36 Teaching Strategies to Try in 2021
“Constantly renews himself [or herself] as a professional on his [or her] quest to provide students with the highest quality of education possible. This teacher has no fear of learning new teaching strategies or incorporating new technologies into lessons.”Is that you?
There’s more than one way to teach a diverse and dynamic classroom. In this post you’ll find:
- A comprehensive list of 36 teaching strategies to use in math class and beyond
- A list of essential resources for using them effectively
Classroom teaching strategies
1. Classroom management strategiesInfographic: 20 Classroom Management Strategies and Techniques. Click to expand!According to research from 2006, teachers overwhelmingly reported a lack of professional development support when it came to improving their own classroom management strategies. This can lead to confusion for students and frustration for teachers. When students clearly understand what’s expected of them, they’re more likely to be focused and engaged with their lessons. Some tips for building a positive environment include:
- Model ideal behaviour: Clearly explain proper behaviour, and then follow it yourself.
- Encourage initiative: Allow students to actively participate in the learning process.
- Avoid collective punishment: While it can be difficult, make a point of calling out disruptive behaviours on an individual, not collective, basis.
2. Flexible seatingKristine Fourman, a teacher in the Bucyrus Elementary Preschool Program, connects student seating and academics: “When students aren’t trying to hold themselves still in their chairs, they can integrate auditory, visual and tactile systems of the body.”There are so many different ways to incorporate flexible seating into your classroom in a way that fits with your students’ learning goals. For examples and best practices, read Flexible Seating: 21 Awesome Ideas for Your Classroom.
3. Webb's Depth of KnowledgeNorman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DoK) is familiar to many teachers from a theoretical perspective, but it can be incredibly difficult to apply practically and consistently in your teaching strategies.There are four DoK levels:
- Level one: Recollection and reproduction
- Level two: Knowledge application
- Level three: Strategic thinking
- Level four: Extended critical thinking
4. Summative assessmentSummative assessments are end-of-unit tests, final projects or standardized tests used to assess student understanding on a broad and absolute level. Critics of summative assessments say they’re inauthentic and don’t accurately reflect the learning process. But there are important benefits to using summative assessments as a teaching strategy: they motivate students to pay attention and challenges them to apply their learning. They’re also a valuable source of insight for teachers, especially for those with larger classes -- allowing them to easily identify and correct any wide gaps in understanding across the classroom.Don’t be afraid to get creative when making summative assessments! Read Summative Assessment: A Comprehensive Guide> for ideas on how to get students engaged with the testing process.
5. Formative assessmentFormative assessments are the opposite of summative assessments because they take place during the teaching process.
|Formative Assessment||Summative Assessment|
|Occurs through chapter or unit||Occurs at end of chapter or unit|
|Improves how students learn||Evaluates what students learn|
|Covers small content areas||Covers complete content areas|
|Monitors how students are learning||Assigns a grade to students’ understanding|
|Focuses on process of student learning||Emphasizes the product of student learning|
- Entry and exit tickets
- Self-evaluation techniques
6. Active learningPut students at the center of the classroom with active learning strategies -- a teaching technique that increases student engagement in daily lessons. According to active learning advocate James Ballencia, the technique can also help teachers as much as it helps students:
“With the goal of teaching mindful learners who actively pursue knowledge, teachers become more actively engaged in how they teach the curriculum and how they develop each student’s learning potential. They mix and match a variety of … tactics to ensure that students not only learn more, better, and faster -- they also learn smarter.”Some active learning strategies include:
- Reciprocal questioning -- Have students come up with questions for the class on a recent lesson or concept.
- The pause procedure: Take a break every 10 to 15 minutes so that students have time to discuss, ask questions or solve problems.
- Muddiest point: Ask students to write down which point in the lesson is the least clear to them.
