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The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Methods for Modern-Day Teachers

Maria Kampen

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Finding the right modern teaching method for your classroom can be tricky.

Every student, teacher and classroom is different — and that’s one of the wonderful things about the learning process! As you continue in your teaching practice, you’ll try new teaching methods and find out what works best for your students. 

We’ve uncovered some of the best modern teaching methods that are actually driving results in the classroom. Keep reading to find out how to use them to help students reach their full potential and build happy, effective classrooms.

Why teaching methods continue to evolve

Countless edtech innovations, a better understanding of student learning and new approaches to teaching strategies means your toolkit is so much bigger than a blackboard and chalk.

Today’s teachers face lots of challenges and have lots of opportunities:

  1. The shift to remote learning exposed inequality in classrooms, but also offered new ways for students to engage with interactive learning experiences.
  2. New edtech innovations connect classroom learning with real-world digital skills.
  3. Changing ideas about education and pedagogy have added new learning objectives like social-emotional learning, differentiation and personalized learning. 

Don’t be afraid to try new ways for students to learn and stay engaged. Keep reading to find out which teaching style works best for your classroom!

18 Modern teaching methods to explore

A teacher uses new teaching methods with a student at the whiteboard in english class.

1. Direct Instruction

Best for: All ages, when combined with other teaching methods

Direct instruction is when you explicitly convey concepts and skills to students, rather than letting them learn on their own. 

While it might seem odd to start off a list of modern teaching methods with a technique that’s been the foundation of traditional classroom instruction for hundreds of years, direct instruction allows you to layer on more recent teaching strategies.

When combined with other teaching strategies, direct instruction is a useful tool for boosting student comprehension! Today, it can include anything from lectures and educational videos to tutorials and workshops. 

Example:

Students attend a classroom lecture about ecological diversity, then watch a video from a local conservation group about efforts to preserve local habitats. This direct instruction helps you explain the requirements of a service learning project they’re doing to clean up the park near their school. 

More on service learning in a bit!

2. Flipped classrooms

Three young female students participate in a flipped classroom activity.

Best for: Late elementary and up, or any students who can work independently

Homework at home, lectures at school — that’s how it’s usually done. But in flipped classrooms, students absorb information on their own time, and use in-class time for hands-on learning and problem solving. 

Also known as blended learning, flipped classrooms embrace new edtech innovations and prioritize face-to-face learning activities in order to boost student engagement. 

It helps students move at their own pace and gives you more time to provide one-on-one support where needed. When combined with techniques like experiential learning or inquiry-based learning, flipped classrooms can give students valuable hands-on experience. 

Example:

Students read an article about a specific scientific procedure at home, then come to class and do a hands-on experiment. They write up their findings and give a presentation about their results. While they work, you observe student work to spot learning gaps you can address in future lessons. 

Learn more in our blended learning models guide.

3. Kinesthetic learning

Best for: All ages

Kinesthetic learning is a specific learning style also known as tactile learning. Kinesthetic learners absorb information best when it’s presented through hands-on demonstrations, active learning and manipulatives.

Kinesthetic learning is a great modern teaching method for all learners because it gives students more ways to explore concepts and get hands-on, real-life experiences in their learning environment that translate to better learning outcomes. 

Example:

Students learning how to do multiplication participate in a variety of station rotation activities, including:

  • Answering multiplication questions in Prodigy Math Game  
  • Working with base ten blocks and other math manipulatives
  • Working in small groups with the teacher to address learning gaps 

4. Game-based learning

A student uses a tablet for game-based learning.

Best for: All ages, depending on the game

Game-based learning (GBL) is a modern teaching method that uses the power of games to define and support learning outcomes. Game-based learning actually uses games to teach, as opposed to gamification, which uses game elements like leaderboards and points to motivate learning. 

Educational games promote engagement, provide immediate rewards and feedback, and harness the power of healthy competition to keep kids excited to learn. 

Today’s students understand games, especially digital games, intimately. Edtech tools can help turn their love for video games into a love of learning, whether they’re at school or at home. 

Example:

Prodigy Math Game is a game-based learning platform designed to help students love practicing math skills. 

Plus, free teacher tools mean you can align Prodigy to whatever you’re teaching in the classroom in just a few easy steps. Set up a Plan for curriculum-aligned math practice on a new concept, or send students an Assigment to differentiate and assess learning progress. 

