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Top 12 Student-Centered Lessons for All Grades

Kim Haynes


Student Centered LessonsKids are fascinated by themselves – it’s a natural part of their development. So why not take that fascination and use it to stir up a little enthusiasm about your subject matter?


Here are 12 ideas for student-centered lessons across the curriculum.

A Scientific Study of You

Family Health History Project

While most kids may not realize it, their family tree can have a profound impact on their future health. Students may have a family history of heart disease, for example, or may be genetically predisposed to conditions like Sickle Cell Anemia or Tay-Sachs disease.

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Have students put together a personal health history by interviewing family members. Then have students choose a disease or condition to research. This allows students to learn more about medical conditions that people in their family may be experiencing, but by focusing on one specific condition, students can avoid being embarrassed by having their family’s whole medical history made public.


Personal Traits Research

Use your students’ bodies to teach about dominant and recessive traits by having them explore whether they are color-blind, are right- or left-handed, and so on.


This Research Graphing Lesson Plan from the Genetic Science Learning Center also helps them practice graphing the results of their research.


Food & Exercise Diary Activity

Help students learn about nutrition and fitness by having them keep a food and exercise diary for a week. When the week is over, have students choose one day to focus on.


They can use the data from that day to estimate calorie intake, calories burned through exercise, and even amounts of fat, carbohydrates, and so forth consumed, depending on how in depth you want their diaries to be. You can use an online calorie counter tool help students calculate more precisely.

Y + O + U = Exponentially Interesting Math Activities

Budgeting for Your Dreams Activity

Even the youngest students have things they wish for, whether it’s a video game, a stuffed animal, or something more unusual. Have students bring in an ad for their much-longed-for item. Use these prices to help students practice addition, multiplication, and so forth.


For example, if a student wants to buy a new Xbox 360 game that costs $65, have them solve a word problem like: If you get an after school job that pays $5/week, how many weeks would you have to work before you could buy the game?


To expand this into a longer lesson, have students also bring in ads of items they might want to buy for friends or family members and have them work out how long they would have to save up to buy these things for their friends.


Budgeting for Adult Life

For middle or high school students, take advantage of their enthusiasm for being “grown up” and have them work out how much their future life might cost.


Tell students to imagine they have graduated from college and moved back to their hometown. Have students work out a monthly budget.

What would an apartment cost?

How much would utilities be?

How much would they need to earn to support the lifestyle they are dreaming of?


As a good reality check for the high schoolers, you might compare that to average starting salaries in your town.


Calculating Credit

For students that can work out percentages, have kids figure out loans and loan payments. Have students research something they really want – a college education would be an ideal choice, but you could also do something like buying a car.


Students need to determine the total price, interest rates, monthly payments, and so on. It’s an eye-opening experience for students.

Your Place in History

Exploring Family’s Past Places

Students can research where their family comes from. It may be another city, another state, or another country, but students can explore the history of that location and how it affected their family.


Maybe a student’s grandfather moved across country after serving in Vietnam or their family emigrated from another country because of political unrest.


History comes alive for students when they realize how the world events of the past have influenced their life today.


Historical Studies on Students’ Areas of Expertise

Have students choose a topic on which they want to be “experts” --  a sport, an art form, a type of technology – anything they are really passionate about. Then have students do a presentation or paper on the history of their subject.


As part of the research, students should make connections between the art form and major historical events of the time. For example:

- The history of professional football, basketball, and baseball all had their own issues with racial integration, much as the country did in the 1950s and 60s.

- Art forms like music, dance, and theater were all supported during the Great Depression by the WPA’s Federal Music and Theatre Projects.


Compare Historical Research with Family Interviews

Ask students to interview a family member about a historical event that was very important to them. Maybe a grandmother remembers hearing about the Kennedy assassination or a parent watched the fall of the Berlin Wall on TV.


Have students do research about that event and write a historically accurate short story in which they combine the facts they discovered in their research with their family member’s memories.

Language Arts: Stories About You

Editorials & Community Involvement

Have students research an issue that matters to them and write an editorial on the subject. If possible, arrange to have the pieces printed in the school paper or even on a local newspaper’s website.


Alternately, invite students to write their pieces on a local educational issue, whether it’s the closing of a school campus, teacher layoffs, or changes to curricular requirements.


Autobiography Project

Ask students to write their autobiography. Provide them with chapter headings (My Birth, My Toddler Years, First Days in School, etc.) and have them fill in the details by interviewing relatives, exploring baby books, and so on.


Younger students can create a “book” or timeline that is primarily photographs with a little bit of text (with help from their parents).  


Older students can write more text and should revise their work so that it reads as a coherent narrative.


Students Write Themselves into Stories

Looking for a creative writing assignment? Have students write a short story with themselves as a main character. They already know the character intimately, so they should be able to put more effort into plot, setting, and so on.


By making connections to student’s families, interests, and plans for the future, you instantly make any subject more interesting!


Share your student-centered projects in the comments section!

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