Learning styles and preferences come in a variety of forms. Some people prefer learning visually, while others would much rather listen. Some people prefer to read and write, and some people would like a more tactile approach. The term experiential learning is not a new catch phrase in the education field. Research suggests that experiential learning can help students develop positive attitudes toward life, encourage acceptance of responsibility, promote community involvement, and help students better understand their strengths and weaknesses. What exactly is experiential learning, what are the benefits of it, and what are some activities to try in your classroom today?
What is Experiential Learning?
Experiential learning is the practice of learning through doing. This learning technique encourages students to have first-hand experiences with materials rather than learning through someone else’s lectures or textbooks (GradePower Learning). According to research, learners retain 75% of what they do compared to 5% of what they hear or 10% of what they read (study). In a world where there are many, many distractions amongst the learning environment (think cell phones and other forms of technology), experiential learning keeps students engaged and attentive to the learning goal at hand.
Benefits of Experiential Learning
There are many benefits to experiential learning. For one, students are able to receive a deeper understanding of the content being taught. This is because students who are learning through hands-on activities have to undergo a process that transfers their knowledge to the materials they are working with. Experiential learning also increases engagement and participation. Students can’t just sit back in their desks and tune out; they have to be problem solvers and use the skills that were taught in order to participate. If these benefits have not convinced you on this teaching and learning method, below there are five experiential learning activities that you can use today to help solidify the use of more hands-on activities in your classroom.
Experiential Learning Activities to Try
Scavenger hunts are great experiential learning activities that get students moving and thinking. These hunts often involve having students solve riddles and clues, and students must work together to get to the next stop. It can also be fun using QR codes to incorporate some technology into the scavenger hunt. Make the hunt lead to a reveal of the class field trip, incentive party, or as a study guide before the next test. The options are limitless and sure to excite your learners!
Put on a Play
What better way for students to work on their cooperation, leadership, and creativity skills than by practicing and presenting a play. Maybe your students have just learned a new topic in social studies like the Oregon Trail or the first Thanksgiving. Use a pre-found script (a simple Google search is sure to provide many), or have older students create their own. You can also use a picture book as a starting point for a play. Books like Make Way for Ducklings, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Swimmy, are all good texts for turning into skits. Theater is a great hands-on experience, and many students love showing off their acting skills!
Another fun experiential learning activity to incorporate into your science lessons deals with growing conditions. Have students plant seeds (brassica and grass are simple ones to get started) outside and inside the classroom. Have them observe the differences that happen between the two environments. Write about these observations or use Flipgrid to video record reflections and predictions. Letting students take their plants home at the end of a unit is another fun bonus to this activity.
Apple Rotting Experiment
What happens to an apple as it decays? Does the process look different depending on the environment the apple is in? This fun experiment gives students another hands-on experience that ignites curiosity and is sure to provoke some good scientific questions. Put a piece of an apple in a few different cups. Label the cups with the solution they are sitting in such as air, water, vinegar, oil. Have the students write their observations and predictions down, or draw pictures of the decaying process. Extensions could include letting the students try the same experiment with other foods such as oranges or carrots. Compare and contrast the differences between the various foods. This experiential activity can be the starting point for many more experiments and discussions.
Giving students the opportunity to build is appealing for so many (think Rube Goldberg projects). These sorts of experiential learning activities can be used as part of the curriculum, for brain breaks, or as fun school-wide competitions. Have students use straws and other recyclable materials to build a replica of an urban vs. rural community. Or, using this activity as a brain break approach, give students a set amount of time to see who can make the tallest tower out of toothpicks and marshmallows. The competitive atmosphere of these sorts of building competitions creates excitement and fosters class unity.
Every child learns in a way that is unique to themselves. Experiential learning activities help to take all students’ learning styles and make the activity suitable for a diverse group of learners. The benefits of creating a deeper understanding of the material presented, being engaged, and increasing participation make experiential teaching worth a try. So do a scavenger hunt, put on a play, plant some seeds, rot an apple, or build a tower. Your students are sure to walk away with powerful and memorable learning experiences.