In the Classroom

Easy Student Centered Activity Ideas from 5 in the Field

With the ever-increasing embrace of student-centered techniques in the classroom, it is no wonder that educators begin to find grooves that not only work for them but also some great student centered activity ideas. Though we at Student-Centered World can talk about this until the cows come home, we decided to reach out to some other educators in the field to ask them about their favorite student centered activity and the benefits of this model to our students today.

Do yourself a favor:  if you’re not following these people on Twitter and/or indulging in their books, programs, or websites, do so!

We set out to ask our participants two questions about student-centered learning:  Why is making the transition from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom so important for today’s students?” and “What is your favorite student centered activity for the classroom?” Their answers certainly did not disappoint! Most of their student centered activity ideas can be adapted to any class and any grade level.

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So, without further ado, our student centered activity participants:

Roman Nowak

Why is making the transition from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom so important for today’s students?

It is crucial for all educators to embrace the transition to the student-centered classroom. It is sort of funny that it has taken this long and there is still so much resistance to this concept. Schools and the classroom are places of learning and the most important people in this learning are the students, therefore they should be the driving force in the classroom, right?

We have spent so much time focusing on professional development and resources for teachers, but in the quest to help and support teachers, we have lost the individual stories of each child in front of us. Although the creation of the education system as we know it was put into place to educate the “masses”, research shows us that we need to be more responsive to our individual students if we want to have a real impact.

In a teacher-centered classroom, we talk a lot about the strategies teachers will use, their classroom organization, their time management and the curriculum mapping needed to cover a year’s worth of content. In the student-centered classroom, time no longer becomes the deciding factor for students.

We want all students to learn; they deserve it.

So we now need to focus on teaching our kids and not our content. We need to listen to our students, to know their stories, to make learning more authentic, real and fun. We need to have energy, passion, and vulnerability. We need to promote critical thinking, creativity, risk-taking. We need to step out of our comfort zone and really be different and allow for students to showcase and use their own passions, interests, and talents in their learning.

Teachers are there not only to guide but to amplify student voice. There really is no other way to go. A student-centered classroom is a must.

The transition may be rocky; after all, it is counter-intuitive to change the way we were brought up in school, but we need that courage and that determination in making learning the most engaging and meaningful for ALL students.

What is your favorite student centered activity for the classroom?

I always find it difficult to focus on one student centered activity for the classroom because if I truly give students a voice and a choice in their learning, the activities vary all the time. I cannot, as an educator, box my students into a carbon copy of another activity.

However, I am a big believer in learning through stories. If you study history you will see that traditions, community stories, and learning have all been shared through the power of story-telling.

If I stay true to my European background, I bring in this story-telling and the love of food together.

For Europeans, the kitchen is often the heart of the home. As we cook and eat, we share our powerful stories and learn together. Therefore, I like to replicate this tradition and cook with my students, learn over breakfast.

I try to listen to what my students have to say, what they have learned, and what they want to deepen in their learning. It is amazing when you give this power to students, what they actually share with you.

As a High School English Teacher, if I ask my students to live a novel through their emotions and talk about what they are learning and feeling, it is so much more profound and transferable than chapter or analysis questions that guide the students into a specific way of thinking.

When students are able to make connections between their learning and the real world and they can see what kind of impact they can truly make, the classroom experience truly becomes magical. This is the adventure that I hope to bring my students on every day in my classroom.

Mike Karlin

Why is making the transition from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom so important for today’s students?

The skills our students need to be successful are incredibly difficult to teach and nurture in a teacher-centered classroom. Students need to be the focus of their own learning in order to develop problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, and all the other 21st century literacies that are necessary to be successful in our ever-changing world.

Plus, shifting the focus to students helps to let your students know that you value them as individuals, that their interests and path are important to you, and that you see them as more than just a score on a test or a name on a seating chart.

What is your favorite student centered activity for the classroom?

In general, I love inquiry-based on problem-based learning, especially when students have a hand in developing the problem.

Usually, when students are able to participate in the development of these types of projects, you end up doing something that is more local or community-based, and you’re actually able to see tangible impacts from the work students do.

That type of learning is so much more meaningful and long-lasting for our students.

Quim Sabria

Why is making the transition from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom so important for today’s students?

We believe it can be a little bit of both. Teacher-centered instructions are used to share insights, specific theory or introduce a concept.

It is important for a student to be able to learn from experts in the field, to pay attention, take notes, and be able to absorb as much information as possible.

Let’s be honest, when was the last time a college classroom was student-centered? When was the last time corporate training was student-centered? There are skills that students need to develop in a teacher-centered classroom.

With that being said, some of the most important skills are learned in a student-centered environment. For example, learning how to learn, collaboration, creativity, resilience to failure, or research. Being able to develop these skills in a safe environment is crucial to developing personal and professional skills.

When was the last time someone learned how to ride a bike by watching someone else do it? Students need to jump on the “bike”, fail one hundred times, push, and learn.

What is your favorite student centered activity for the classroom?

Peer-to-peer discussions. The time in the classroom should be used to build personal relationships. Among students or with the teacher. Learning how to share ideas, listen, give feedback, and build a better answer together.

Outside of the classroom, we love video lessons (especially in Edpuzzle, of course!). Giving the student the responsibility to watch the video at their own pace and respond to the questions when s/he feels ready.

Denis Sheeran

Why is making the transition from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom so important for today’s students?

A teacher-centered classroom was necessary when the teacher was the only one in the room who had the information and the means to pass it along. Today, every student enters the room with all the information and multiple delivery methods for that information already in their hands.

So if they have what we used to control, we need to shift the control to them.

Our role as “expert deliverer of information” is obsolete. In a student-centered classroom, we are now the masters of conceptual pathways, the senseis of effective feedback, and the nurturers of good questions. If you want to deliver information…make videos, post them on youtube, and get out of the classroom.

What is your favorite student centered activity for the classroom?

Honestly, whichever one matters to them right now. That’s the message of Instant Relevance: Using Today’s Experiences to Teach Tomorrow’s Lessons (ad).

Last year we did a ton of great activities using fidget spinners. We 3D printed them, wrote persuasive essays and debated whether they should be banned or not, used them in math class as timers, and more!

But if we tried to do those activities this year we’d fall flat on our faces because students totally don’t care about fidget spinners anymore.

If something matters to them now…USE IT NOW! That’s the path of least resistance to great lessons!

Check out Denis’ book here:

Instant Relevance: Using Today’s Experiences to Teach Tomorrow’s Lessons (Ad)

Paul Solarz

Why is making the transition from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom so important for today’s students?

Students need daily opportunities to make decisions freely, make mistakes, and learn from the feedback of others. They need to think for themselves and rely less on adults to make decisions for them.

Student-centered environments look more like what the rest of the world looks like and builds real-world skills that are vital for success.

Let’s build our students’ confidence and decision-making skills so they’re better prepared for their futures.

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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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