7 Experiential Learning Activities to Engage StudentsAll Posts
Written by Justin Raudys
Did you know?
Students at one school district mastered 68% more math skills on average when they used Prodigy Math.
- Teaching Strategies
“Is easily distracted.”
“Shows no interest in learning.
”No teacher wants to use these phrases to describe a student, but disengagement in schools is a persistent problem -- making descriptions such as these all too common in classrooms today.
Experiential learning activities can help students:
- Remain focused -- Students who are engaged and learning actively are less likely to become bored and disinterested.
- Learn differently -- When students are involved in the learning process they are more engaged emotionally, helping them experience learning in a dynamic, new way.
- Learn faster -- Learning firsthand requires deep problem-solving and critical thinking. These processes boost student engagement, accelerating learning and improving content retention.
To help you get started, we’ve collected a list of seven fun and engaging experiential learning activities for students in 1st to 8th Grade, complete with detailed descriptions and research-backed explanations showing why they’re effective.
This article is accompanied by a downloadable list of experiential learning activities to keep at your desk for quick reference.
Note: Be sure to arrange the layout, activities, and expectations of all the activities below in a way that connects to your curriculum while giving students the chance to engage, interact, and apply concepts to relevant experiences.
Prodigy is the engaging math platform that can help make learning fun! As students explore a fantasy world full of new quests and adventures, they'll also answer curriculum-aligned math questions for 1st-8th grade to help them prepare for standardized testing.
- Visit the Prodigy website and create your own free teacher account.
- After creating an account, you'll receive a unique class code. This makes it simple for students to join the class and link their account to yours when they first begin playing. You can also type in your students’ names to create accounts for them.
- Once your student has activated their account, they'll create an in-game avatar, choosing from various attributes such as hair color, eye color, skin color and more.
- In minutes, your students will start exploring the world of Prodigy and begin building their math skills through exciting math battles against in-game characters.
- Open your class dashboard to take advantage of all the options within your teacher account, including assignment and topic plans and reports on how your students are progressing in all areas of your curriculum.
a) It's engaging
Video game based learning has been shown to heighten the level of interest, concentration, and enjoyment of educational materials among students.
Video game based learning is one of the most engaging ways to use technology in the classroom. It is also changing the face of how experiential education can be applied in the classroom.
As the professor, mathematician and author Keith Devlin observes:
Video games provide an entirely different medium, better suited in many ways to representing and doing mathematics than writing on a sheet of paper or punching numbers in a calculator.
b) It’s empowering
Receiving instant feedback in a game helps students stay on track and invested in their own progress, further improving participation and interest.
Features such as in-game rewards help stimulate the learning process by keeping students interested in the content and by giving them an incentive to complete tasks.
c) It’s competitive
Few other learning methods offer the powerfully competitive features made possible within video game based learning.
Factors like healthy competition amongst students or the target of achieving personal high scores help to motivate students to attempt – and complete – a given task.
2. Pro and Con Grid
The Pro and Con Grid involves students developing a list of advantages and disadvantages about a suitable issue related to your lesson, helping them to see a topic from different angles and to develop skills in analysis and evaluation.
Time: 25-30 minutes
Size: Groups of 2-6
- After students have finished an assignment or lesson plan, identify a topic in the lesson that is open-ended -- suitable for discussion and debate -- and that will serve as an appropriate subject for building a list of advantages/disadvantages.
- Divide students into groups and specify how many pros and cons you would like each group to come up with. Allow ten minutes for students to discuss and write down the list of pros and cons
- Now, use the remainder of the activity’s time to ask for each group to go over their list. Bring attention to pros and cons that are similar, and note how many times they have appeared across different groups to emphasize their importance.
- (Optional) After students have finished the Pro and Con Grid and have discussed it with the class, challenge them to back up their pros and cons with research, evidence, and/or analysis.
- (Optional) If students have written pros and cons on a piece of paper, read the list to the class without disclosing the authors in order to stimulate conversation.
- (Optional) Place the Pro and Con Grid activity before a lesson instead of after as a “knowledge check” at the beginning of a class. This will help you get a feel for what students think and know about a topic. You might be surprised at what misconceptions or assumptions students make about the subject.
By allowing students to take up a position that might not have aligned with their original point of view -- and by encouraging them to look at a topic from different angles -- you are driving them to approach a lesson or assignment in a dynamic, original way.
This activity also touches on a few other properties of experiential learning, helping students to:
- Become engaged intellectually, emotionally, and socially
- Take initiative, make decisions, and feel accountable for the results of the activity
- Synthesize observations and reflections in a new way, opening up different interpretations of course material
- Learn from the natural consequences of group debate and discussion, opening a healthy platform for dialogue where students feel they are allowed to make mistakes
And, like all effective experiential learning activities, this activity will help teachers learn more about students, too.
3.Cross-Age Peer Tutoring
Cross-age peer tutoring is an approach to peer learning where one student instructs another on material in which the first student is proficient and the second student is a novice.
Time: 20-30 minutes
- Decide which role your student will take: tutor or tutee.
- Connect with the teacher of a class in a higher or lower grade who is open to the activity. In general, a range of two to three grades higher or lower will work well. Select a student from each class and pair them together.
- Choose a topic or lesson plan for the students to discuss. While you are welcome to pick any lesson for the activity, subjects that have been shown to be suitable for cross-age peer tutoring include: number sense and numeration, identification of sight words, vocabulary, and general reading skills.
- Explain to both students that the activity is an open conversation, and questions from both participants are encouraged. Facilitate this by asking the students to come up with three things the tutee learned during the activity.
- After the allotted time, follow up with the students to discuss their questions and gain an idea of how the process went.
Overall, peer learning activities can give students a range of advantages, including increased literacy scores, improved comfort and openness, and enhanced critical thinking skills.
