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Study shows students in ‘active learning’ classrooms learn more than they think

For decades, there has been evidence that classroom techniques designed to get students to participate in the learning process produces better educational outcomes at virtually all levels.

And a new Harvard study suggests it may be important to let students know it.

The study , published Sept. 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that, though students felt as if they learned more through traditional lectures, they actually learned more when taking part in classrooms that employed so-called active-learning strategies.

Lead author Louis Deslauriers , the director of science teaching and learning and senior physics preceptor, knew that students would learn more from active learning. He published a key study in Science in 2011 that showed just that. But many students and faculty remained hesitant to switch to it.

“Often, students seemed genuinely to prefer smooth-as-silk traditional lectures,” Deslauriers said. “We wanted to take them at their word. Perhaps they actually felt like they learned more from lectures than they did from active learning.”

In addition to Deslauriers, the study is authored by director of sciences education and physics lecturer Logan McCarty , senior preceptor in applied physics Kelly Miller, preceptor in physics Greg Kestin , and Kristina Callaghan, now a physics lecturer at the University of California, Merced.

The question of whether students’ perceptions of their learning matches with how well they’re actually learning is particularly important, Deslauriers said, because while students eventually see the value of active learning, initially it can feel frustrating.

“Deep learning is hard work. The effort involved in active learning can be misinterpreted as a sign of poor learning,” he said. “On the other hand, a superstar lecturer can explain things in such a way as to make students feel like they are learning more than they actually are.”

To understand that dichotomy, Deslauriers and his co-authors designed an experiment that would expose students in an introductory physics class to both traditional lectures and active learning.

For the first 11 weeks of the 15-week class, students were taught using standard methods by an experienced instructor. In the 12th week, half the class was randomly assigned to a classroom that used active learning, while the other half attended highly polished lectures. In a subsequent class, the two groups were reversed. Notably, both groups used identical class content and only active engagement with the material was toggled on and off.

Following each class, students were surveyed on how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I feel like I learned a lot from this lecture” and “I wish all my physics courses were taught this way.” Students were also tested on how much they learned in the class with 12 multiple-choice questions.

When the results were tallied, the authors found that students felt as if they learned more from the lectures, but in fact scored higher on tests following the active learning sessions. “Actual learning and feeling of learning were strongly anticorrelated,” Deslauriers said, “as shown through the robust statistical analysis by co-author Kelly Miller, who is an expert in educational statistics and active learning.”

Those results, the study authors are quick to point out, shouldn’t be interpreted as suggesting students dislike active learning. In fact, many studies have shown students quickly warm to the idea, once they begin to see the results. “In all the courses at Harvard that we’ve transformed to active learning,” Deslauriers said, “the overall course evaluations went up.”

bar chart

Co-author Kestin, who in addition to being a physicist is a video producer with PBS’ NOVA, said, “It can be tempting to engage the class simply by folding lectures into a compelling ‘story,’ especially when that’s what students seem to like. I show my students the data from this study on the first day of class to help them appreciate the importance of their own involvement in active learning.”

McCarty, who oversees curricular efforts across the sciences, hopes this study will encourage more of his colleagues to embrace active learning.

“We want to make sure that other instructors are thinking hard about the way they’re teaching,” he said. “In our classes, we start each topic by asking students to gather in small groups to solve some problems. While they work, we walk around the room to observe them and answer questions. Then we come together and give a short lecture targeted specifically at the misconceptions and struggles we saw during the problem-solving activity. So far we’ve transformed over a dozen classes to use this kind of active-learning approach. It’s extremely efficient — we can cover just as much material as we would using lectures.”

A pioneer in work on active learning, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics Eric Mazur hailed the study as debunking long-held beliefs about how students learn.

“This work unambiguously debunks the illusion of learning from lectures,” he said. “It also explains why instructors and students cling to the belief that listening to lectures constitutes learning. I recommend every lecturer reads this article.”

Dean of Science Christopher Stubbs , Samuel C. Moncher Professor of Physics and of Astronomy, was an early convert. “When I first switched to teaching using active learning, some students resisted that change. This research confirms that faculty should persist and encourage active learning. Active engagement in every classroom, led by our incredible science faculty, should be the hallmark of residential undergraduate education at Harvard.”

Ultimately, Deslauriers said, the study shows that it’s important to ensure that neither instructors nor students are fooled into thinking that lectures are the best learning option. “Students might give fabulous evaluations to an amazing lecturer based on this feeling of learning, even though their actual learning isn’t optimal,” he said. “This could help to explain why study after study shows that student evaluations seem to be completely uncorrelated with actual learning.”

This research was supported with funding from the Harvard FAS Division of Science.

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How to write the best college assignments.

By Lois Weldon

When it comes to writing assignments, it is difficult to find a conceptualized guide with clear and simple tips that are easy to follow. That’s exactly what this guide will provide: few simple tips on how to write great assignments, right when you need them. Some of these points will probably be familiar to you, but there is no harm in being reminded of the most important things before you start writing the assignments, which are usually determining on your credits.

The most important aspects: Outline and Introduction

Preparation is the key to success, especially when it comes to academic assignments. It is recommended to always write an outline before you start writing the actual assignment. The outline should include the main points of discussion, which will keep you focused throughout the work and will make your key points clearly defined. Outlining the assignment will save you a lot of time because it will organize your thoughts and make your literature searches much easier. The outline will also help you to create different sections and divide up the word count between them, which will make the assignment more organized.

The introduction is the next important part you should focus on. This is the part that defines the quality of your assignment in the eyes of the reader. The introduction must include a brief background on the main points of discussion, the purpose of developing such work and clear indications on how the assignment is being organized. Keep this part brief, within one or two paragraphs.

This is an example of including the above mentioned points into the introduction of an assignment that elaborates the topic of obesity reaching proportions:

Background : The twenty first century is characterized by many public health challenges, among which obesity takes a major part. The increasing prevalence of obesity is creating an alarming situation in both developed and developing regions of the world.

Structure and aim : This assignment will elaborate and discuss the specific pattern of obesity epidemic development, as well as its epidemiology. Debt, trade and globalization will also be analyzed as factors that led to escalation of the problem. Moreover, the assignment will discuss the governmental interventions that make efforts to address this issue.

Practical tips on assignment writing

Here are some practical tips that will keep your work focused and effective:

–         Critical thinking – Academic writing has to be characterized by critical thinking, not only to provide the work with the needed level, but also because it takes part in the final mark.

–         Continuity of ideas – When you get to the middle of assignment, things can get confusing. You have to make sure that the ideas are flowing continuously within and between paragraphs, so the reader will be enabled to follow the argument easily. Dividing the work in different paragraphs is very important for this purpose.

–         Usage of ‘you’ and ‘I’ – According to the academic writing standards, the assignments should be written in an impersonal language, which means that the usage of ‘you’ and ‘I’ should be avoided. The only acceptable way of building your arguments is by using opinions and evidence from authoritative sources.

–         Referencing – this part of the assignment is extremely important and it takes a big part in the final mark. Make sure to use either Vancouver or Harvard referencing systems, and use the same system in the bibliography and while citing work of other sources within the text.  

–         Usage of examples – A clear understanding on your assignment’s topic should be provided by comparing different sources and identifying their strengths and weaknesses in an objective manner. This is the part where you should show how the knowledge can be applied into practice.

–         Numbering and bullets – Instead of using numbering and bullets, the academic writing style prefers the usage of paragraphs.

–         Including figures and tables – The figures and tables are an effective way of conveying information to the reader in a clear manner, without disturbing the word count. Each figure and table should have clear headings and you should make sure to mention their sources in the bibliography.

–         Word count – the word count of your assignment mustn’t be far above or far below the required word count. The outline will provide you with help in this aspect, so make sure to plan the work in order to keep it within the boundaries.

The importance of an effective conclusion

The conclusion of your assignment is your ultimate chance to provide powerful arguments that will impress the reader. The conclusion in academic writing is usually expressed through three main parts:

–         Stating the context and aim of the assignment

–         Summarizing the main points briefly

–         Providing final comments with consideration of the future (discussing clear examples of things that can be done in order to improve the situation concerning your topic of discussion).

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Lois Weldon is writer at  Uk.bestdissertation.com . Lives happily at London with her husband and lovely daughter. Adores writing tips for students. Passionate about Star Wars and yoga.

7 comments on “How To Write The Best College Assignments”

Extremely useful tip for students wanting to score well on their assignments. I concur with the writer that writing an outline before ACTUALLY starting to write assignments is extremely important. I have observed students who start off quite well but they tend to lose focus in between which causes them to lose marks. So an outline helps them to maintain the theme focused.

Hello Great information…. write assignments

Well elabrated

Thanks for the information. This site has amazing articles. Looking forward to continuing on this site.

This article is certainly going to help student . Well written.

Really good, thanks

Practical tips on assignment writing, the’re fantastic. Thank you!

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  • Assessing Student Learning

In designing assessments or assignments for a course, instructors often think of exams or term papers, but there are many other types of assessments that may be appropriate for your course. If you are willing to think creatively about assignments that go beyond traditional exams or research papers, you may be able to design assignments that are more accurate reflections of the kind of thinking and problem-solving you want your students to engage in. In addition, non-traditional assignments can boost students’ motivation.