7. Differentiated instructionDifferentiated instruction is a popular and effective teaching strategy that involves reacting to the diverse learning styles in every classroom with adjusted content and processes.Carol Ann Tomlinson, a reputable thought leader on differentiated instruction, recommends analyzing teaching strategies on a constant basis to respond to needs:“Frequently reflect on the match between your classroom and the philosophy of teaching and learning you want to practice. Look for matches and mismatches, and use both to guide you.”Strategies like learning stations and the think-pair-share method are small ways that you can bring unique learning experiences to your students. For more differentiated instruction ideas, read 20 Differentiated Instruction Strategies and Examples [+ Downloadable List].
8. Personalized learningNo two students are exactly alike. That’s why personalized learning builds a learning experience that addresses the unique abilities of each student. According to a study by the Gates Foundation, personalized learning can improve test scores when used to supplement math class:
“Students attending [schools using personalized learning] made gains in math and reading over the last two years that are significantly greater than a virtual control group made up of similar students selected from comparable schools.”Personalized learning allows students to learn without stigma and gets students involved in what they’re learning. Explore different options for bringing personalized learning to your classroom, including Edtech teaching strategies and increased student involvement. For a full list of tips, read 7 Personalized Learning Strategies and Examples.
9. Universal design for learning (UDL)Universal design for learning (UDL) is an educational framework that ensures all students have equal access to education. Use it in your classroom to give unique students flexible ways to learn and become more goal-oriented.Some best practices for UDL:
- Know the strengths and weaknesses of your students
- Provide flexible classrooms
- Adapt information for multilingual students
10. Response to interventionResponse to intervention (RTI) focuses on early and continuous identification, assessment and assistance for students who have learning or behaviour needs. It’s best used as part of a more general classroom management plan, and involves small-group or individual intervention that quickly addresses trouble spots.The most effective RTI strategies are proactive. Start with everyday teaching and move to targeted intervention as soon as you spot a problem. When you’re prepared to move quickly, you’re more likely to be able to develop a tailored and effective learning plan.For more information on RTI strategies and tips for bringing them to your classroom, read The Teacher’s Response to Intervention (RTI) Guide: Tiers, Strategies and More.
Math teaching strategies
11. Classroom technologyTechnology is a great way to improve student engagement and get students excited for class, but it can be difficult to incorporate seamlessly into the classroom. There are an endless number of ways to use technology to enhance lessons, including:
- A virtual field trip: Use virtual reality apps to explore famous landmarks and natural phenomena. Take a trip to the Great Barrier Reef to study ecosystems, or tour Barcelona as part of a Spanish class.
- Video mini-lessons: TeacherTube offers an education-only version of YouTube, with videos on a number of core subjects. This makes the learning process more engaging, especially for visual learners.
- Podcasts: Give students relevant podcasts and engage auditory learners, or have older students create their own -- they’ll develop research and technology skills at the same time.
12. Math gamesSimilar to classroom gamification, math games can play an active role in getting students engaged in class and excited to learn. Offline or online, they’re usually customizable and easy to incorporate into other teaching strategies.Some examples of popular math games:
- Bouncing Sums: Label a beach ball with integers, decimals and fractions. Each student must read the number on his or her label, adding or multiplying it by the sum from the previous student.
- 101 and out: Divide your class in half and give each group a die. Have groups roll the die and either keep it at face value or multiply it by 10. See which group can get closest to 101 without going over.
- Math goodies: Math goodies is a free resource that provides puzzles and word problems. Students can either use this resource on their own or you can use it to create custom worksheets.
13. Math websitesThere are thousands of math websites that can be used as part of a game-based learning approach or differentiation strategy. Online resources get students excited about learning math and can often be scaled based on knowledge and grade level.Popular resources include:
- TeacherVision: Looking for interdisciplinary activities? Look no further. TeacherVision gives teachers access to resources that connect math with subjects like art, history and geography.
- SuperKids: SuperKids is a one-stop resource for building worksheets. Select a skill and number range, and generate a custom assignment.
- Prodigy: Students go on adventures, collect pets and battle with friends, all while answering skill-building, targeted math questions -- for free.
