In the Classroom

Easy Ideas for Experiential Learning Activities in K-12

Once the student-centered model makes sense to a teacher, they are often excited to give it a try. However, it can be somewhat intimidating to find great experiential learning activities that aren’t too complex (you can’t dive headfirst into a fully student-led assignment without some hand-holding in the beginning). Often, teachers give these types of activities a try first and if it doesn’t go as planned, the whole method is scrapped and they go back to what is comfortable.

Finding appropriate experiential learning activities for the grade and level of students you have isn’t as hard as it seems. In fact, there are some really great activities that target many different standards and learning objectives. The trick is knowing where to look.

The Benefits of Using Experiential Learning Activities

Using experiential learning activities (ELAs) to implement student-centered learning can help you meet several standards and criteria, from Common Core to local curriculum. Depending on the activities you use, your students will start not only engaging in the material more but will develop a better understanding of the content as a student-centered lesson that is implemented properly will naturally differentiate for itself.

Honestly, our students are also learning best with the utilization of experiential learning activities. As a matter of fact, we have had many students who would not normally do well in a traditional classroom setting, excel when we started using student-centered teaching methods.

If we really want to implement student-centered learning and prepare our students for jobs that don’t even exist yet (because yes, that’s the world they will be entering), we can’t just teach them in a lecture style. We need to prepare them how to learn and think critically while solving problems through technology, taking into account their individual learning profiles.

When teachers use experiential learning activities, they are able to differentiate for students in a way that doesn’t actually reduce the quality or rigor of learning but instead enhances it. Furthermore, most experiential learning activities also allow students to have ownership over their learning and engage them with meaningful questions that lead to rich conversations throughout class time.

Easy Ideas for Experiential Learning Activities in K-12

The Importance of Pre-Assessment in a Student-Centered Classroom

As a teacher, you should know that how you start out your class will set the tone for the entire lesson. If your students feel lost and confused from the very beginning, they are not going to be motivated enough to keep learning or push themselves to expand their thinking, let alone engage in experiential learning activities.

You can easily avoid this by pre-assessing your students before diving into brand experiential learning activities. If you only do the pre-assessment once, then you might miss important information that will help shape your lesson plan. However, if you continually assess students throughout the learning process, you shouldn’t feel too bad about only doing the pre-assessment once, as you’ll be able to fill in the gaps after students have worked for a few minutes.

It is better to assess too often than not enough and if you take your time and really think about what you need from your students beforehand, you will be able to gain insight into how they are thinking and if they need a little push to get going. It can also help you plan out your experiential learning activities moving forward.

Here are some examples of what you can assess:

  • What students do not know before the lesson begins (what don’t they understand? What misconceptions do they have about this topic?)
  • Where the majority of your class succeeds without help and where there is a need for intervention (maybe you need to go over a section again or perhaps some kids really struggle with one part of the lesson)
  • What individual students understand and what they don’t (this will help you figure out where to focus your attention during lessons or why maybe this student is struggling and needs more support than others).
  • How well students work together (this will help you determine your next steps in providing peer-to-peer support)

The plan for your experiential learning activities moving forward will rely on these answers.

Specific Examples of Universal Experiential Learning Activities

One great way to get students engaged and thinking critically about what they are learning is by using experiential learning activities like pair-share questions. This strategy works best with inquiry-based lessons where students need to work together to solve problems, especially when you have a diverse classroom.

A pair-share question is basically an open-ended question that students will answer by working with a partner. Then everyone in the class gets to hear their classmates’ responses which allow for rich discussions and a deeper understanding of course content.

Some examples of what you could ask are:

  • On a scale of 1-5, how important do you think [insert topic] is? Why?
  • Imagine that you have been asked to power the entire country with wind energy only. Could this be possible? Why or why not?
  • When was the last time you used [insert topic] and what for?

After students have had a bit of time to share their thoughts with a partner, you can open up the discussion for everyone to hear. This is a great option for worthwhile experiential learning activities.

Another example of great experiential learning activities used in the classroom is an experiment. Scientists discover new knowledge by conducting experiments and forming explanations about what they observe. Most science fair projects, for example, can be considered experiential learning because students must decide how to investigate a question, collect data, and then critically analyze their findings.

Simulations are another example of experiential learning activities. Simulations are often computer-based, but could also be performed with props, costumes, and storytelling.

