Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Activate! Student Engagement Through Movement, Games, and Activities

Lindsay Hawkins, Lindsay Williams | Published: September 16th, 2020 by K20 Center


This activity models authentic, inquiry-based strategies and connects research to the benefits of student engagement. Participants will discuss the strategies they use to engage their students and then document these strategies for future faculty reference and collaboration.

Essential Questions

  • What are the possible outcomes of students’ active engagement in learning?

  • What does active engagement look like in the classroom?

Learning Goals

  • Participants engage in a lesson incorporating movement and academic games or activities.

  • Participants identify instructional strategies they can use in their classrooms to promote active engagement.

  • Participants identify the benefits of actively engaging students.

  • Participants create a resource to link specific tools and strategies to support the Design Question Five, specifically components 25 and 27 of the TLE (Teacher and Leader Evaluation) from Marzano.

Materials List

  • Activity Slides (attached)

  • Activate! Agenda handout (attached)

  • Four Corners Topics handout (attached)

  • Instructional Strategy Note Sheet handout (attached)

  • Jensen text handouts (attached; pp.133–136 and pp.139–142)

  • ABC Graffiti handout (attached)

  • Poster paper with the ABCs written in columns (one per group; see attached ABC Graffiti Poster Example on 8x10 paper)

  • Poster paper for the presenter to record team names and scores during the ABC Graffiti game

  • Poster markers (one per group)

  • Pens or pencils (optional)

  • Scratch paper for 3-2-1 (optional)

  • Google Form (copied, edited, and updated for personal use at site)

  • PowerPoint (link must be updated for Google Form link)

  • Google Response Sheet (accessed through the Google Form)


Display the attached Activity Slides. Welcome participants and briefly introduce yourself and the professional development session.

Display slide 3 and introduce the "Four Corners" activity. Inform participants that, in a moment, they will be asked to physically move to the area that corresponds with the statement they predominantly believe to be true. Read the question on the slide aloud: “Which of these is a possible outcome of activating student engagement?” Then, read the four choices aloud: "increased student attendance," “increased student performance and learning," "increased positive behavior and participation," and "other outcomes."

Allow participants a moment to move to the area they choose. Once participants stand in their chosen corner, ask them to briefly discuss with others who gathered in the same area why they chose their answer as the best possible outcome of active student engagement. They may find more than one answer to be appropriate, but remind them that they can only choose one for this activity. Once participants shared with those around them, ask a few people from each outcome statement to share what was discussed among their group. The discussion should determine that increasing active student engagement also positively affects these outcomes.

After participants have shared, ask them to return to their seats. Transition to slide 4, "Instructional Strategies," and inform participants that several new instructional strategies will be introduced throughout the session and that the last activity, Four Corners, was one of them. Explain that these strategies are tools to authentically support higher-order thinking.

Make sure each participant has a copy of the attached Instructional Strategy Note Sheet, and encourage participants to use it to jot down ideas for personalizing a strategy to be used as an instructional tool in their classrooms. Once all the new strategies are modeled, the presentation will allow time for participants to reflect on the use of the strategies.

Allow a moment for participants to write about the Four Corners activity they just participated in. Ask them how they might adapt it for use in their classrooms.

Go to slide 5 and briefly share the session objectives. This provides a road map for the session and informs participants of what to expect.


Transition to slide 6, "ABC Graffiti," and explain that participants will engage in this brainstorming instructional strategy. Participants will work in small groups to brainstorm words or phrases that connect to the question. First, have groups create a team name and ask one person from each group to volunteer to be the recorder. This person will write the team name on the presenter's poster at the front of the room and will record the group's score after each round.

Click the slide again to display the question: "What does active engagement look like in the classroom?" Within their small groups, participants will use this question to generate words or phrases that connect how and what active engagement might look like in the classroom.

Click the slide again. Explain that groups will have three rounds to brainstorm and, after each round, they will rotate to the next group's paper. Each time a group moves, they will take their marker with them.

Go to slide 7. Click the slide again to show the "Round 1" arrow and clarify the directions on the screen as needed. Give participants 3–5 minutes during Round 1 to fill in their alphabet letters. As a part of the challenge, participants may not use other resources or materials to generate words, ideas, or phrases—they may only use their own prior knowledge and experiences.

When enough time has passed, ask groups to stop writing, cap their markers, and count the number of letters they used. Ask the recorder from each group to go to the presenter's poster and record their team's total score.

Click the slide again to display the "Round 2" arrow and the description. Instruct groups to rotate to the next table (for each set of three tables, move groups as follows: Table 1 moves to Table 2, Table 2 moves to Table 3, and Table 3 moves to Table 1). For the second round, groups read through the list written by the previous group and then use the time provided to add new words or phrases to the alphabet list.

Clarify instructions as needed. Allow another 3–5 minutes for groups to generate new words and phrases.

After the time expires, ask groups to stop writing, cap their makers, and count the number of the alphabet letters their group used this round. Recorders for each team will add this number to the previous score, creating a new total for each team.