Screenshot of a question in Prodigy Math Game, a game-based learning platform.

Students won’t know they’re being assessed or doing homework — it’s all part of the adventure! Sign up for your free teacher account today to get started. 

Sign up now

Learn more about GBL in our guide to game-based learning.

5. Student-centered learning

Best for: All ages

Above all, student-centered learning involves students in decisions about their learning. It connects student interest to the classroom and builds an assessment framework to help them understand why the material is important and how it fits into everyday life. 

For better or worse, the internet has opened up new ways for students to receive information and engage with the world. Student-centered learning helps:

  • Give them the tools they need to engage with new topics
  • Make connections between topics and boost problem-solving skills 
  • Directly relate classroom lessons with what they’re experiencing outside of school

Example:

Interdisciplinary learning is a great way to tie student interests to your curriculum. Students can read a novel about a specific scientific discovery and submit a book report, or create a budget for marketing a made-up product in math class. Work with students to find out what they like, how they learn best and how the project will be assessed. 

6. Teacher-centered learning

Students learn using a teacher-centered teaching method.

Best for: Elementary and up — younger students may need more hands-on interaction to stay focused 

Teacher-centered learning is most similar to traditional classroom learning. Students learn mostly independently through lectures and receive clear instructions and rubrics from a central authority figure. 

Much like direct instruction, teacher-centered learning is useful to provide a foundation for other work. Most modern classrooms prioritize collaboration, group work and student exploration, for good reasons. But independent learning can reach different learning styles and give students a sense of personal accomplishment and accountability!

Example:

Teacher-centered learning can still be engaging and motivating for students. If you’re starting a new novel study or ELA unit, why not have students journal independently about what they think will happen in the story or what questions they have about the concept? They’ll practice their writing skills, and you can all come back at the end of the unit to see whose predictions were the most accurate.

7. Inquiry-based learning

Best for: Middle school and up

Inquiry-based learning is a teaching method that prioritizes student curiosity and independent analysis. Students work to find the answer to an open-ended question or problem, using evidence-based reasoning and problem-solving skills to reach a defendable conclusion. 

As a teacher, your role is to move students beyond mere curiosity and into critical thinking and understanding, encouraging them to ask questions and supporting them as they investigate. 

Example:

To help students develop analytical and critical thinking skills, have them write up a case study about a question they have. Students could:

  • Analyze the demographics of their school or city
  • Research the effectiveness of clean energy in their community
  • Look at the factors that contributed to a notable historical event 

Learn more about the different types of inquiry-based learning and what it could look like in your classroom.

8. Personalized learning

A teacher and student read a book together as part of a personalized learning plan.

Best for: Elementary and up

Personalized learning is an educational approach that tailors learning around individual students’ needs, interests and abilities. It helps you differentiate instruction for each student and help them achieve mastery.

Motivation, relatability, self-reflection and self-advocacy skills are all things that will help students succeed in the modern workforce, no matter their career. Personalized learning reaches students of all levels, helps them build these critical skills and focus their time with small group instruction. 

Example:

Short, regular formative assessments give students opportunities to show their knowledge and help you spot learning needs early. If you’re starting a new unit, pre-teach foundational concepts and use a quick journal entry to gauge understanding, then assess students throughout the unit with quick quizzes, presentations and assignments before a final test to ensure every student achieves mastery.

Check out seven more personalized learning strategies to use in your classroom. 

9. Project-based learning

Best for: Elementary and up

Project-based learning is a student-centered teaching method to encourage learning through real-world questions or challenges. 

The questions should:

  • Be open-ended 
  • Encourage students to apply relevant skills or knowledge
  • Allow students to take their own approaches to answering and building a product

You give students the issue, method of investigation and any supplementary materials, and they go off and work — with your support as needed. It looks a little different every time, but project-based learning helps students develop critical thinking and interdisciplinary skills with real-world experience they’ll use for the rest of their life. 

Example:

Project-based learning options are many and varied, but can include:

  • Planning a school event
  • Researching the history of a simple machine
  • Designing a playground for their school using geometry skills

Get our ten best project-based learning ideas for boosting student outcomes.

10. Problem-based learning

Three students work together on a problem-based learning exercise.

Best for: Elementary and up

Problem-based learning is like project-based learning, with one major difference: it gives students the problem at the start of a topic, before they’ve been taught some of the relevant concepts. 