Encouraging a student to delve into a given selection of educational content to explain it to a colleague can help both participants:
- Question each other’s views and reach their own consensus
- Develop skills in the planning and organization of learning activities
- Give and receive feedback to evaluate their own learning
- Put into practice the knowledge and skills they have been developing through more traditional teaching methods
Importantly, the benefits of this type of activity go both ways: cross-age peer tutoring has been shown to offer academic benefits to both tutors and tutees.
4. Student-Generated Test Questions
Time: 20-30 minutes
A student-generated test question activity gives participants the opportunity to ask the questions instead of just answering them.
- After finishing a lesson plan, ask students to prepare between three and five test questions of their own related to the lesson material.
- Next, explain that your students must also create the related answers to the questions they come up with.
- After the allotted time, split your students into pairs and have them test each other with the questions they have written.
- If time permits, get students to share their results with the class.
By repositioning students’ approach to a lesson by provoking a series of questions and a set of answers, this activity builds participants’ understanding by involving them in a process of inquiry and reflection– the heart and soul of experiential learning.And it’s not just about the students. This exercise is an excellent example of how experiential learning activities can help teachers achieve added insight into what students consider to be the most significant or memorable content in a lesson.The questions and answers students come up with will give teachers a gauge of:
- What students see as the key concepts within a lesson
- What students consider to be reasonable and valuable test questions
- Whether students have inaccurate expectations for an upcoming test
Time: 20-30 minutes
Size: Groups of 4-8
The fishbowl activity involves medium-sized groups of students sitting at the front of the classroom and openly discussing an assigned topic so the entire classroom can hear.
- Have four to eight students students (Group A) volunteer to be “inside” the fishbowl, while the remainder of the class (Group B) forms a circle or outer ring (with or without their desks) “outside” of the fishbowl to observe the activity.
- Assign Group A an open-ended topic or question to discuss with the goal of reaching a consensus on the topic’s three most important issues.
- Once the consensus has been reached or once time has run out, have Group A and Group B switch roles – with Group B performing an open-air discussion and Group A watching in the “outside” ring. This second stage can involve an identical format or a modified version featuring a new approach, topic, or discussion.
- (Optional) At the end of the exercise, have both groups offer feedback on each group’s discussion to one another – either individually, in a group-to-group format, or in pairs.
When performed effectively, this activity fosters and opens a spirit of investigation, risk-taking, experimentation, curiosity, problem-solving and creativity-- all elements seen as fundamental to the process of experiential learning.
Crucially, this activity also encourages students to take responsibility for the discussion and, by extension, of their own learning.
The fishbowl activity is particularly dependent on your students’ comfort with taking risks and being open to failure.
6. Make a Mnemonic
Time: 20-25 minutes
Size: Groups of 2-3
A mnemonic is a device like a rhyme or acronym that helps students to associate concepts to help them remembering something.
- Establish how a mnemonic works by giving your students one or two popular examples such as the two outlined below.
- Select a topic related to your course material or allow students to pick a topic themselves.
- Break your students into groups and give them writing materials, allowing the allotted time to work together and make their own mnemonic.
- Get each group to present their mnemonic in front of the class.
- (Optional) Challenge your students to memorize their own mnemonic and perform it off by heart.
The design of this activity gives students the chance to tie personally relevant topics and images to educational content, in turn creating an internal reflection on their learning and bringing greater meaning to the lesson -- a key part of experiential learning.
Researcher and author on memory and learning in elementary education, Milton J. Dehn explains why mnemonics are effective, saying:
If new information is related to something that is firmly locked in the long-term memory, such as images of everyday objects, retrieval will be easier.
Naturally, students will better remember content if they are actively thinking through new information instead of just repeating it.
The mnemonic is a flexible and effective educational technique, facilitating learning in virtually any educational topic, from language skills to mental math practices.
7. Field Trip Activities
Time: >30 minutes
Size: Entire class
Field trips are an effective platform for experiential learning activities because they let students bridge educational experiences to actual settings.
Be mindful that a field trip where students are simply talked to by a guide or teacher often doesn't qualify as true experiential learning.
A field trip that correctly activates experiential learning requires some preparation and interaction from the teacher. Consider the example below.
- After completing a science unit on animal habitats, ensure that your students are familiar with what components of survival are necessary for different types of animals.
- Visit a local zoo! Have your students apply their learnings by encouraging a collective commentary on each animal exhibit and how it displays important components of survival like habitat and animal adaptations.
Instead of simply internalizing material in a textbook, this example shows how a field trip helps students:
- Apply what they’ve learned firsthand
- Create new connections and reinforce the lessons they’ve learned by putting them into practice in a fun, engaging context
Experiential Learning Activities for Students: Final Thoughts
At some point, most teachers are confronted with the fact that merely giving a student information is no guarantee that it will be internalized in a meaningful way. For this reason, these seven examples of experiential learning activities demonstrate the importance of experiential learning as a pedagogy.
Experiential learning activities such as the seven above help you sidestep this problem by deploying a student-centered approach that empowers participants to take learning into their own hands and apply it in an engaging context.
In his bookTeaching for Experiential Learning, professor of experiential education Scott Wurdinger observes:
Students are most excited about learning when they are an active part of the process – be it through scenarios including discussion, group work, or hands-on participation.
If you use these activities correctly, you’ll be able to see that excitement firsthand.
After all, the demonstrated success of experiential learning suggests that it’s not always what your students are taught, but how they’re taught that can make all the difference.
Downloadable List of the 7 Experiential Learning Activities
Click here to download the list of activities ideas to print and keep at your desk.
Create or log in to your teacher account on Prodigy — the game-based learning platform that assesses student progress and performance as they play.