Click the slide one last time to show the "Round 3" arrow and description. Explain that participants will read one or both of the two attached Jensen texts, both extracted from “Teaching With Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It”.

Each text can be distributed to all participants, or participants can split the two readings among their group members and then share the information they gathered with the rest of their small groups (dividing the reading is best if the session is short on time). Participants will use the ideas they learn from the text to complete Round 3 of ABC Graffiti. This time, teams will add new words or phrases that are influenced by their reading of the texts.

Call time and have each team report the number of letters they added to the list during the third round, thus creating their final team totals. Then, have groups return to their original tables.


Once groups have returned to their original tables, allow them time to reflect and process what was written on their ABC Graffiti poster papers.

Then, go to slide 8 and instruct small groups to create a summary statement that synthesizes the information constructed from their ABC Graffiti list. Once students finish writing their summary statements, ask them to share their statements with the whole group.

Facilitate a brief discussion by asking participants to reflect on the summary statements and ABC list. Ask them how the information they gained throughout this activity might impact their teaching (style, planning, content, etc.), student engagement (learning, interest, etc.), and overall classroom climate.

After a short discussion, ask participants to use the Instructional Strategy Note Sheet to reflect on the ABC Graffiti strategy. Then, transition to the next activity.


Go to slide 9 to display Marzano's TLE Learning Map of Domain One. Explain that every school has a structure and program in place to evaluate teachers' practices and progress, and Marzano's Learning Map is just one of many that have been designed to show specific areas of evaluation.

Click the slide twice as you inform participants that this session is focused on Design Question (DQ) 5—specifically, component numbers 25, "Using Academic Games," and 27, "Using Physical Movement."

Reminds participants that the “Four Corners” and “ABC Graffiti” activities allow us to use movement, academic games, and activities as intentional tools to engage students while exploring new concepts and ideas. The strategies can also be used to activate prior knowledge while supporting the other Design Questions and components of learning.

Transition to slide 10, "Google Form Example." Explain that, in a moment, each participant will have the opportunity to submit movements, games, and activities they have implemented in their own classrooms that increase active student engagement. Participants may also include movements, games, and activities they have not yet implemented but are willing to try with their students. For each new strategy, participants must submit a new response.

Briefly, highlight that each submitted response will require the following:

  • "Email address" (to easily contact one another)

  • Select "Movement" or "Game/Activity"

  • "Your Name" (can require first and last name)

  • Select all the content areas that apply to your movement, game, or activity

  • Write the "Title and Lesson Topic" or standard it covers (may include a brief description)

  • URL (optional)

  • The required amount of time to complete in a class setting

Transition to slide 11. Explain that each participant will use the link shown on the slide to access the Google form. The form submissions will automatically be compiled into a shareable document for all staff at the site.

Provide time for participants to open the Google Form using your link.

Allow participants at least 15 minutes to fill out the Google Form and submit their responses.

After a few minutes, go to your Google Form and click on the "Responses" button. You can show participants how the information is sorted. Then, locate a green and white icon in the upper-right corner of the form. When you hover your cursor over the icon, a box should say "Create Spreadsheet." Select the green and white "Create Spreadsheet" button.

A box will pop up. Make sure "Create a new Spreadsheet" is selected (this will be the top area of the form), and to the right of that, you have a chance to rename your spreadsheet. Select "Create," and a new spreadsheet will open that is already filled with the participants' submitted responses.

Lastly, share the link to the Google responses sheet with participants. With this link, they may access this file for later use.


Transition to slide 12, "Keep Calm and Evaluate."

If you do not have access to TREK, ask participants to reflect on the session. Participants will write a paragraph synthesizing summary statements, the ABC list, and engagement strategies they currently use. The paragraph should detail how the information gained might impact their teaching (style, planning, content, etc.), student engagement (learning, interest, etc.), and overall classroom climate.

Finally, ask participants to reflect on their Instructional Strategy Note Sheet. Ask them how they will use these strategies in their classrooms.

Research Rationale

Student engagement is a critical goal shared by parents, teachers, and administrators in every classroom. The ideal classroom goal is to foster a learning environment where students are not only enthusiastic about gaining knowledge but also perceive its relevance beyond the confines of the classroom. Research consistently demonstrates a strong correlation between student engagement and academic achievement (Hattie, 2009). When students actively participate in intentional learning activities, they tend to be happier and more motivated, leading to an ideal learning experience (Knight, 2013).

Other researchers, like Csikszentmihalyi (1996) and Loehr and Schwartz (2003) have found through their studies that the primary reason people are unhappy or find little reward in what they experience is because they are disengaged with the world around them. As educators, we do not want to develop decision-making citizens who believe it is okay to disengage in the world. We want our future to be filled with critical thinkers who are happily engaged in society. This process begins in the classroom, when teachers create experiences and use strategies to actively engage students in the world of learning and knowledge (Knight, 2013). If students are engaged, then learning will transpire in a meaningful way.