Students receive an open-ended question and find their own information and resources. Your role as a teacher is to provide materials and guidance when needed, and explain the evaluation process. 

Problem-based learning helps build self-directed learners and is easy to personalize to the needs and learning styles of individual students. 

Example: 

For an environmentally friendly problem-based learning project, start with a topic like classroom waste or ecology. Students can research and find solutions, and you can implement them together!

11. Collaborative learning

Best for: Elementary and up

Collaborative learning is kind of like a bouquet of roses — while they might all have the same colours and shape on their own, together a bouquet is more than the sum of its parts. 

In collaborative learning, students are working on a common task and doing the same actions, but they’re working together to boost group performance and amplify learning. It’s a coordinated effort to find answers, research or create a final product every group member contributes to equally. 

Students are going to need to know how to work with peers at any age, and collaborative learning can help them start building valuable team-building skills. 

Example:

Use brainwriting as a collaborative learning activity that involves everyone. Introduce a discussion topic ahead of class. Have students brainstorm ahead of time and submit ideas anonymously or in-person. Everyone reads the submissions before class and uses them as a jumping-off point for class discussion. Even the shyest student may feel empowered to speak their mind!

12. Cooperative learning

Two students label a diagram of a cell on a whiteboard as part of a cooperative learning exercise.

Best for: Elementary and up

If collaborative learning is a bouquet of roses, cooperative learning is a bunch of wildflowers — each one unique, but contributing to something beautiful. 

In cooperative learning projects, each student plays a different role in a structured group activity and makes unique contributions to the success of the group. Your role as teacher is to facilitate the groups and guide their research. 

Like collaborative learning, cooperative learning teaches students that every group member’s efforts are important to both individual and group success. This also encourages students to empower each other and be accountable for their work. 

Example:

Enhance learning with a jigsaw activity! Each student belongs to two groups: a home group and an expert group. Present students with a topic to research. Students will work with their expert group to learn about a specific sub-topic, then return to their home group and present their findings.

Learn more in our guide to cooperative learning

13. Thinking-based learning

Best for: Elementary and up

In thinking-based learning, you explicitly teach students how to use critical and creative thinking skills in the context of everyday lessons. 

For thinking-based learning to be effective, educators should build it directly into the curriculum and all subjects — whether that’s understanding the why behind important math concepts or the biases in ELA study materials. 

Critical and creative thinking skills help students boost media literacy and understand all the information at their fingertips on a daily basis. A changing workforce means they’ll encounter new and unique challenges, and thinking-based learning can help them be successful. 

Example:

Challenge students to put their geometry and physics knowledge to the test and build solid structures with a variety of different materials. Afterwards, ask students to reflect on why some of their creations worked and why they didn’t, and what they would do differently next time.

14. Competency-based learning

Two students write a test in a classroom.

Best for: All ages

No matter what teaching method you’re using, competency-based education makes sure every student masters given skills before moving on to the next topic, unit, or even grade. 

It moves the focus off memorization and onto deep understanding demonstrated through hands-on application. It goes hand-in-hand with personalized learning to promote equity in the classroom and help students become better learners throughout their whole lives. 

Example:

Formative assessments like pre-quizzes and small projects can help you keep track of student learning and mastery. In an ELA class, have students build a portfolio of writing they contribute to regularly. You’ll be able to see their progress and they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as they grow their writing and comprehension skills!

Find out more about what competency-based education is and how your school can use it.

15. Discussion-based learning

Best for: Middle school and up

In discussion-based learning, you facilitate the discussion while students talk through problems in small groups.

Discussion-based learning helps promote critical thinking and independent learning, two essential skills for existing in the modern world. Students will learn to:

  • Find biases
  • Weigh evidence
  • Test conclusions

It’s a great way for you to model open-minded and respectful listening, and promotes engagement without relying on classroom technology. It can be tricky to get every student on board the first time, but persevere and you’ll start to see the benefits!

Example:

Have a discussion about a current news event or other lesson-related topic. Make materials and guide students through if they get stuck, but don’t dominate the conversation. Model respectful discussion skills and let students work through new ideas on their own. 

16. Play-based learning

A student plays with colorful play dough.

Best for: Pre-K, Kindergarten

Play-based learning is exactly what it sounds like: student learning through child-led and open-ended play. It’s a great way to help little learners become curious about the world around them and develop critical social skills!