As an example of experiential learning activities in the classroom, you can take math games. The game uses real objects that serve as game pieces (coins, dice, or cards) to represent quantities of interest (e.g., candy). Initially, the game may be played with counters and a set of objects, such as coins. Later, children can progress to playing the game with real monetary currency.

Many experiential learning activities can be used in an outdoor classroom or for environmental education purposes. These might include: visiting natural areas (parks), building trails, conducting water quality tests, and exploring ecosystems.

Education specialist Dorothy Rich points out the importance of experiential learning activities, writing:

“The best teachers know how to create engaging lessons that involve students in active learning experiences — experiences where they make discoveries through their own inquiry and investigations rather than passively receive information from lectures or textbooks.”

An example of a great experiential learning activity is taking an education trip. Traveling to other places and immersing students in other cultures allows them to have a better understanding of the world around them. The authentic experiences that they have while on this educational field trip will enhance their learning, which can be brought back into the classroom.

Another example of great experiential learning activities is a teaching walk. A teaching walk is when the teacher goes on an educational field trip with their students, walks with them throughout the school grounds, and takes note of what they observe. After this activity, teachers are able to come back into the classroom and teach about what they saw by having academic discussions, giving presentations, and writing essays.

Blooms Taxonomy and Experiential Learning Activities

Bloom’s Taxonomy categorizes thinking skills into a hierarchy based on depth and complexity. This structure allows you to easily see where students are in their thinking and what level of support they might need from you.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a set of guidelines that helps teachers understand how to differentiate instruction based on the progressions of their students’ learning, both academically and socially, and incorporating appropriate experiential learning activities. Teachers can use Bloom’s Taxonomies as a basis for pre-assessing students in order to prepare for a lesson by having a clear understanding of where their students are at in terms of thinking.

Here is a quick breakdown of Bloom’s Taxonomy:

  • Knowledge = being able to recall basic facts/vocabulary /recognize familiar concepts
  • Comprehension = understanding the main ideas/details of a reading / explaining the relationships between main ideas and details
  • Application = using knowledge to support an argument or solve problems creatively
  • Analysis = breaking down concepts / looking at parts of the whole thing in detail
  • Synthesis = putting things together /creating something new from existing ideas
  • Evaluation = assessing the value of information / judging the worth of something

A great way to integrate experiential learning activities is by using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a guide for your assessments. This will allow you to know what level of thinking students are at so that you can adapt your classroom environment accordingly. For example, if you give students multiple-choice questions, you might want to get them into groups that facilitate peer-to-peer learning so that students can get an opportunity to use their higher-order thinking skills with their experiential learning activities.

Experiential Learning Activities in the Classroom

There are several ways experiential learning activities can be implemented in the classroom depending on what topics/skills you are trying to get students thinking about. Here are some of the most common types:

– Problem-based learning

A problem-based learning activity is one where learners work together collaboratively to solve a problem by applying their new knowledge in an engaging way. Students will be motivated to think critically and make connections between what they are learning and how their skills can be applied.

– Role models

Role models are great for promoting social learning, especially when they represent a diverse group of people. It can help to break down stereotypes and encourage students to see things from different perspectives. Having role models in the classroom also empowers students as they learn all that they have accomplished despite coming from difficult backgrounds.

– Case studies

A case study is a great way to have students reflect on their experiences in different contexts. This allows for deep learning, which is necessary when it comes to the more abstract concepts that are often taught in higher grades. By analyzing multiple perspectives of a particular situation or event, students can truly understand what they are being taught.

– Service-learning

Service-learning is a great way to apply what you are teaching in the classroom. You can set up monthly or weekly opportunities where students get out of the classroom and put their knowledge into practice while having fun! It will certainly motivate them to learn more about topics they are passionate about.

A good experiential learning activity should be engaging to the students. There are many different ways to make it exciting for them; doing magic will get children excited because they’ll want to know how you made something disappear. Another way to engage the students is to challenge them and encourage them to try new things. The students should be able to learn from the experience, even if they fail at it because in life not everything will go perfectly.

Another important aspect of a good experiential learning activity is what children take away from the experience. This can be different for every student because not all students learn the same way. Some may learn by doing it and having someone explain time, while others would rather read about it in a book and hear an explanation from a teacher. An important thing to note is that the quality of the experience should lead to lasting memories and learning, not just filling the time frame or covering the material for standardized tests.