In developing creative assessments of your students’ learning, it is helpful to think about exactly what you want to assess. The questions below will help you focus on exactly what skills and knowledge your assessment should include.

  • Do you want to assess your students’ acquisition of specific content knowledge, or their ability to apply that knowledge to new situations (or both)?
  • Do you want to assess a product that students produce, or the process they went through to produce it, or both?
  • writing ability
  • speaking skills
  • use of information technology
  • Is a visual component to the assessment necessary or desirable?
  • Is the ability for students to work in a group an important component of the assessment?
  • Is it important that the assessment be time-constrained?

To help you think outside the box in developing assessments of your students’ learning, here are some alternatives to multiple-choice exams that can be used in many disciplines and contexts. They are organized based on what kinds of cognitive processes or skills they require.

Alternatives that draw on students’ creativity:

  • Advertisement
  • Development of a product or proposal (perhaps to be judged by external judges)
  • Diary entry for a real or fictional character
  • Letter to a friend explaining a problem or concept
  • Performance: e.g., a presentation to the class or a debate
  • Poem, play, or dialogue
  • Web page or video
  • Work of art, music, architecture, sculpture, etc.
  • Newspaper article or editorial

Alternatives that require analysis or evaluation:

  • Analysis and response to a case study
  • Analysis of data or a graph
  • Analysis of an event, performance, or work of art
  • Chart, graph, or diagram with explanation
  • Legal brief
  • Review of a book, play, performance, etc.
  • Literature review
  • Policy memo or executive summary
  • Diagram, table, chart, or visual aid

Alternatives that require work similar to what is required for a term paper, but that result in shorter documents:

  • Annotated bibliography
  • Introduction to a research paper or essay (rather than the full paper)
  • Executive summary
  • Research proposal addressed to a granting agency
  • Scientific abstract
  • Start of a term paper (the thesis statement and a detailed outline)

Alternatives that require only that students understand course material:

  • Explanation of a multiple-choice answer (students must explain why the answer they chose to a multiple-choice question is correct, or why the alternative answers are wrong)
  • Meaningful paragraph (given a list of specific terms, students must use the terms in a paragraph that demonstrates that they understand the terms and their interconnections)
  • Short-answer exam (rather than asking multiple-choice questions, make some questions short-answer, to require students to show their understanding of key concepts)

Alternatives that require integration of many skills and types of knowledge:

  • Poster (which could be presented to the class or a larger audience in a poster session)
  • Portfolio to demonstrate improvement or evolution of work and thinking over time
  • Powerpoint presentation
  • Reflection by students on what they have learned from an experience

Who Is Doing This at IUB

Ben Motz, in the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, assesses his students’ understanding of concepts in his cognitive psychology course by asking them to produce 60-second public service announcements about the concepts. He describes the project in  this CITL faculty spotlight . He has also created a course in which students apply concepts of probability and techniques of statistical analysis to managing fantasy football leagues.  His course is described in  this news release .

Professor Leah Shopkow, in the department of History, has her students create posters to demonstrate their understanding of concepts in her medieval history class. The students present the posters in a poster session that is open to the public.

Learning Outcomes

Walvoord, Barbara and Virginia Anderson (1998). Types of assignments and tests. Appendix B in Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 193 – 195.

For More Help or Information

For help in designing creative assignments,  contact the CITL  to meet with a consultant. 

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10 Creative Ways to Better Engage Your Students

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S tarting out as a young adjunct instructor, I can painfully recall reading my lesson notes from index cards as my students sat passively with blank stares. Fortunately that didn’t last long, thanks to a mentor observing my class. But I doubt my experience was much different from that of other emerging educators. After all, I had modeled these ineffective teaching practices after my own experiences as a university student.

Today, however, there has been a huge push in higher education to move beyond these passive methods of instruction that lead to less student engagement and low motivation. As Jennifer Stanchfield discovered , “More is learned through exploring and struggling than by being provided the answer.”

It’s harder than ever these days to keep our students’ attention. But I have improved my approach over the past 30 years based on the simple belief that telling is not teaching . Because of this, I am continually exploring interesting and creative ways to engage my students.

I have identified some outstanding techniques, which I will share here, that have helped to enhance my students’ engagement and motivation for learning. Many of these strategies have come from the book Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner by Himmele and Himmele, which has truly transformed my teaching. So let’s get started on transforming yours.

10 Engagement Strategies to Energize and Motivate Your Students

Before we break down specific strategies you can use to enhance participation, it’s important to understand that there are five different types of engagement: social, behavioral, emotional, intellectual, and physical. As teachers, we may organically hit two or three of these engagement types, but some we are likely to miss, especially if we’re not aware of them. I’ve struggled with ideas for how to get my students physically engaged, for example.

Below, I’ve categorized my top engagement strategies by these types to help you address all five. They have been designed for use in university classes and can easily be adapted for any area of study.


In this article, Pamela Kramer Ertel breaks down the following engagement strategies to improve student participation and enhance learning retention.

Getting to Know You

Find Someone Who…

Bounce Cards

The Lecture T-Chart

The Ripple Method

Drama, Please!

Whiteboard Splash and Gallery Walk

Inside-Outside Circles

Origami Review Game

Social Engagement: Creating Connections with Students Through Collaboration and Sharing

Social engagement involves social interactions. The key to having effective social engagement is to help students get to know and trust you and other students early in the semester. The following strategies are designed to allow students to make these important connections as they help build a collaborative learning environment of support and trust.

1. Getting to Know You

Prior to the start of a new semester, I email my students a survey to learn more about their interests and preferences. Here are the key questions I ask:

What are your career goals?

How do you learn best?

Share five facts about yourself that will help me get to know you and best meet your needs.

What are your three favorite songs or musicians?

Is there anything else you would like to share that will help me better support your learning?

I also prepare a PowerPoint presentation that I use to introduce myself on the first day of class. I share personal and professional stories and family photos with the hope that my students will feel more connected to me and thus more motivated to open up themselves. I also love sharing stories about my latest connections to the country music stars I meet in Nashville (like that time I got a huge hug from Chris Janson in church).

I then have my students create name tents: They display their names on large, folded index cards to quickly familiarize the class. I also have them use this card to draw or write brief ideas about their interests, which form the basis for how they introduce themselves to their peers.

2. Find Someone Who . . .

I plan first-day-of-class activities that give students simple opportunities to get to know one another in a light-hearted way. For one such activity, I create a template with a nine-space grid in which various criteria are listed. Students must find a different person in the class who meets the criteria listed in each grid space (see Figure 1). For example, “Find someone who is an early riser.”

As they circulate around the room, they must find someone for each grid space and fill in that person’s name. This activity serves as a great icebreaker and helps students learn each other’s names, which is important for helping them feel connected to their peers.

Find Someone Who.. grid

Pamela Kramer Ertel, Harvard Business Publishing Education, 2022.

Figure 1: Find Someone Who... is a great first-day-of-class game that gives students the opportunity to learn more about each other in a fun, light-hearted way.

Behavioral Engagement: Establishing Rules, Routines, and Roles

Behavioral engagement deals with routines and behaviors that help promote learning. It is important to teach the routines and behaviors that you want your students to use to improve the quality of peer discussions and the efficiency of class activities. These strategies also help to create a sense of security as students know what to expect from you.

For example, before my students can enter the classroom, I have them wait until I open the door, as I want to be sure I have the room prepared for the day’s activities. They also know that I will have a daily prompt posted for them to discuss with their peers as they arrive, which is designed to engage them in the lesson topic of the day.

Here are some other strategies for behavioral engagement.

3. Bounce Cards

With the “Bounce Card” strategy , I provide a card for each student that lists key questions or prompts I want them to discuss with a partner or small group. The questions can be generic so that the card can be used to discuss any topic. (For example, “Rephrase what your partner just said,” or, “That’s a great point because . . .”) The questions are designed to help students strengthen their listening skills and deepen their conversations. The prompts require students to extend, rephrase, and ask follow-up questions to their bounce partners, rather than just give a simple answer.

For example, if I ask students to discuss a video clip, they might just say whether they liked it. But using a Bounce Card forces them to dig deeper. You can adapt the questions on the card to suit your educational purposes, but for the students who struggle with conversational skills, this can be a great template for helping them develop more thoughtful responses.

4. The Lecture T-Chart

You may have noticed that sometimes as students take notes, they don’t seem to really be processing what they are learning. The “Lecture T-Chart” consists of a simple template where students record their notes on the left side of a page. Periodically throughout my lecture, I pause and have them use their own words to summarize the key ideas I’ve just presented, which they write on the right side of the template.

This pause-review-summarize process helps to strengthen comprehension and can be extended by having students share their summaries with others to further process the information through social engagement.

Emotional Engagement: Facilitating Joy, Connection, and Memories

Emotional engagement entails creating safe, positive learning experiences for everyone involved. Students will not be open to sharing their thoughts and responses in class if they feel they will be mocked or disrespected by their professor or peers.

One of the ways I create emotional connection is through music. I’ll start each class playing a different student’s favorite song or music video (based on what they told me in that initial survey). They love it and appreciate that I actually read their responses.

Here are some other strategies to emotionally engage your students.

