20 Innovative Classroom Ideas and Activities to Inspire Your Students
Finding innovative classroom ideas and activities isn’t easy.
As busy teachers, we often stick to what we’ve done before because even if it’s not sparkling, shiny and new, at least we know it works.
But sometimes you have to step it up, and including the following innovative classroom ideas can help.
Read on to find out how to foster a culture of innovation in your language classroom—and learn a few great tips that can help you in other areas of education outside of language. Prepare to have some delighted and inspired students.
- Innovative Real World Activities
- Innovative Audio, Visual and High-Tech Materials
- Innovative Discussions, Brainstorming and Personal Projects
- Designing an Environment for Innovation
Innovative Real World Activities
At its heart, educational innovation simply means preparing the students of today for the world of tomorrow. This is important to remember as a foreign language teacher, as well as a first-language educator.
And chances are the world that your students will inhabit tomorrow probably does not involve a classroom. Or textbooks. Or even an interactive whiteboard.
So, the best and most innovative education you can give them will introduce a healthy dose of reality.
1. Organize Field Trips and Excursions
Take your students out into the world to observe the ways that the target language is being used all around them in daily life. Is there a local museum which happens to have exhibits by an artist you’ve studied? Is there a restaurant which specializes in the cuisine of your target culture? Is there a local embassy or government office in which the target language is used? All of these are great opportunities to observe real-life skills at work.
2. Teach Outside the Classroom
If the weather’s nice, consider taking your class outdoors for a while. Try teaching a lesson in an alternate location, like a nearby museum, park or cafe. A change of venue almost always inspires new perspectives and creative thinking.
3. Invite Guest Speakers
Find community members who use the target language on a regular basis and invite them to speak to your classes about their work.
Some examples would be translators, tour guides, museum curators, military personnel, even other teachers.
Or take advantage of that global platform which technology now provides us to invite a speaker who actually lives in the target language country. Skype in the Classroom and Google Hangouts are both great places to start.
4. Encourage Hands-on Experience
Benjamin Franklin once famously said: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.” And it’s true that hands-on learning is the most memorable kind of learning, the kind that stays with you.
Give your students every opportunity for hands-on, experiential learning. When teaching numbers, hand them objects for counting. If you want to teach them about a particular scientific hypothesis, a lab is a great way to go.
Innovative Audio, Visual and High-Tech Materials
“I really understood that lesson when I heard the teacher talk about it for the entire class period,”…said no one ever.
The evidence bears out what we knew all along: most people are visual and/or kinesthetic learners. They learn from seeing, visualizing and experiencing. So, give your students the opportunity to do these things with your course content as much as possible.
Here are some simple but effective ways to provide your students with the visualization they need.
5. Teach with Videos
Forget those old memories of your fourth-grade teacher struggling to get the VCR to work. Today’s technology makes access to quality video effortless.
There are tons of resources for language learning videos, including an enormous variety of videos on YouTube that will engage students.
Beyond language learning videos, streaming services offer videos specifically for native speakers in many languages. This way, students can be challenged to see how much they understand from a cartoon or a news clip in their target language.
Ted Talks also continue to be a useful source of inspiration, bringing expert knowledge on a variety of topics into your classroom. They are also great for language practice. Simply scroll down on the “Languages” menu to search for Ted talks in your target language.
6. Use Slideshow Presentations
The old-fashioned slideshow began as a way to display photos of vacations or special memories in a sequence.
Over time, they evolved to include text boxes and became a popular way to present information.
Slideshows have been used in the classroom for decades, both for teachers to present material in a visually engaging way and for students to create projects about what they know.
Most of us grew up using Microsoft Office’s PowerPoint as our go-to when it came to creating slideshows. Eventually, Google Slides came on the scene, giving users the ability to connect their slideshows to other Google apps within the G Suite.
But today’s PowerPoint and Google Slides are noticeably different from the old days. Today’s slideshows give you the ability to add video and audio links, Google Map street views or even synchronize the entire presentation to a favorite song.
For example, if you are teaching students new vocabulary, your slideshow can show pictures and text. And you can even add an audio link teaching students how to pronounce new words.
If you want students to present a project about a particular city, they can incorporate Google Map street views to make their slideshow presentation come to life.
7. Play Podcasts
While lacking the visual punch of video, podcasts still bring a fresh voice and perspective into your classroom.
Check out NewsInSlow, which offers up current events in French, Spanish, Italian or German. A more lighthearted site for language podcasts is RadioLingua’s Coffee Break Languages. And a great and time-tested choice is Innovative Language 101 Podcast Series.
8. Take Advantage of 3D Printing
Teaching your students about the wonders of the Colosseum? How about bringing it to life for your students with a 3D model?
Are your students doing a project on famous landmarks in Paris? Give them the opportunity to create 3D models of those landmarks made to scale.
3D printing opens up all kinds of possibilities to teachers across every discipline, and we are only beginning to explore its capabilities.
9. Gamify Your Class
Incorporating gamification principles into education turns learning into an engaging experience.
Teachers can leverage game elements to create interactive lessons, quizzes and challenges, motivating students and fostering a sense of accomplishment.
This innovative approach enhances student participation and facilitates a more enjoyable learning journey.
Here’s a great article on how to gamify your classroom.
10. Employ Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
Integrating VR and AR technologies into classrooms immerses students in educational experiences beyond traditional methods.
Virtual field trips, 3D simulations and interactive models enrich learning by providing a multisensory and captivating understanding of complex subjects, making education more exciting and memorable.
I know not everyone can get their hands on this expensive tech, but sooner or later, experts say most classrooms will have this.