The Recipe for Experiential Learning Activities

A good rule of thumb when planning your experiential learning activities is to do something that will allow your students to:

– Make mistakes and learn from them

Going through the motions and practicing new skills over and over again can only take students so far. They need to be given an opportunity to make their own choices, explore different ways of doing things, reflect on their experiences, and learn from their mistakes.

– See the relevance in what they are learning

If students aren’t able to see how topics relate to daily life, they will simply tune out and do whatever it takes to survive until the bell rings. You need to show them how what they are learning in school is applicable in the real world.

– Apply new knowledge in different contexts

For students to truly understand what they are learning, it needs to be looked at from a variety of perspectives. This will give them the opportunity to explore different ways of solving problems and make meaningful connections between their new skills and past experiences.

-See themselves as capable learners who can problem-solve effectively

Students need to feel as though they can do what it takes to reach their goals. If you create a classroom community where students are given opportunities to share their ideas and voice opinions, they will be able to develop important life and learning skills.

– Engage in self-reflection and self-assessment

The most successful learners ask questions, reflect on their experiences, and analyze what they did right and wrong. It’s important to give students opportunities throughout the learning process to do this by asking them “What do you think?” and “How would you do it differently?” Let them know that making mistakes is ok, as long as it leads to a better understanding of the topics at hand (and it most likely will).

– Be actively creative

Creativity is an essential part of learning, especially when it comes to problem-based learning. You can foster creativity through project-based learning where students are encouraged to think outside the box and use their imaginations to create new ideas. It can also be done by making sure students aren’t afraid to share their work and help each other out.

– Be reflective learners who look at the big picture

The best way for students to learn how to become critical thinkers is through reflection. It’s important for them to know how they will use what they have learned after completing an activity or project so that it can be applied in the future.

– Be open to trying new things

Part of being a reflective learner is having an open mind and being willing to try new things. If they’re not ready, students won’t be able to learn from their mistakes or reflect on what they have done. By encouraging your class to push themselves outside of their comfort zones, you will be giving them the opportunity to learn how to do this.

– Work together

Learning is an incredibly difficult task that can seem impossible if students are doing it alone. Collective learning creates a level playing field for all students where they are encouraged to collaborate, share their thoughts and ideas with others, and work as a team. This can be done by dividing the class into groups or allowing students to work on projects with their friends.

– Be actively engaged and participate in group activities

Making sure that all students are actively participating and engaged will do wonders for their learning experience. You can engage them by using thought-provoking questions, asking them what they think about certain topics, and getting them to commit to their ideas.

– Take time for reflection

Reflection is an essential part of the learning process because it allows students to see what they have done well, where they could improve, and how they can use this new information in the future. You can incorporate reflection by discussing with your class after group activities, asking them what they have learned, and encouraging them to reflect on their own.

– Are confident about their abilities

It can be difficult for students who struggle with confidence to do well in the classroom. You can help them feel confident about themselves by making sure they are praised when they do something right, reminding them of their strengths, and letting them know that they are capable of achieving their goals.

– Are aware of their own learning processes

One way to help students become reflective learners is by teaching them how they learn, what affects the way they process information, and how to use this information to help them excel in the classroom. By doing this, you will be helping your students become competent and confident learners.

– Have a can-do attitude

A “can-do” attitude is something that you want your students to have if they want to become effective, self-reliant, and reflective learners. You can nurture this attitude by encouraging them to do their best work and asking them to commit to their decisions. It’s important for students to have this attitude if they want to excel in the classroom and beyond.

– Are able to identify which skills and knowledge they need for a given situation

You can help students become competent learners by teaching them how to recognize what is required of them and helping them figure out how to complete it. For example, if you ask students to create a digital poster, you will need to tell them what software they should use so that they can get started. If students are able to identify which skills are necessary for the task at hand, it will help them become more self-reliant and competent in the long run.

– Have an awareness of their own successes

Every little bit of success that a student achieves is something to be celebrated and recognized. You can help students recognize and appreciate these successes by letting them know when they have done well, asking them what they did differently, and rewarding their hard work with praise.

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After moving from a teacher-dominated classroom to a truly student-centered one, Jenn found herself helping colleagues who wanted to follow her lead.  In 2018 she decided to expand outside of her school walls and help those out there who were also trying to figure out this fantastic method of instruction to ignite intrinsic motivation in their students.  Read more about her journey with Student-Centered World at

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