opposites, etc.
  • Use plastic Easter eggs to help students to learn opposites, rhyming, or compound words. To do that all you have to do is write one word on the outside of one of the eggs and the other word on the other egg. For example, if you want students to learn compound words, write “base” on one egg and “ball” on the other egg. Then students match the eggs.

Older students can benefit from hands-on activities as well. Here are a few ideas for them.

  • Older students can learn about dialogue, imagery and character development by recreating scenes from a novel they are reading.
  • They can 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. This is not only hands-on by physical as well.


Since ancient times, manipulatives have been used to help solve math problems. An abacus, tallies, stones, beads, and wooden counting boards are a just a few of the tools people used to help them learn math. Here are a few hands-on activities to help students learn math today.

  • Kindergarten students must learn about coins and their value. Have students use a magnifying glass to observe each coin, have them sort coins into jars, and toss coins to predict their landing.
  • Students can learn how to count money by filling a plastic Easter egg with coins. For example, write on a strip of paper, __ nickels = 25 cents. The students would then have to put the correct amount of nickels into the egg and write the answer on the paper.
  • Students can take a yard stick and go around the classroom and measure items.

Have students use beads, coins, or candy to help them solve math problems. Any manipulative that you think would keep them actively engaged would be considered hands-on. If you have a worksheet that you want students to complete, to make it hands-on all you have to do is give them any manipulative mentioned above to help them complete the assignment.


For science, hands-on learning can entail observing, predicting, setting up experiments, etc. Here is a simple hands-on experiment for elementary students that examines what items will float and/or sink.

  • 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.

Hands-on science experiments are fun, and keep students actively engaged. You can find dozens of activities online that will wow your students.

Hands-on activities are just one component that will help improve students learning. If you couple this with active learning, students will be become a more effective and efficient learner, which will help them accurately remember the information that they learn.

What kind of hands-on activities are you favorite? Do you have any activities you would like to share? We would love to hear your ideas in the comment section below.

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 a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.

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