14. Mental mathIs mental math really a teaching strategy? Of course!Mental math is an important part of math fluency. When students have a quick recall for math facts and can do simple equations quickly, they have the confidence to attempt more difficult problems. The Manitoba Association of Mathematics Teachers defines mental math as:“A combination of cognitive strategies that enhances flexible thinking and number sense. It is calculating mentally without the use of external memory aids. It improves computational fluency by developing efficiency, accuracy, and flexibility.”There’s lots of resources available to boost mental math skills, including:
- Mnemonic devices
- World problems
- Fact fluency games
15. Common Core mathCommon Core math is a new framework that seeks to improve students’ conceptual understanding of math by encouraging problem-solving, critical thinking, and discussion skills. Since it’s so new, instructors have struggled to prepare materials that align with the standards. If that’s you, here are some techniques to get you started:
- Use modular tools: Younger students can model their problems using number blocks, and older student can use everyday objects to “act out” the concepts they’re learning.
- Encourage peer discussion: Common Core standards place a large focus on critical thinking and problem solving — two things that students can learn by talking through problems with their peers.
- Math journals: Writing out the steps they took to solve a problem helps students to understand where they got stuck. Plus, it’s a great tool for teachers looking to keep track of student comprehension.
16. Solve math problems fasterTeaching students to solve math problems quickly and without help can improve confidence and math fluency.Provided your students have a solid grasp on the concepts behind what they’ve already mastered, math “tricks” can give them more confidence and get them excited about trying new problems.There are tricks for just about every basic function, including:
- Two-step addition and subtraction
- Multiplying by powers of 2
- Squaring a two-digit number that ends with 1
17. How to teach multiplicationMultiplication is a big and often daunting step for learners, who feel like they’ve just mastered addition and are suddenly being thrown something new. Teachers also often struggle to communicate new concepts to student effectively.What if we told you that multiplication could be one of the most rewarding lessons you ever taught?Our six-step guide to teaching multiplication is designed to engage students in the learning processes with a clear and logical progression of ideas. There are lot of fun ways to teach multiplication and reduce student anxiety, including:
- Classroom math games
- Fun math books
- Math websites
18. Multiplication gamesMultiplication is a difficult concept for many students to grasp. Memorizing and understanding core multiplication facts is a key element of math fluency, and provides an essential foundation for further study. Game-based learning can be a successful way to help students develop this understanding and can engage students on stressful topic. Some multiplication games include:
- True or false?: Write a multiplication sentence on the board that’s either true or false. In teams, the class has a minute to discuss and respond with “true” or “false” cards.
- Beach ball toss: Write multiplication questions on a beach ball and throw it. Have students answer the question that is closest to their pinky finger.
- Jeopardy!: It’s a classic for a reason -- find an interactive template and fill it with questions. The team with the most points at the end of the game, wins!
19. Multiplying fractionsSo your unit on fractions is finished, and it’s time to move on -- to multiplying fractions. For some students, this leap is even more daunting than the switch from addition to multiplication. But not to worry! There are teaching strategies that will have your students multiplying fractions in no time at all.Some best practices for teaching your class about multiplying fractions:
- Make sure your students understand the foundation and relationship between improper fractions and mixed numbers, as well as how to convert them
- Use modular tools and visual aids
- Have students bring in a favorite recipe and multiply it so that it can feed the whole class
20. How to divide fractionsThe only thing scarier for students than multiplying fractions? Dividing them. Lucky for them, we did the research. There are three simple steps to dividing a fraction:
- Flip the divisor into a reciprocal
- Change the division sign into a multiplication sign and multiply
- Simplify if possible
21. Math puzzlesMath puzzles have been around almost as long as math has — for a reason. One study found that math puzzles “develop logical thinking, combinatorial abilities, strengthen the capacity of abstract thinking and operating with spatial images, instill critical thinking and develop mathematical memory.”Math puzzles build foundational skills and increase math fluency, while also connecting to existing curricula and promoting problem-solving skills. Some popular math puzzles include:
- Magic Square
- Tower of Hanoi
Student-focused teaching strategies
22. GamificationClassroom gamification is an effective way to take a child’s love for play and turn it into a love of learning. The benefits are huge: gamification can help students focus and build essential skills. A 2011 study from South Korea also found that gamification kept students motivated and engaged in the classroom.In order to effectively use gamification techniques in your classroom, start with your students: What do they like? Where are their learning needs? Are there any notable behaviour issues? Other tips include:
- Structure problems effectively: Gamification works best when surrounded by clear rules and expectations.