5. The Ripple Method

Himmele and Himmele propose the use of the ripple method : Instead of just calling on students who raise their hand, you “ripple” your questions by first having each student respond individually to the prompt (either in their mind or in writing). They then share their responses with one to three peers before you open up the floor to volunteers willing to share with the whole class. This process ensures that every student has time to think of a response.

For example, I use the ripple method when I ask my students each week to share an “aha moment” from their clinical experiences. This relieves pressure for those students who are less motivated to engage in discussion. The students soon realize that their experiences are just as valid as everyone else’s and that we are all in this together. They also realize that some of their perceived failures in the field become some of their most precious learning experiences.

Intellectual Engagement: Promoting Choice, Challenge, and Curiosity

Intellectual engagement involves curiosity and meaningful explorations. Whenever possible, give students choices in terms of tasks, topics, and strategies for demonstrating their learning. The more relevant and authentic the task, the higher the level of engagement and motivation.

Here are some activities to spur curiosity and meaning.

6. Drama, Please!

Consider using problem solving, role playing, and acting as ways of demonstrating learning. You will need to be specific about your expectations, but the freedom to explore interests and determine a mode of presentation of ideas will be motivating for many students.

In my teacher education class, I have my students roleplay parent-teacher conferences. I preface this by showing a video clip from the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond . While the clip is humorous, it helps the students recognize the vulnerability of parents (and teachers) in these situations, which is an essential understanding when conducting an effective parent-teacher conference.

7. IQ Cards

IQ cards provide an interesting and efficient way for students to share insights about what they have learned, as well as raise questions after a lecture or class activity. Students write an insight (representing the “I” in IQ) on one side of an index card. This insight can be related to something new they learned during that class, or it can be a “so what” statement, indicating how this information can be applied in professional or personal practice.

On the other side of the card, the students write a question (Q) that they have about the information. Typically, I like to have students share their cards with their peers in pairs and then I collect the cards to gather informal assessment data about student learning. This works as an excellent closure activity as it reviews key lesson content and helps me assess whether students are grasping the material.

Physical Engagement: Making Movement Meaningful

Physical engagement involves some type of movement and is an often-neglected engagement strategy in the higher ed classroom. John Ratey , author of Spark (Hatchett, 2008), states that “exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function.” While time and space may be challenges to including physical movement in the classroom, small efforts to engage students physically help to keep them focused and may help change their brains by strengthening neuropathways leading to improved storage and retrieval of information.

While physical engagement can introduce novelty to your class, it’s important to think about the physical and mobile abilities of your students, and to provide accommodations and make room for modifications when necessary.

The following strategies help to engage students in movement connected with their learning.

8. Whiteboard Splash and Gallery Walk

Whiteboard Splash (sometimes known as “chalkboard splash” or “graffiti wall”) involves students responding to a prompt with words or pictures to explain an idea or concept by writing on the whiteboard (or large chart paper).

For example, I might ask my teacher education students, “What are the activities that should be included in the schedule for the first day of school for young children?” or “What are some strategies you can use to reflect on your teaching practice?” Students work individually or in small groups to illustrate their ideas. Then students circulate around the room for a “gallery walk” to view and discuss the displayed information.

To ensure that students don’t passively walk by the work, have them write down the ideas they found new, different, surprising, or worth remembering. Students can then share the results and address additional questions.

9. Inside-Outside Circles

This is one of my students’ favorite strategies for physical movement and social engagement. I have students create two concentric circles where each person is in front of or behind someone in the other circle. The inside circle group is then told to turn and face their outside circle group partner. I provide a prompt for the pairs to discuss (for example, “What are some reasons for student misbehavior?”) and set a time limit for each partner to share a brief response to the question.

Students then take turns listening to their partner’s response. Be sure to set a timer so students know when to end their conversations. Then I have the outside circle group move two places to the left so they are facing a different person. You can provide the same or a different prompt and the process repeats.

To hold students accountable, be sure to circulate and listen to the conversations so you get an idea of their level of understanding and interaction, which you can then use in conducting a closing discussion with the whole group. If space is an issue, consider using the hallway or go outdoors (weather permitting). If you have students with limited mobility, you can conduct this activity with chairs (and wheelchairs) and students can still have rich interactions. Be sure to position any students with mobility limitations in the inner circle so just the students in the outside circle have to move during the activity.

For online classes, assign pairs of students to breakout rooms and give them a short amount of time (one to two minutes) to share their ideas with their partners. Then you can randomly assign them a new partner using a new set of breakout rooms.

10. Origami Review Game

Depending on your age, you may recall playing a game with origami paper creations with questions and answers on them. Partners can take turns telling each other’s fortunes or quizzing each other. I use this often as a content review activity before exams. (You can find directions for the construction and implementation of this game here .)

Your role is to create eight close-ended questions that have simple (i.e., short) answers so they fit on the game board. (for example, “What type of engagement involves movement?” followed by the answer, “Physical engagement.”) Each pair of students receives an origami paper creation (see Figure 2), and they take turns asking each other questions from the game piece until all the questions have been covered.

Origami Review Game

Figure 2: An example of the Origami Review Game.

Keep It Fresh and Meaningful

Adding these simple but meaningful engagement strategies into my instructional practices has not only helped create a stimulating, joyful learning environment for my students, but it has also made me a more motivated teacher. I teach a three-hour class and the time now passes quickly for everyone.

Simply put: To keep our students motivated, we have to stay motivated. These strategies can help you avoid the rut of doing the same thing all the time. But keep in mind that even a clever idea can become stale if overused, so make sure to mix and match.

Just remember that novelty and fun are additional benefits of students’ cognitive engagement; they are not the main focus of our efforts. So use your class time wisely by choosing meaningful questions and engagement strategies that are related to your learning goals. If you do so, I think you’ll find that your students quickly get on board.

Pamela Kramer Ertel

Pamela Kramer Ertel is an associate professor of education at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She is a former professor and Dean of the College of Education at East Stroudsburg University and a past president of Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education. Her research interests include teacher education, student engagement, trauma-informed schools, and adoption.

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Teaching, Learning, & Professional Development Center

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How Do I Create Meaningful and Effective Assignments?

Prepared by allison boye, ph.d. teaching, learning, and professional development center.

Assessment is a necessary part of the teaching and learning process, helping us measure whether our students have really learned what we want them to learn. While exams and quizzes are certainly favorite and useful methods of assessment, out of class assignments (written or otherwise) can offer similar insights into our students' learning.  And just as creating a reliable test takes thoughtfulness and skill, so does creating meaningful and effective assignments. Undoubtedly, many instructors have been on the receiving end of disappointing student work, left wondering what went wrong… and often, those problems can be remedied in the future by some simple fine-tuning of the original assignment.  This paper will take a look at some important elements to consider when developing assignments, and offer some easy approaches to creating a valuable assessment experience for all involved.

First Things First…

Before assigning any major tasks to students, it is imperative that you first define a few things for yourself as the instructor:

  • Your goals for the assignment . Why are you assigning this project, and what do you hope your students will gain from completing it? What knowledge, skills, and abilities do you aim to measure with this assignment?  Creating assignments is a major part of overall course design, and every project you assign should clearly align with your goals for the course in general.  For instance, if you want your students to demonstrate critical thinking, perhaps asking them to simply summarize an article is not the best match for that goal; a more appropriate option might be to ask for an analysis of a controversial issue in the discipline. Ultimately, the connection between the assignment and its purpose should be clear to both you and your students to ensure that it is fulfilling the desired goals and doesn't seem like “busy work.” For some ideas about what kinds of assignments match certain learning goals, take a look at this page from DePaul University's Teaching Commons.
  • Have they experienced “socialization” in the culture of your discipline (Flaxman, 2005)? Are they familiar with any conventions you might want them to know? In other words, do they know the “language” of your discipline, generally accepted style guidelines, or research protocols?
  • Do they know how to conduct research?  Do they know the proper style format, documentation style, acceptable resources, etc.? Do they know how to use the library (Fitzpatrick, 1989) or evaluate resources?
  • What kinds of writing or work have they previously engaged in?  For instance, have they completed long, formal writing assignments or research projects before? Have they ever engaged in analysis, reflection, or argumentation? Have they completed group assignments before?  Do they know how to write a literature review or scientific report?

In his book Engaging Ideas (1996), John Bean provides a great list of questions to help instructors focus on their main teaching goals when creating an assignment (p.78):

1. What are the main units/modules in my course?

2. What are my main learning objectives for each module and for the course?

3. What thinking skills am I trying to develop within each unit and throughout the course?

4. What are the most difficult aspects of my course for students?

5. If I could change my students' study habits, what would I most like to change?

6. What difference do I want my course to make in my students' lives?

What your students need to know

Once you have determined your own goals for the assignment and the levels of your students, you can begin creating your assignment.  However, when introducing your assignment to your students, there are several things you will need to clearly outline for them in order to ensure the most successful assignments possible.