Play-based learning isn’t just gamified classwork — it should be self-chosen and relatively unstructured to help build:

  • Imagination
  • Abstract thinking skills
  • Language skills for group play
  • Awareness of the natural world

Example:

For play-based learning time, break up the classroom into stations with different activities and materials, and allow students to move between stations freely. Stations can include:

  • Books
  • Drama
  • Art supplies
  • Sensory play
  • Building blocks

Designate a certain amount of time into your lesson plans and let students’ imaginations run wild!

17. Service Learning

Best for: Middle school and up

For a lesson as informative as it is impactful, try service learning. It combines academic goals with community service projects. Students get hands-on experience, a chance to make positive change and real-world examples of their curriculum come to life. 

While it’s more student-centered than traditional community service, service learning is still a valuable way for students to contribute positively to their communities and learn about the importance of being good citizens. 

Example:

There are lots of ways to do service learning, but one of our favorites is holding a book drive for a low-income school or younger grades. Students will get hands-on practice at organizing events, and they’ll learn about the importance of literacy.

Get more service learning ideas in The Teacher's Guide to Service Learning.

18. Social emotional learning

A class of young students sits in a row on benches and loots happy.

Best for: All ages

Social emotional learning is the process by which people, children and adults develop the knowledge, self-awareness and personal well-being to build emotional competencies in both academics and life. In particular, SEL can help your students:

  • Develop a growth mindset
  • Form positive relationships
  • Deal with challenging situations

School is a major source of social connection, and researchers agree students with well-developed social emotional skills see improved academic and social outcomes. Recent COVID-related school closures mean students lost out on a lot of social interaction, so placing an added focus on SEL skills is more important than ever!

Example:

There are lots of ways to meaningfully incorporate SEL in your classroom, including activities like:

  • Journaling
  • Classroom yoga
  • Daily student check-ins
  • Meditation and brain breaks

For more SEL activities and resources, check out these 25 social emotional learning activities.

Teaching methods for students with special needs

In the last few decades, education has begun to make more space for diverse learners — students with special needs, learning disabilities or even different learning styles. 

There’s still a long way to go when it comes to making our classrooms open and equitable, but many modern teaching methods are highly adaptable and address some of the issues diverse learners have in a traditional classroom. 

Ultimately, there’s no “best way” to teach, regardless of what kind of students you have in your class. There are, however, some general guidelines you can follow to make sure your instruction is as effective as possible:

  1. Explain things using multiple methods. Before you start a service learning project, for example, be sure to pre-teach important information with multiple methods of instruction, including media, role-playing situations, hands-on demonstrations and more. 
  2. Expect students to do their best, and don’t accept less. When you believe all your students are capable of great things, they will too. Don’t ignore or make a big deal of incorrect answers, but address them and work together to find the right solution. 
  3. Get to know your students. At the beginning of the year or unit, send around a Google form and ask questions about their learning styles or what they’re excited to work on. Parent teacher conferences are also a great time to discuss specific learning needs and what is or isn’t working. 
  4. Use modern teaching methodology designed to engage students. Gone are the days of memorization and silent classrooms. Don’t be afraid to try new things to find out what works best for you! Then ask for student feedback to learn more about which learning styles resonate best in your classroom.
  5. Use individual, paired and group activities equally. When students learn together, they understand different learning needs and build respect. Intentional strategies like cooperative and collaborative learning give each student responsibility and more ways to process content, while individual learning lets students set their own pace and goals. 

When you try new teaching methods and flex your approach, every student benefits! It keeps them engaged, shows them you care about their learning and gives them an appreciation for different learning strategies. 

Above all, keep trying new things, getting feedback from students and communicating wtih parents.

Teaching students in the modern age of learning

A teacher talks to a student while standing in front of a whiteboard.

Education has come a long way in the past decades, whether it’s more effective teaching methods or new ways to harness students’ use of technology. 

When you constantly innovate and try new strategies, you give your students real-life experiences and help them develop a love of learning. So cheers to you, and keep going!

Prodigy Education is committed to being an industry leader in game-based learning.

Our adaptive math platform gives teachers free, flexible and easy-to-use tools that align student play with the classroom in just a few clicks. As students explore the Prodigy world, their success depends on correctly answering curriculum-aligned questions — and you get all the data on their learning progress. 

Sign up for your free teacher account today to get started!

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