Here’s a great video from Metaverse for Education that explains how Facebook’s technology can be used in the classroom:
11. Use Online Collaboration Tools
Utilizing digital collaboration tools enhances communication and teamwork among students.
Platforms like Google Workspace or Microsoft Teams facilitate real-time collaboration, enabling students to work on projects simultaneously and share ideas seamlessly.
This promotes a collaborative and efficient learning environment, regardless of physical proximity.
12. Don’t Shy Away from Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Integrating AI tools into education enhances personalized learning experiences.
Adaptive assessments, intelligent tutoring systems and data-driven insights cater to individual student needs, promoting a tailored approach to education.
AI contributes to a more efficient and effective learning process, allowing educators to address the unique requirements of each student.
The bottom line is: don’t be scared of AI. Students are likely using it already, so you should guide them to using it properly.
Here’s a Harvard Graduate School of Education paper on how to use AI effectively in the classroom.
Innovative Discussions, Brainstorming and Personal Projects
You are equipping the leaders of tomorrow, so why not start with some leadership within the confines of your classroom?
Give your students a voice in daily classroom procedures, problem-solving and especially their own learning.
Here are some ways you can do that.
13. Brainstorm to Solve Problems
Teamwork and problem-solving are skills that your students will need, no matter what the future brings their way. Providing them with this skill set as they go out into the world is always a good idea.
14. Have a Daily Five Minute Reflection
Have students discuss what went well and what didn’t, and share their ideas to make the learning process more effective.
- Do a “chalk talk.” The magic of the “chalk talk” is that students can express as many ideas as they want without actually talking. This can be done on poster board with sticky notes, using an app on the interactive whiteboard or the old-fashioned “chalk” (or dry erase marker) way.
- “Mindset moments.” It’s safe to say that overcoming obstacles is something that we’ll all need to do in the course of a lifetime. Displaying a board that showcases the ways your students have overcome obstacles to their learning is a powerful way to model that process. Check out this article for a more thorough description.
15. Try a Flipped Classroom
The flipped classroom model transforms traditional teaching by having students learn new material at home through online resources, allowing class time for interactive discussions and application.
This approach fosters a student-centric environment, promoting active engagement and a deeper understanding of concepts through collaborative learning.
Here’s a video explaining the concept of the flipped classroom model:
16. Do Project-Based Learning (PBL)
Project-Based Learning shifts the focus from rote memorization to practical application. Students engage in extended projects that address real-world challenges, promoting critical thinking, collaboration and problem-solving skills.
This approach encourages a deeper understanding of subjects by connecting theoretical knowledge to tangible, hands-on experiences.
To dive deeper into PBL, check out this handy post.
17. Try Out Maker Spaces
Maker spaces are like creative wonderlands for students, where they get their hands dirty with tools and materials to dream, design and build.
These lively spaces are all about encouraging curiosity and trying things out, creating a vibe of invention and teamwork. It’s not just about reading and studying theories; it’s about taking those ideas and bringing them to life.
By tinkering and playing with real-world stuff, students develop problem-solving skills that go beyond textbooks. It’s a hands-on journey that lets them really dive into the subjects they’re learning, fostering a love for learning that goes way deeper than just memorizing facts.
Here’s an informative TED talk about maker spaces:
18. Start a Genius Hour
Inspired by Google’s policy of giving its employees 20% of their time to work on personal projects, Genius Hour allocates a portion of the school week for students to pursue self-directed projects.
This fosters creativity, curiosity, and a sense of autonomy, allowing students to explore their passions and develop skills beyond the standard curriculum. The result is a more motivated and empowered student body.
Here’s a great article to go deeper into this idea.
19. Implement Mindfulness and Well-being Practices
Prioritizing student well-being, mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga can be integrated into the classroom routine.
These practices promote mental health, stress reduction and improved focus, creating a positive and nurturing learning environment. By addressing both academic and emotional needs, educators contribute to the holistic development of their students.
Here’s a helpful article about how to integrate mindfulness into your classroom.
It’s easy to start small with mindfulness practices by playing videos such as this your class:
Designing an Environment for Innovation
It’s not just the activities that encourage innovation. Take a cue from high-tech companies and set up your classroom space to be a nest of innovation.
20. Be Flexible and Creative with Your Classroom Design
The research is clear: everything about your classroom layout and environment, from the seating arrangement to the posters on the wall, has an impact on student learning. So, make full use of every nook and cranny to inspire creative thinking in your students.
- Creative use of color. Colors have a strong impact on your students’ emotional state. Use blue and green for a calming effect, yellow for energy and small amounts of red or orange when you want to call your students’ attention to something.
- Flexible classroom layout. You already know that your seating arrangement and easy access to materials are important. But how about changing the layout as needed to accommodate different learning activities? Switch from rows to a semicircle to group formations as needed.
- Flexible seating. Moving away from traditional rows of desks, flexible seating allows students to choose where they sit based on their preferences and learning needs. This can include standing desks, bean bags or collaborative workspaces, fostering a more student-centered and comfortable learning environment.
- Collaborative learning spaces. Build a collaborative environment, physically and virtually. Involve students in decisions about the design and layout of learning spaces.
- Motivational posters. Whenever your students aren’t looking at you, their eyes are on decorations around the room, so don’t let these be wasted. Give them a concise, but powerful, motivational quote or message, or use the space to emphasize key information or knowledge.
Innovation, by its very nature, is almost impossible to nail down and define. But the real fruit of innovation is about inspiring the young minds of the future to think creatively. Adding these small changes to your teaching routine will do just that.