  • First, you will need to articulate the purpose of the assignment . Even though you know why the assignment is important and what it is meant to accomplish, you cannot assume that your students will intuit that purpose. Your students will appreciate an understanding of how the assignment fits into the larger goals of the course and what they will learn from the process (Hass & Osborn, 2007). Being transparent with your students and explaining why you are asking them to complete a given assignment can ultimately help motivate them to complete the assignment more thoughtfully.
  • If you are asking your students to complete a writing assignment, you should define for them the “rhetorical or cognitive mode/s” you want them to employ in their writing (Flaxman, 2005). In other words, use precise verbs that communicate whether you are asking them to analyze, argue, describe, inform, etc.  (Verbs like “explore” or “comment on” can be too vague and cause confusion.) Provide them with a specific task to complete, such as a problem to solve, a question to answer, or an argument to support.  For those who want assignments to lead to top-down, thesis-driven writing, John Bean (1996) suggests presenting a proposition that students must defend or refute, or a problem that demands a thesis answer.
  • It is also a good idea to define the audience you want your students to address with their assignment, if possible – especially with writing assignments.  Otherwise, students will address only the instructor, often assuming little requires explanation or development (Hedengren, 2004; MIT, 1999). Further, asking students to address the instructor, who typically knows more about the topic than the student, places the student in an unnatural rhetorical position.  Instead, you might consider asking your students to prepare their assignments for alternative audiences such as other students who missed last week's classes, a group that opposes their position, or people reading a popular magazine or newspaper.  In fact, a study by Bean (1996) indicated the students often appreciate and enjoy assignments that vary elements such as audience or rhetorical context, so don't be afraid to get creative!
  • Obviously, you will also need to articulate clearly the logistics or “business aspects” of the assignment . In other words, be explicit with your students about required elements such as the format, length, documentation style, writing style (formal or informal?), and deadlines.  One caveat, however: do not allow the logistics of the paper take precedence over the content in your assignment description; if you spend all of your time describing these things, students might suspect that is all you care about in their execution of the assignment.
  • Finally, you should clarify your evaluation criteria for the assignment. What elements of content are most important? Will you grade holistically or weight features separately? How much weight will be given to individual elements, etc?  Another precaution to take when defining requirements for your students is to take care that your instructions and rubric also do not overshadow the content; prescribing too rigidly each element of an assignment can limit students' freedom to explore and discover. According to Beth Finch Hedengren, “A good assignment provides the purpose and guidelines… without dictating exactly what to say” (2004, p. 27).  If you decide to utilize a grading rubric, be sure to provide that to the students along with the assignment description, prior to their completion of the assignment.

A great way to get students engaged with an assignment and build buy-in is to encourage their collaboration on its design and/or on the grading criteria (Hudd, 2003). In his article “Conducting Writing Assignments,” Richard Leahy (2002) offers a few ideas for building in said collaboration:

• Ask the students to develop the grading scale themselves from scratch, starting with choosing the categories.

• Set the grading categories yourself, but ask the students to help write the descriptions.

• Draft the complete grading scale yourself, then give it to your students for review and suggestions.

A Few Do's and Don'ts…

Determining your goals for the assignment and its essential logistics is a good start to creating an effective assignment. However, there are a few more simple factors to consider in your final design. First, here are a few things you should do :

  • Do provide detail in your assignment description . Research has shown that students frequently prefer some guiding constraints when completing assignments (Bean, 1996), and that more detail (within reason) can lead to more successful student responses.  One idea is to provide students with physical assignment handouts , in addition to or instead of a simple description in a syllabus.  This can meet the needs of concrete learners and give them something tangible to refer to.  Likewise, it is often beneficial to make explicit for students the process or steps necessary to complete an assignment, given that students – especially younger ones – might need guidance in planning and time management (MIT, 1999).
  • Do use open-ended questions.  The most effective and challenging assignments focus on questions that lead students to thinking and explaining, rather than simple yes or no answers, whether explicitly part of the assignment description or in the  brainstorming heuristics (Gardner, 2005).
  • Do direct students to appropriate available resources . Giving students pointers about other venues for assistance can help them get started on the right track independently. These kinds of suggestions might include information about campus resources such as the University Writing Center or discipline-specific librarians, suggesting specific journals or books, or even sections of their textbook, or providing them with lists of research ideas or links to acceptable websites.
  • Do consider providing models – both successful and unsuccessful models (Miller, 2007). These models could be provided by past students, or models you have created yourself.  You could even ask students to evaluate the models themselves using the determined evaluation criteria, helping them to visualize the final product, think critically about how to complete the assignment, and ideally, recognize success in their own work.
  • Do consider including a way for students to make the assignment their own. In their study, Hass and Osborn (2007) confirmed the importance of personal engagement for students when completing an assignment.  Indeed, students will be more engaged in an assignment if it is personally meaningful, practical, or purposeful beyond the classroom.  You might think of ways to encourage students to tap into their own experiences or curiosities, to solve or explore a real problem, or connect to the larger community.  Offering variety in assignment selection can also help students feel more individualized, creative, and in control.
  • If your assignment is substantial or long, do consider sequencing it. Far too often, assignments are given as one-shot final products that receive grades at the end of the semester, eternally abandoned by the student.  By sequencing a large assignment, or essentially breaking it down into a systematic approach consisting of interconnected smaller elements (such as a project proposal, an annotated bibliography, or a rough draft, or a series of mini-assignments related to the longer assignment), you can encourage thoughtfulness, complexity, and thoroughness in your students, as well as emphasize process over final product.

Next are a few elements to avoid in your assignments:

  • Do not ask too many questions in your assignment.  In an effort to challenge students, instructors often err in the other direction, asking more questions than students can reasonably address in a single assignment without losing focus. Offering an overly specific “checklist” prompt often leads to externally organized papers, in which inexperienced students “slavishly follow the checklist instead of integrating their ideas into more organically-discovered structure” (Flaxman, 2005).
  • Do not expect or suggest that there is an “ideal” response to the assignment. A common error for instructors is to dictate content of an assignment too rigidly, or to imply that there is a single correct response or a specific conclusion to reach, either explicitly or implicitly (Flaxman, 2005). Undoubtedly, students do not appreciate feeling as if they must read an instructor's mind to complete an assignment successfully, or that their own ideas have nowhere to go, and can lose motivation as a result. Similarly, avoid assignments that simply ask for regurgitation (Miller, 2007). Again, the best assignments invite students to engage in critical thinking, not just reproduce lectures or readings.
  • Do not provide vague or confusing commands . Do students know what you mean when they are asked to “examine” or “discuss” a topic? Return to what you determined about your students' experiences and levels to help you decide what directions will make the most sense to them and what will require more explanation or guidance, and avoid verbiage that might confound them.
  • Do not impose impossible time restraints or require the use of insufficient resources for completion of the assignment.  For instance, if you are asking all of your students to use the same resource, ensure that there are enough copies available for all students to access – or at least put one copy on reserve in the library. Likewise, make sure that you are providing your students with ample time to locate resources and effectively complete the assignment (Fitzpatrick, 1989).

The assignments we give to students don't simply have to be research papers or reports. There are many options for effective yet creative ways to assess your students' learning! Here are just a few:

Journals, Posters, Portfolios, Letters, Brochures, Management plans, Editorials, Instruction Manuals, Imitations of a text, Case studies, Debates, News release, Dialogues, Videos, Collages, Plays, Power Point presentations

Ultimately, the success of student responses to an assignment often rests on the instructor's deliberate design of the assignment. By being purposeful and thoughtful from the beginning, you can ensure that your assignments will not only serve as effective assessment methods, but also engage and delight your students. If you would like further help in constructing or revising an assignment, the Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Center is glad to offer individual consultations. In addition, look into some of the resources provided below.

Online Resources

“Creating Effective Assignments” http://www.unh.edu/teaching-excellence/resources/Assignments.htm This site, from the University of New Hampshire's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning,  provides a brief overview of effective assignment design, with a focus on determining and communicating goals and expectations.

Gardner, T.  (2005, June 12). Ten Tips for Designing Writing Assignments. Traci's Lists of Ten. http://www.tengrrl.com/tens/034.shtml This is a brief yet useful list of tips for assignment design, prepared by a writing teacher and curriculum developer for the National Council of Teachers of English .  The website will also link you to several other lists of “ten tips” related to literacy pedagogy.

“How to Create Effective Assignments for College Students.”  http:// tilt.colostate.edu/retreat/2011/zimmerman.pdf     This PDF is a simplified bulleted list, prepared by Dr. Toni Zimmerman from Colorado State University, offering some helpful ideas for coming up with creative assignments.

“Learner-Centered Assessment” http://cte.uwaterloo.ca/teaching_resources/tips/learner_centered_assessment.html From the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo, this is a short list of suggestions for the process of designing an assessment with your students' interests in mind. “Matching Learning Goals to Assignment Types.” http://teachingcommons.depaul.edu/How_to/design_assignments/assignments_learning_goals.html This is a great page from DePaul University's Teaching Commons, providing a chart that helps instructors match assignments with learning goals.

Additional References Bean, J.C. (1996). Engaging ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fitzpatrick, R. (1989). Research and writing assignments that reduce fear lead to better papers and more confident students. Writing Across the Curriculum , 3.2, pp. 15 – 24.

Flaxman, R. (2005). Creating meaningful writing assignments. The Teaching Exchange .  Retrieved Jan. 9, 2008 from http://www.brown.edu/Administration/Sheridan_Center/pubs/teachingExchange/jan2005/01_flaxman.pdf

Hass, M. & Osborn, J. (2007, August 13). An emic view of student writing and the writing process. Across the Disciplines, 4. 