- Make sure progress is visible: If students can’t see how far they’ve come, they might get frustrated.
- Create a manual: Make a resource for students that explains the games, rules, and scoring system.
23. Convergent and divergent thinkingConvergent and divergent thinking are two terms coined by American psychologist JP Guilford in the 1950s. Convergent thinking means understanding how separate pieces of information can be used to reach one solution. It’s usually reserved for first or second depth of knowledge (DOK) levels, and can be used to answer questions that require a limited range of skills and knowledge (like multiple choice questions).Divergent thinking requires students to start with one prompt, then think critically about it to diverge towards to distinct answers (think essay-writing, brainstorming and creative analyzing). This takes place at the third or fourth DOK level. While convergent thinking is an important part of building math fluency, divergent thinking allows students to understand the base concepts underlying their work. Convergent and divergent thinking are essential skills in any subject. When you understand the difference, you’re better equipped to incorporate both into your classroom. For more examples of each and how to teach them, read How to Teach Convergent and Divergent Thinking: Definitions, Examples, Templates and More.
24. Project-based learningStudents have to take an active role in their own learning, but are often disengaged from the learning process. Project-based learning allows students to be fully immersed in an authentic and nuanced problem that has real-life implications. Project-based learning is open-ended, and allows students working in groups to find their own way to the solution. It doesn’t look the same in every classroom -- class size, student ability and learning styles play a large role in shaping the process. While proponents point to increased engagement, knowledge retention and improved critical thinking, there are also significant criticisms: Project-based learning can be too focused on product creation instead of learning, and assessment is often subjective. To learn how to effectively incorporate project-based learning techniques into your classroom, read The Definitive Guide to Project-Based Learning: Definition, Debates, Ideas and Examples.
25. Experiential learningEvery classroom has a wide range of levels and learning styles, which can be difficult for any teacher to effectively address. Use experiential learning activities to counter student disengagement and get them involved in the learning process.
|Traditional learning activities||Experiential learning activities|
|Fixed rubric or scoring system||Flexible and open learning outcomes|
|Explain knowledge or skills by transferring information||Develop knowledge and skills through experience|
|Fixed structure, high degree of facilitation||Flexible structure, minimum facilitation|
26. Peer teachingProponents have been pointing to the advantages of peer teaching since the 18th century. It's one of many teaching strategies that helps develop reasoning and critical thinking skills, and a pioneering 1988 study found it improved self-esteem and interpersonal skills. It can be difficult, however, to bring it to the classroom -- students might have different proficiency levels or be hesitant about teaching their peers, and it can lead to confidentiality issues about which students are struggling. Some best practices for peer teaching include:
- Explaining to students how to give feedback
- Providing written prompts to guide discussion
- Running classwide peer editing sessions
27. Inquiry-based learningInquiry-based learning has been around since the 1960s, but it still remains a misunderstood teaching strategy. In the inquiry-based learning classroom, teachers are responsible for guiding students through their questions -- past curiosity and into critical thinking and understanding.There are 4 main types of inquiry-based learning:
- Confirmation inquiry: Students are given a question along with a way to answer it
- Structured inquiry: Students are given an open question and investigation method
- Guided inquiry: Students work from an open question to design investigation methods
- Open inquiry: Students develop original questions that they answer through their own methods
28. Problem-based learningProblem-based learning is a student-centred pedagogy that puts students in groups to solve open-ended problems together. This teaching strategy has its advantages and disadvantages:
|Develop long-term knowledge retention||Potentially poor test results|
|Use diverse instruction types||Student unpreparedness|
|Students are continuously engaged||Teacher unpreparedness|
|Develop transferable skills||Assessment is time-consuming|