Hedengren, B.F. (2004). A TA's guide to teaching writing in all disciplines . Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Hudd, S. S. (2003, April). Syllabus under construction: Involving students in the creation of class assignments.  Teaching Sociology , 31, pp. 195 – 202.

Leahy, R. (2002). Conducting writing assignments. College Teaching , 50.2, pp. 50 – 54.

Miller, H. (2007). Designing effective writing assignments.  Teaching with writing .  University of Minnesota Center for Writing. Retrieved Jan. 9, 2008, from http://writing.umn.edu/tww/assignments/designing.html

MIT Online Writing and Communication Center (1999). Creating Writing Assignments. Retrieved January 9, 2008 from http://web.mit.edu/writing/Faculty/createeffective.html .

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3 Ways to Use Nioxin

How to polyurethane a floor, how to access old tax returns: 9 steps, 3 ways to build shoe insoles, how to remove locking lug nuts: 6 steps, how to write an r&b song: 9 steps, 11 simple ways to get volume in hair naturally, 13 ways to respond to a narcissist ex-husband, 3 ways to sleep while having diarrhea, 3 ways to cure astigmatism, google classroom tip #43: 48 ways to manage student assignments.

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Along with instruction and assessment, assignments form the foundation of the teaching and learning process. They provide opportunities for students to practice the skills and apply the knowledge that they have been taught in a supportive environment. It also helps the teacher gauge how well students are learning the material and how close they are to mastery.

Because of the nature of assignments, managing them can get hectic. That’s why its best to use a platform like Google Classroom to help you manage assignments digitally. In today’s tip, we will discuss 48 ways that you can use Classroom to manage student assignments.

  • Assignment Status – Easily check how many students turned in an assignment as well as how many assignments have been graded by going to the Classwork tab and clicking on the title of the assignment.
  • Assign to Multiple Classes – Post an assignment to multiple classes by using the “for” drop-down menu when creating an assignment.
  • Brainstorm – Use Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, or Drawings to brainstorm for class assignments.
  • Calendar of Due Dates – Link a Google Calendar with due dates for assignments, tests, and other important dates into Classroom.
  • Check Homework – Classroom makes checking homework easy with a quick glance at the assignment page. If more detailed grading is needed, just access the grading interface for the assignment.
  • Choice Boards – Give students a choice in how they demonstrate what they know by creating a choice board and uploading it as an assignment. Choice boards allow students to choose between several assignments and can be created directly in Classroom, using Google Docs, or with third-party apps.
  • Co-Teach Classes – Invite others to co-teach in your Classroom. Each teacher is able to create assignments and post announcements for students.
  • Create Questions Before a Socratic Seminar – Create an assignment for students to develop questions before a Socratic seminar. During the collaborative process, students can eliminate duplicate questions.
  • Detention Assignment Sheet – Create a detention assignment sheet using Google Docs. The assignment sheet can then be shared with the detention teacher and individual students privately through Classroom.
  • Differentiate Assignments – Assign work to individual students or groups of students in Classroom.
  • Differentiate by Product – Differentiate by product in Classroom by providing a challenge, variety, or choice or by using a continuum with assignments.
  • Digital Portfolios – Students can create digital portfolios of their work by uploading documents, pictures, artifacts, etc. to Classroom assignments.
  • Directions Document – Use Google Docs to create instruction documents for assignments in Classroom.
  • Distribute Student Work/Homework – Use Classroom to distribute student assignments or homework to all students, groups of students, or individual students.
  • Diversify Student Submissions – Create alternative submission options for students through the assignment tool. For example, one group of students may be required to submit a Google Doc while another group is required to submit a Slides presentation.
  • Do-Now Activities – Use Classroom to post Do-Now Activities.
  • Draft Assignments – Save posts as drafts until they are ready for publishing.
  • Feedback Before Student Submits – Provide feedback to students while their assignment is still a work in progress instead of waiting until submission. This will help the student better understand assignment expectations.
  • Get Notified of Late Assignments – Select notification settings to get notified each time an assignment is turned in late.
  • Global Classroom – Partner with international teachers to create a co-teaching classroom without borders where students can work on collaborative assignments.
  • Graphic Organizers – Upload graphic organizers for students to collaborate on assignments and projects.
  • Group Collaboration – Assign multiple students to an assignment to create a collaborative group. Give students editing rights to allow them access to the same document.
  • HyperDocs – Create and upload a hyperdoc as an assignment.
  • Link to Assignments – Create links to assignments not created in Classroom.
  • Link to Class Blog – Provide the link to a class blog in Classroom.
  • Link to Next Activity – Provide a link to the next activity students must complete after finishing an assignment.
  • Make a Copy for Each Student – Chose “make a copy for each student” when uploading assignment documents to avoid students having to share one copy of the document. When a copy for each student is made, Classroom automatically adds each student’s name to the document and saves it to the Classroom folder in Google Drive.
  • Move to Top/Bottom – Move recent assignments to the top of the Classwork feed so students can find new tasks more quickly.
  • Multiple File Upload – Upload multiple files for an assignment in one post.
  • Naming Conventions for Assignments – Create a unique naming system for assignments so they can be easily found in the Classroom folder in Google Drive.
  • Offline Mode – Change settings to allow students to work in offline mode if internet connections are weak. Once an internet connection is established, students can upload assignments to Classroom.
  • One Student One Sheet – In Google Sheets, assign one tab (sheet) per student for the student to complete the assignment.
  • One Student One Slide – In Google Slides, assign one slide to each student to present findings on a topic or to complete an assignment.
  • Organize Student Work – Google Classroom automatically creates calendars and folders in Drive to keep assignments organized.
  • Peer Tutors – Assign peer tutors to help struggling students with assignments.
  • Protect Privacy – Google Classroom only allows class members to access assignments. Also, it eliminates the need to use email, which may be less private than Classroom.
  • Provide Accommodations – Provide accommodations to students with disabilities in Google Classroom by allowing extra time to turn in assignments, using text to speech functions, and third-party extensions for colored overlays.
  • Reorder Assignments by Status – Instead of organizing assignments by student first or last name, organize them by status to see which students have or have not turned in work.
  • Reuse Posts – Reuse post from prior assignments or from other Classrooms.
  • See the Process – Students don’t have to submit their assignments for you to see their work. When you chose “make a copy for each student” for assignments, each student’s work can be seen in the grading tool, even if it’s not submitted. Teachers can make comments and suggestions along the way.
  • Share Materials – Upload required materials such as the class syllabus, rules, procedures, etc. to a Class Resources Module, or upload assignment materials within the assignment.
  • Share Resources – Create a resource list or a resource module for students.
  • Share Solutions to an Assignment – Share solutions to an assignment with a collaborator or students after all assignments have been turned in.
  • Stop Repeating Directions – By posting a directions document to assignments, the need to continually repeat directions is lessened, if not eliminated altogether. Keep in mind that some students will still need directions to read orally or clarified.
  • Student Work Collection – Use Classroom to collect student work from assignments.
  • Summer Assignments – Create summer assignments for students through Classroom.
  • Templates – Create templates for projects, essays, and other student assignments.
  • Track Assignments Turned In – Keep track of which students turned in assignments by going to the grading tool.

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Google Classroom  - Creating Assignments and Materials

Google classroom  -, creating assignments and materials, google classroom creating assignments and materials.

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Google Classroom: Creating Assignments and Materials

Lesson 2: creating assignments and materials.


Creating assignments and materials

Google Classroom gives you the ability to create and assign work for your students, all without having to print anything. Questions , essays , worksheets , and readings can all be distributed online and made easily available to your class. If you haven't created a class already, check out our Getting Started with Google Classroom lesson.

Watch the video below to learn more about creating assignments and materials in Google Classroom.

Creating an assignment

Whenever you want to create new assignments, questions, or material, you'll need to navigate to the Classwork tab.

clicking the Classwork tab

In this tab, you can create assignments and view all current and past assignments. To create an assignment, click the Create button, then select Assignment . You can also select Question if you'd like to pose a single question to your students, or Material if you simply want to post a reading, visual, or other supplementary material.

clicking the Assignment option in the Create menu

This will bring up the Assignment form. Google Classroom offers considerable flexibility and options when creating assignments.

Click the buttons in the interactive below to become familiar with the Assignment form.

assignment form interactive

This is where you'll type the title of the assignment you're creating.


If you'd like to include instructions with your assignment, you can type them here.

Here, you can decide how many points an assignment is worth by typing the number in the form. You can also click the drop-down arrow to select Ungraded if you don't want to grade an assignment.

You can select a due date for an assignment by clicking this arrow and selecting a date from the calendar that appears. Students will have until then to submit their work.

In Google Classroom, you can sort your assignments and materials into topics. This menu allows you to select an existing topic or create a new one to place an assignment under.


You can attach files from your computer , files from Google Drive , URLs , and YouTube videos to your assignments.

Google Classroom gives you the option of sending assignments to all students or a select number .

Once you're happy with the assignment you've created, click Assign . The drop-down menu also gives you the option to Schedule  an assignment if you'd like it to post it at a later date.

You can attach a rubric to help students know your expectations for the assignment and to give them feedback.

Once you've completed the form and clicked Assign , your students will receive an email notification letting them know about the assignment.

Google Classroom takes all of your assignments and automatically adds them to your Google Calendar. From the Classwork tab, you can click Google Calendar to pull this up and get a better overall view of the timeline for your assignments' due dates.

clicking Google Calendar

Using Google Docs with assignments

When creating an assignment, there may often be times when you want to attach a document from Google Docs. These can be helpful when providing lengthy instructions, study guides, and other material.

When attaching these types of files, you'll want to make sure to choose the correct setting for how your students can interact with it . After attaching one to an assignment, you'll find a drop-down menu with three options.

selecting the Students Can View File option

Let's take a look at when you might want to use each of these:

  • Students can view file : Use this option if the file is simply something you want your students to view but not make any changes to.
  • Students can edit file : This option can be helpful if you're providing a document you want your students to collaborate on or fill out collectively.
  • Make a copy for each student : If you're creating a worksheet or document that you want each student to complete individually, this option will create a separate copy of the same document for every student.

Using topics

On the Classwork tab, you can use  topics to sort and group your assignments and material. To create a topic, click the Create button, then select Topic .

clicking the Topic option in the Create menu

Topics can be helpful for organizing your content into the various units you teach throughout the year. You could also use it to separate your content by type , splitting it into homework, classwork, readings, and other topic areas.

showing a class with three topics

In our next lesson , we'll explore how to create quizzes and worksheets with Google Forms, further expanding how you can use Google Classroom with your students.



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Teaching Students to Manage Their Digital Assignments

Predictable routines can teach students how to use organizational tools and help them develop their executive function skills.

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You just wrapped up an invigorating conversation with your 10th-grade students. They contributed brilliant ideas, and you’re looking forward to reading the written reflections you assigned for homework. But when you log into Google Classroom the next day to grade their work, you find that nearly half of your students didn’t submit the assignment. Only two-thirds of them even opened the document.

Sound familiar? 

So many students who are engaged in real-world learning activities struggle to complete assignments in the digital world. Digital work is often out of sight and out of mind the moment they leave our classrooms. It can cause teachers and parents to wonder if being organized is even possible in our tech-focused society. 

1-to-1 Devices are Permanent Fixtures in Today’s Classroom 

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic pushed most schools into a virtual teaching model, students spent much of their instructional time on a device. A 2019 study out of Arlington Public Schools found that middle school students spent 47 percent of their time and high school students spent 68 percent of their time on a device. Findings from the study suggest that devices are frequently used for “reference and research, presentations and projects, and feedback and assessment.” 

By the return to in-person learning, 90 percent of students had access to a one-to-one device for school, and it’s evident that technology in the classroom (and workplace) is here to stay.  

Teaching Digital Organization Skills is Key

Although they have access to a myriad of digital organization tools ( myHomework , Evernote , Google Keep , and Coggle , to name a few), students may still struggle to organize their assignments and complete them from start to submission. We often assume that students can transfer organizational skills from the real world to the digital world, and we often ask them to quickly and seamlessly transition from hard-copy work (reading a chapter in a novel, completing a science experiment) to digital work, such as writing a reflection in Google Docs and submitting it to a learning management system (LMS). 

Digital files are perceivable to the human brain, but they aren’t tangible in the same way that binders, notebooks, and folders are. And while an LMS may aid students’ access to information, it doesn’t do the heavy lifting of organizing information and prioritizing tasks. These actions are highly demanding cognitive skills that students can be taught and practice in the digital world—even if students have already perfected them in the analog world. 

Teachers can prioritize strategic, direct instruction of organizational and other executive functioning skills for a tech-focused world. 

Streamline Your Classroom Resources 

The first step in helping students organize digital work is to organize your classroom resources on the back end. In coordination with your department, grade level, or district, choose one LMS and three to four instructional resources, and stick with them for the entire year. For example, you could select Google Classroom as your LMS and use PearDeck, Google Calendar, and EdPuzzle as instructional resources. 

Though it’s tempting to adopt new and exciting technology as it evolves, a revolving door of programs is difficult for students to juggle and can lead to app fatigue. 

Teachers can further streamline their classroom resources by color-coding folders and files in their chosen LMS, posting log-in directions in easily accessible locations, and offering a landing page in their LMS that holds all of the links to digital resources. 

Create Predictable Routines Around Digital Work 

Next, it’s important for teachers to create clear and predictable routines around organizing digital assignments.   

One routine that I’ve developed in my classroom is a living table of contents document. I create and print out a blank table of contents for each unit, and students house them in their binders. I then project the table of contents at the start of each class with the day’s newest assignments, and students fill in these new items on their hard copies when they settle in. Each assignment is numbered, and assignments located online that won’t appear in their binders are labeled with an “S” (for us, that stands for Schoology) to note that the assignment is in our LMS.

Another predictable routine is entering homework assignments into Google Calendar or agenda books together at the end of every class. Prompting students to write down their homework may seem elementary, but even older students appreciate the predictability and consistency of this routine because it reduces anxiety (rushing to write it down before the teacher moves on) and frees up brain space for critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving.

If you’re not sure that your current routine is clear and predictable, consider whether or not students could replicate your system in your absence. If students can’t get through the routine on their own, your routine may need to be articulated more clearly (such as being posted somewhere in the classroom), or it may need to be implemented more consistently.

Model a Variety of Organizational Strategies 

Similar to the process of how academic skills are acquired, teachers can model organizational skills for students. Consider creating opportunities to demonstrate strategies such as how and where to save documents, how to sync information across devices, how to share calendar events with peers and parents, and how to plan for long-term projects. 

You can also help students get more comfortable with organizational strategies by sharing “think-alouds” for task initiation, task prioritization, and time management. Consider using common language for reminding and prompting. For example, at the start of every new assignment, you could say something like, “Now that I’m ready to start, I’m going to open up Schoology, Google, and a Word document and close out of other tabs.”

Because executive functioning skills are not innate, providing language for them allows students to identify them, replicate them, and use tools to do them more quickly. Prioritizing these skills can improve student outcomes and prepare students for an increasingly tech-focused world.

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To engage students, give them meaningful choices in the classroom

By Frieda Parker, Jodie Novak, Tonya Bartell | Oct 1, 2017 | Feature Article

To engage students, give them meaningful choices in the classroom

It’s important to give students influence over how and what they learn in the classroom. But not all choices are equal. Teachers should structure learning scenarios that equip students with opportunities to strengthen their autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Giving student real choices in the classroom — having to do with the material they study, the assignments they complete, the peers with whom they work, and so on — can boost their engagement and motivation, allow them to capitalize on their strengths, and enable them to meet their individual learning needs. But, like most teaching strategies, the structuring of choices for students can go very well, and it can go very badly — the nuances make all the difference.

Teachers need to understand how individuals and groups of students are likely to respond to any given opportunity to make consequential choices about the goals, activities, and experiences they wish to pursue in the classroom. To illustrate, we describe three cases in which high school mathematics teachers presented their students with choices. (Although these three vignettes feature secondary math classrooms, we argue that their lessons can generalize to other settings and subject areas.) We begin with the case of Ms. R, who found that when she gave her students a specific choice to make, she saw noticeably improved engagement in learning. Next, we describe the case of Ms. C, who provided a similar choice to her students but was disappointed with their response. We then discuss the ways in which students’ feelings determined how they responded to the given choices, and we describe a third case, which illustrates how teachers can structure choices that are likely to support student engagement.

The Case of Ms. R – Choice improving student engagement

Once a week, Ms. R gave students in her Algebra I class a choice of activities to work on. On these “work days,” as students called them, Ms. R offered a set of three to four activities. Each student could select the activity that featured the skill that they thought they needed to work on the most. Before implementing these work days, Ms. R was concerned that students might not use their time wisely, so she made sure to give them plenty of work to do, including supplemental practice problems.

Initially, when she introduced the work days, students found it difficult to choose an activity. Ms. R believed this was because students had little experience making choices in school, and they were in the habit of letting their teachers make all the decisions. Thus, she made it a priority to teach them, explicitly, how to choose an appropriate activity.

By the third week, students were comfortable selecting activities and were productive in their work. Ms. R was pleasantly surprised to observe that her students spent more time helping each other and even policing each other’s behavior, calling out peers whose behavior was distracting or who weren’t being productive. Overall, she found that students knew what they needed to work on and when they needed help, and they used their time accordingly. This meant students spent more time on-task and asked for her help less often. As a result, Ms. R. was able to spend more time checking on students’ progress and helping those who genuinely needed her assistance. Ms. R was happy to learn she could trust students to make positive choices.

The Case of Ms. C – Choice not improving student engagement

In her Algebra I class, Ms. C offered a choice activity that appeared to similar to the one that Ms. R offered, only the result was quite different. During a unit on inequalities, she presented students with four problem sets (each consisting of eight problems), each one pegged to a certain level of difficulty. They should each choose one or two problems from two of the four levels, she explained, advising students to choose problems based on their self-assessment of their readiness for each level.

By the end of class, Ms. C was disappointed with her students. Most were treating the problems like busywork, rushing through them without giving them much thought. Further, most students picked problems from the easiest two levels, even though Ms. C knew that some of them were ready to work at levels three and four.