|Improve teamwork skills||Might not be relevant/applicable|
29. Cooperative learningCooperative learning is one of the most universal teaching strategies. It empowers students to work together and gives teachers a chance to deliver targeted, small-group learning. A popular article from Theory into Practice details five essential aspects of cooperative learning:
- Positive interdependence: Each group member is valuable
- Promotive interaction: Students must empower each other
- Accountability: Students accept responsibility for their roles
- Soft skills instruction: Lessons and activities about teamwork
- Group processing: Group should use strategies on how to meet their goals
30. Reciprocal teachingReading isn't every student’s favorite subject. With reciprocal teaching techniques, you can turn even the most reluctant reader into a bookworm.Reciprocal teaching involves students in reading and gets them excited to learn. Learners are asked to predict what a text is about, ask questions about what they don’t understand, re-read for clarification, and summarize what the text is saying -- instead of just absorbing material as quickly as possible. And the technique can even be adapted for math class: one study found that reciprocal teaching in math can improve understanding of word-based problems, and can help students understand questions better. For more ideas about reciprocal teaching, read 4 Reciprocal Teaching Strategies to Use.
31. Blended learningBlended learning combines online learning with traditional classroom instruction. It’s a valuable tool to use in differentiation teaching strategies, and can help students learn tailored content at their own pace. There are a number of different ways to bring blended learning to your classroom, but some common methods include implementing learning stations and putting certain lessons online in part or entirely.For more information on the six blended learning models and how to use them with your students, read How to Put the Six Blended Learning Models into Action [+ Examples & Download].
32. Culturally responsive teachingDiverse classrooms are an amazing opportunity for teachers, but it can also be difficult to reach students with dramatically different backgrounds or learning styles. Culturally responsive teaching aims to link content with students’ contemporary and ancestral cultures. Start by getting to know your students -- where do they come from? What do their parents do? What’s their favourite after-school activity?Then, take that information and connect it to your lessons. Explain how a topic relates to different cultures, and make sure the classroom is a place where all students feel empowered. Encourage students to ask questions and share unique answers. Other options for culturally responsive teaching include:
- Creating relevant word problems
- Promoting positive media portrayals
- Involving parents
33. Interdisciplinary teachingUse interdisciplinary teaching strategies to encourage students to develop creative and critical thinking skills — and draw information from a number of different academic disciplines — as they solve real-world problems.In your classroom, interdisciplinary teaching could involve collaboration with other teachers, or asking your students to make connections between different subjects. Try these activities to get your class started:
- News analysis: Play a news clip or hand out an article that discusses a local, national or international topic. Ask students to solve a related question using skills they’ve learned in other classes.
- All About Weather: Look at the impact of weather and climate on the labour, agriculture and customs of other societies. This gives students a chance to learn about different cultures from a scientific and social standpoint.
- Historical Pen Pals: Combine creative writing and history by having students take on the role of a historical figure and write to classmates about challenges her or she faced. Give students a variety of sources to improve their research skills at the same time.
34. Service learningAccording to the National Youth Leadership Council, service learning is “a philosophy, pedagogy and model for community development that is used as an instructional strategy to meet learning goals and/or content standards.”Service learning brings the classroom into the larger community and teaches students about the value of being an active citizen. Students get hands-on experience in interdisciplinary study, and often improve their academic outcomes and reduce behavioural problems. Service learning contains five steps:Preparation, Action, Reflection, Demonstration, CelebrationPick an issue that your class is passionate about and get them brainstorming. For more service learning project ideas and how to get started, read The Teacher’s Guide to Service Learning [+5 Examples].