What makes choices engaging? Autonomy, competence, and relatedness Judging by the research literature on choice in the classroom, itǯs not unusual to see the very different outcomes experienced by Ms. R and Ms. C — some studies show that choice positively influences student motivation and learning (e.g., Assor, Kaplan, & Roth, 2002), while others indicate that choice has either no or even a negative effect (e.g.,D’Ailly, 2004). To explain these conflicting outcomes, psychologists Idit Katz and Avi Assor (2006) have argued that what matters most isn’t the kind of choice given to students but, rather, how students perceive the choice provided to them: When students associate feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness with choice, then choice is most likely to result in beneficial outcomes, such as student engagement.

Students feel autonomous when they understand the value or relevance of a task, particularly if they believe that the task aligns with their values, interests, and goals. It comes not just from participating in the process of choosing but, rather, from having a sense that the choice is personally meaningful. Students must see real differences in the importance or relevance of the choices at hand, and they must find at least one option to be worth choosing. In short, while Ms. R and Ms. C each gave students a choice of tasks, there was something about the set of choices that Ms. R created that made her students feel that those choices were meaningfully different. Evidently, Ms. C’s students did not feel this way.

Students feel competent when they believe they know what to do to be successful and feel capable of mastering challenges. To engender competence, students must perceive choosing the task and doing the selected work as appropriately difficult. When people are confronted with too many choices or believe the selection process is too complex, they opt for an easier choice method such as choosing a default, choosing randomly, choosing not to choose, or letting someone else choose for them. Teachers, then, must make the selection process appropriate for students in terms of the number of choices and the ways in which students are expected to choose.

Students feel competent when they believe they know what to do to be successful and feel capable of mastering challenges.

Ms. R provided only three to four choices, she was explicit with her students that they choose activities they felt would best address their learning needs, and she made a point of providing explicit instruction in how to make good choices. In contrast, Ms. C told students to choose two out of four problem levels and then one to two problems out of eight problems in each level. This required two stages of choice, and it wasn’t clear that students knew how to make a good choice at either of those stages. It seem likely that they were overwhelmed by the range of choices at hand, so they opted for the easiest choices they could make.

The other part of engendering competence is that students must be able to choose tasks that are appropriately challenging. That is, possible tasks should not all be too easy or too hard. In Ms. R’s case, students appeared able to find tasks that engaged them and that they could successfully complete on their own or with help from peers or Ms. R. The problems in Ms. C’s packet may have been similarly appropriate but perhaps due to the high cognitive demand of choosing from among 32 problems, most students did not find problems best suited for them.


A sense of relatedness stems from feeling close to people or a sense of belonging in a group. Choice can influence student’s feelings of relatedness differently depending on their beliefs. Students with more collectivist beliefs value relationships and making contributions to group efforts and can see individual choice as a threat to group harmony. Students with more hierarchical beliefs value the role of authority figures and can see choice as a threat to acceptance from people in authority, such as teachers. People with individualistic beliefs value personal goals over group goals and tend to value choice as a means of demonstrating independence and expressing individuality. However, choice can undermine a sense of relatedness for students with individualistic beliefs if they perceive their choices could lead to rejection, humiliation, or teasing. Ms. R gave students choices that did not seem to interfere with, and possibly supported, students’ sense of relatedness as they worked more closely on “work days” than on other days. But students’ sense of relatedness in Ms. C’s classroom is not clear because she provided the choice for only one day, and students didn’t appear to perceive the choice as supporting autonomy or competence.

Learning from choice outcomes

So, how might Ms. C learn from her disappointing experience in providing choices to her students? First, she could have conjectured why students might not have associated feelings of autonomy, competence, or relatedness with the choice she provided them. Reasoning as described above, she might hypothesize that the process of choice was too complex, and students might not have had good strategies for choosing appropriate problems. To check her thinking and get more ideas, Ms. C could then ask students why they responded to the worksheet as they did. For instance, she might ask:

  • Why did you pick only levels one and two?
  • Why did you do only one problem at each level instead of two?
  • Did you find the problems helpful to do? Why or why not?
  • What might have made this activity better for you to practice solving problems involving inequalities?

Students are often quite insightful about their learning needs. In talking with students, teachers might find that the fundamental structure of the choice they provided the students was not conducive for students’ feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. However, like Ms. R, teachers might find that changing the choice structure is not necessary; instead what is needed is helping students understand the rationale for the choice and how to productively make choices. And, of course, improving choice may involve some combination of changing the choice structure along with educating students about how to use choice to learn.

Students who associate a choice with feeling autonomous, competence, and in relationship with others are more likely to be engaged with the learning.

Next, we provide one more case to show a different choice structure, how this choice related to students’ feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, and the type of student engagement choice can foster. Student engagement can sometimes be garnered by providing relatively small and simple choices to students. The case of Ms. H illustrates this.

The Case of Ms. H — Small choice, big engagement

Every day, Ms. H prepared two warm-up problems, each with the same mathematical content but situated in different contexts — for example, one problem might have to do with hiking and the other with flying. The two contexts were always on the board, and during the first minute of class, students were allowed to vote for the one that interested them. In order to make sure that they could vote, some students began to arrive to class early, and overall, the number of students who were late went down. The motivation to select a context carried over into actually doing the warm-up problem. According to Ms. H, all students began to actively engage in doing the warm-up, which had not occurred before she began offering students the choice of contexts.

After the first week of voting for the warm-up problem context, students asked Ms. H if they could suggest contexts. Ms. H agreed and students put suggestions in a hat, from which she drew contexts for the next day’s warm-up. After two weeks of doing the warm-up voting, Ms. H tried to stop, but students loudly objected, so Ms. H continued providing the choice. Tardies continued to remain low, and student engagement in the warm-up problems remained high.

The success of Ms. H’s warm-up context choice can be explained by its influence on students’ feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Students’ feelings of autonomy were likely fostered because most students found at least one context meaningful to them, which was probably strengthened when students began suggesting contexts. Students likely felt competent making this choice because choosing was relatively simple, and the actual warm-up problem appeared appropriately challenging for most students, as indicated by their level of engagement. The fact that students worked productively on whichever warm-up problem was selected suggests the choice did not interfere with students’ sense of relatedness. Thus, Ms. H’s experience demonstrates that relatively simple choices can foster the key feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, and consequently even simple choices can improve student engagement.

Teachers have described to us any number of ways in which they provide choice to students, including giving them opportunities to choose work partners, seating arrangements, homework problems, assessment problems, and ways of being assessed.

Like Ms. R, many teachers are initially concerned that students will not respond well to having choices. Ms. R addressed her concern by making sure to have plenty of work available for students to do; other teachers make it a point to be explicit with students about why they are providing choices, and they request student feedback on whether they value the choice. Whatever strategy they choose, though, teachers can increase the likelihood their students will value choice by analyzing how students associate feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness with the choice provided them. While this might take some trial and error, finding the right choice structures for students can be a powerful tool for fostering student engagement.

Assor, A., Kaplan, H., & Roth, G. (2002). Choice is good but relevance is excellent: Autonomy affecting teacher behaviors that predict students’ engagement in learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 261–278.

D’Ailly, H. (2004). The role of choice in children’s learning: A distinctive cultural and gender difference in efficacy, interest, and effort. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 36, 17–29.

Katz, I. & Assor, A. (2007). When choice motivates and when it does not. Educational Psychology Review, 19 (4), 429-444.

Citation:  Parker, F., Novak, J, & Bartell, T. (2017). To engage students, give them meaningful choices in the classroom.   Phi Delta Kappan 99  (2), 37-41.

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Frieda Parker

FRIEDA PARKER is an assistant professor of mathematics at University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colo.

Jodie Novak

JODIE NOVAK is an assistant professor of mathematics at University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colo.

Tonya Bartell

TONYA BARTELL is an associate professor of mathematics education, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.

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Creative Ways to Design Assignments for Student Success

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There are many creative ways in which teachers can design assignments to support student success. We can do this while simultaneously not getting bogged down with the various obstructions that keep students from both completing and learning from the assignments. For me, assignments fall into two categories: those that are graded automatically, such as SmartBook® readings and quizzes in Connect®; and those that I need to grade by hand, such as writing assignments.  

For those of us teaching large, introductory classes, most of our assignments are graded automatically, which is great for our time management. But our students will ultimately deliver a plethora of colorful excuses as to why they were not completed and why extensions are warranted. How do we give them a little leeway to make the semester run more smoothly, so there are fewer worries about a reading that was missed or a quiz that went by too quickly? Here are a few tactics I use. 

Automatically graded assignments: 

Multiple assignment attempts  

  • This eases the mental pressure of a timed assignment and covers computer mishaps or human error on the first attempt. 
  • You can deduct points for every attempt taken if you are worried about students taking advantage. 

Automatically dropped assignments  

  • Within a subset or set of assignments, automatically drop a few from grading. This can take care of all excuses for missing an assignment. 
  • Additionally, you can give a little grade boost to those who complete all their assignments (over a certain grade). 

Due dates  

  • Consider staggering due dates during the week instead of making them all due on Sunday night.  
  • Set the due date for readings the night before you cover the material, so students are prepared.  


  • If we want our students to read, then make a reading assignment a requirement of a quiz. 