35. Media literacyStudents are saturated with an endless number of different media influences, from TV to social media to comic books. Students need to be educated on how to interpret and understand what they’re consuming. Media literacy allows students to recognize bias and develop critical thinking skills within the context of their existing interests. Some activities you can try in your classroom include:
- Logo dissection: Have students bring in a few different logos of popular brands, and ask them to interpret what they think it means. What type of customer is the company looking for? What do they value? Why did they choose that color or shape?
- Build a cereal brand: This activity challenges students to use their math, art and media literacy skills. Provide a sheet of questions to guide students and improve learning outcomes
- Deconstruct advertising language: Explore and critique advertising claims that companies make. Pass out magazines and online ads for students to examine and analyze.
36. Growth mindsetEven though it sounds more like a corporate buzzword, the philosophy of growth mindset has infiltrated the classroom. It focuses on helping students see the value of effort, persistence and risk in their learning environment, and pushes them to try new things and learn new concepts. Since growth mindset is a relatively new teaching strategy, some teachers might struggle to use it effectively. Here are some best practices:
- Give positive feedback: Instead of rewarding intellect, praise students when they try new methods and make plans.
- Promote a diverse classroom: When diversity is modelled for students, they’re more likely to embrace different perspectives in their future learning goals.
- Encourage goal-based journaling: Ask students set goals and reflect on their progress. Have goals follow the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Based) for maximum effect.
Resources for effectively using teaching strategies
Student feedbackIn order to know which teaching strategies will be the most effective, ask your students to provide you with some feedback: What do they like? How do they think they learn best? What do they want to learn more about? Students are more likely to be engaged in the learning process when they have a voice. There are a couple of ways to gather feedback:
- Start-stop-continue -- Hand out blank sheets of paper, and ask students to respond with 1) something they would like you to start doing in the classroom, 2) something they would like to not see in the classroom anymore, and 3) a suggestion for an activity or process that they think would make the classroom better.
- Google Forms: Send a form to your students via email, and have them fill it out (you can choose if you want the responses to be anonymous). Give them specific questions to help guide their feedback and make your teaching strategies more effective.
- Mid-lesson feedback: Cut out circles of red, green and yellow paper, and hand one of each out to students. During the lesson, ask how well the class understands -- green means good, yellow means they might need help soon, and red means they need help right away.
Professional developmentIn order to be an effective teacher, you need to have access to resources that allow you to continuously grow your skills. According to a study with teachers from eight different countries, teachers who had access to professional development were more likely to effectively use different teaching strategies in their classrooms:
“This suggests that the exchanging of ideas and experience about teaching with other teachers in the school, observing each other’s classrooms and providing mutual support increases the likelihood of implementing good teaching strategies.”Professional development doesn’t alway have to be big -- start by chatting with a colleague or mentor over a cup of coffee, or reading a blog post about new teaching techniques.
Teacher journalAfter gathering all this amazing information from student feedback and professional development efforts, you’re going to need somewhere to keep track of it all.Consider keeping a teaching journal to track student progress, new insights, areas you think your class might need extra help in and successes you’ve had. Build it up as a reference for that year’s class, and keep it as a reminder of everything you’ve accomplished. Bonus: you’ll have a ready-made resource for writing stellar report card comments.
ParentsParent involvement in student learning is a key indicator of student success and performance. Keep parents informed with a quick paper or email newsletter every month, and let them know about new things happening in the classroom. Communicate individual issues quickly and effectively to avoid any report card surprises, but don’t just mention the problems -- make time to give praise or share news of an achievement.
Final thoughts on teaching strategiesThere are so many different types of teaching strategies available for your classroom that the options can be overwhelming. But that’s good news! Your teaching style, students and classroom are all unique — why shouldn’t your teaching strategies be too?Start small, and work your way up. Don’t be afraid to try new strategies and see what works best in your classroom. Not everything’s going to be a good fit, and that’s OK -- keep engaging with your students and you’ll build up lifelong learners with a passion for knowledge.
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