The tactics above might be applied to written assignments, too. An easy way to bolster a student’s interest and investment in these longer assignments is to give them a choice. This could be in the topic, location of study, or presentation style. For example, if you want them to analyze the susceptibility of a beach to hurricane threat, why not let them choose the location? In this way, you will also be gaining a lot of new information for your own use. 

With a small amount of effort, we can design our classes, so students concentrate on learning the subject matter rather than the logistics of completing the assignments. 

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How to Motivate Students: 12 Classroom Tips & Examples

How to motivate students

Inspire. Instill drive. Incite excitement. Stimulate curiosity.

These are all common goals for many educators. However, what can you do if your students lack motivation? How do you light that fire and keep it from burning out?

This article will explain and provide examples of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the classroom. Further, we will provide actionable methods to use right now in your classroom to motivate the difficult to motivate. Let’s get started!

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free . These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your students create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.

This Article Contains:

The science of motivation explained, how to motivate students in the classroom, 9 ways teachers can motivate students, encouraging students to ask questions: 3 tips, motivating students in online classes, helpful resources from positivepsychology.com, a take-home message.

Goal-directed activities are started and sustained by motivation. “Motivational processes are personal/internal influences that lead to outcomes such as choice, effort, persistence, achievement, and environmental regulation” (Schunk & DiBenedetto, 2020). There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation is internal to a person.

For example, you may be motivated to achieve satisfactory grades in a foreign language course because you genuinely want to become fluent in the language. Students like this are motivated by their interest, enjoyment, or satisfaction from learning the material.

Not surprisingly, intrinsic motivation is congruous with higher performance and predicts student performance and higher achievement (Ryan & Deci, 2020).

Extrinsic motivation is derived from a more external source and involves a contingent reward (Benabou & Tirole, 2003).

For example, a student may be motivated to achieve satisfactory grades in a foreign language course because they receive a tangible reward or compliments for good grades. Their motivation is fueled by earning external rewards or avoiding punishments. Rewards may even include approval from others, such as parents or teachers.

Self-determination theory addresses the why of behavior and asserts that there are various motivation types that lie on a continuum, including external motivation, internal motivation, and amotivation (Sheehan et al., 2018).

Motivating students

  • Relatedness

Student autonomy is the ownership they take of their learning or initiative.

Generate students’ autonomy by involving them in decision-making. Try blended learning, which combines whole class lessons with independent learning. Teach accountability by holding students accountable and modeling and thinking aloud your own accountability.

In addressing competence, students must feel that they can succeed and grow. Assisting students in developing their self-esteem is critical. Help students see their strengths and refer to their strengths often. Promote a kid’s growth mindset .

Relatedness refers to the students’ sense of belonging and connection. Build this by establishing relationships. Facilitate peer connections by using team-building exercises and encouraging collaborative learning. Develop your own relationship with each student. Explore student interests to develop common ground.

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Motivating students while teaching a subject and providing classroom management is definitely a juggling act. Try introducing a few of the suggestions below and see what happens.


First and foremost, it is critical to develop relationships with your students. When students begin formal schooling, they need to develop quality relationships, as interpersonal relationships in the school setting influence children’s development and positively impact student outcomes, which includes their motivation to learn, behavior, and cognitive skills (McFarland et al., 2016).

Try administering interest inventories at the beginning of the school year. Make a point to get to know each student and demonstrate your interest by asking them about their weekend, sports game, or other activities they may participate in.

Physical learning environment

Modify the physical learning environment. Who says students need to sit in single-file rows all facing the front of the room or even as desks for that matter?

Flexible seating is something you may want to try. Students who are comfortable in a learning space are better engaged, which leads to more meaningful, impactful learning experiences (Cole et al., 2021). You may try to implement pillows, couches, stools, rocking chairs, rolling chairs, bouncing chairs, or even no chairs at all.

Include parents

Involve parents and solicit their aid to help encourage students. Parents are a key factor in students’ motivation (Tóth-Király et al., 2022).

It is important to develop your relationship with these crucial allies. Try making positive phone calls home prior to the negative phone calls to help build an effective relationship. Involve parents by sending home a weekly newsletter or by inviting them into your classroom for special events. Inform them that you are a team and have the same goals for their child.

The relevance of the material is critical for instilling motivation. Demonstrating why the material is useful or tying the material directly to students’ lives is necessary for obtaining student interest.

It would come as no surprise that if a foreign language learner is not using relevant material, it will take longer for that student to acquire the language and achieve their goals (Shatz, 2014). If students do not understand the importance or real-world application for what they are learning, they may not be motivated to learn.

Student-centered learning

Student-centered learning approaches have been proven to be more effective than teacher-centered teaching approaches (Peled et al., 2022).

A student-centered approach engages students in the learning process, whereas a teacher-centered approach involves the teacher delivering the majority of the information. This type of teaching requires students to construct meaning from new information and prior experience.

Give students autonomy and ownership of what they learn. Try enlisting students as the directors of their own learning and assign project-based learning activities.

Find additional ways to integrate technology. Talk less and encourage the students to talk more. Involving students in decision-making and providing them opportunities to lead are conducive to a student-centered learning environment.

Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning is definitely a strategy to implement in the classroom. There are both cognitive and motivational benefits to collaborative learning (Järvelä et al., 2010), and social learning theory is a critical lens with which to examine motivation in the classroom.

You may try assigning group or partner work where students work together on a common task. This is also known as cooperative learning. You may want to offer opportunities for both partner and small group work. Allowing students to choose their partners or groups and assigning partners or groups should also be considered.

Alternative answering

Have you ever had a difficult time getting students to answer your questions? Who says students need to answer verbally? Try using alternative answering methods, such as individual whiteboards, personal response systems such as “clickers,” or student response games such as Kahoot!

Quizlet is also an effective method for obtaining students’ answers (Setiawan & Wiedarti, 2020). Using these tools allows every student to participate, even the timid students, and allows the teacher to perform a class-wide formative assessment on all students.

New teaching methods

Vary your teaching methods. If you have become bored with the lessons you are delivering, it’s likely that students have also become bored.

Try new teaching activities, such as inviting a guest speaker to your classroom or by implementing debates and role-play into your lessons. Teacher and student enjoyment in the classroom are positively linked, and teachers’ displayed enthusiasm affects teacher and student enjoyment (Frenzel et al., 2009).

Perhaps check out our article on teacher burnout to reignite your spark in the classroom. If you are not enjoying yourself, your students aren’t likely to either.

Asking questions

Aside from encouraging students to answer teacher questions, prompting students to ask their own questions can also be a challenge.

When students ask questions, they demonstrate they are thinking about their learning and are engaged. Further, they are actively filling the gaps in their knowledge. Doğan and Yücel-Toy (2020, p. 2237) posit:

“The process of asking questions helps students understand the new topic, realize others’ ideas, evaluate their own progress, monitor learning processes, and increase their motivation and interest on the topic by arousing curiosity.”

Student-created questions are critical to an effective learning environment. Below are a few tips to help motivate students to ask questions.

Instill confidence and a safe environment

Students need to feel safe in their classrooms. A teacher can foster this environment by setting clear expectations of respect between students. Involve students in creating a classroom contract or norms.

Refer to your classroom’s posted contract or norms periodically to review student expectations. Address any deviation from these agreements and praise students often. Acknowledge all students’ responses, no matter how wild or off-topic they may be.

Graphic organizers

Provide students with graphic organizers such as a KWL chart. The KWL chart helps students organize what they already Know , what they Want to learn, and what they Learned .

Tools such as these will allow students to process their thinking and grant them time to generate constructive questions. Referring to this chart will allow more timid students to share their questions.

Although intrinsic motivation is preferred (Ryan & Deci, 2020), incentives should also be used when appropriate. Token systems, where students can exchange points for items, are an effective method for improving learning and positively affecting student behavior (Homer et al., 2018).

Tangible and intangible incentives may be used to motivate students if they have not developed intrinsic motivation. Intangible items may include lunch with the teacher, a coupon to only complete half of an assignment, or a show-and-tell session. Of course, a good old-fashioned treasure box may help as well.

If students are unwilling to ask questions in front of the class, try implementing a large poster paper where students are encouraged to use sticky notes to write down their questions. Teachers may refer to the questions and answer them at a separate time. This practice is called a “parking lot.” Also, consider allowing students to share questions in small groups or with partners.

Student motivation: how to motivate students to learn

Just as in the face-to-face setting, relationships are crucial for online student motivation as well. Build relationships by getting to know your students’ interests. Determining student interests will also be key in the virtual environment.

Try incorporating a show-and-tell opportunity where students can display and talk about objects from around their home that are important to them. Peer-to-peer relationships should also be encouraged, and accomplishing this feat in an online class can be difficult. Here is a resource you can use to help plan team-building activities to bring your students together.

Game-based response systems such as Kahoot! may increase motivation. These tools use gamification to encourage motivation and engagement.

Incentives may also be used in the computer-based setting. Many schools have opted to use Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Rewards . This curriculum nurtures a positive school culture and aims to improve student behavior. Points are earned by students meeting expectations and can be exchanged for items in an online store.

To further develop strong relationships with students and parents, remark on the relevancy of the materials and instill a student-centered learning approach that addresses autonomy. You may also wish to include alternative means of answering questions, vary your teaching methods, and implement collaborative learning.

students like assignments

17 Tools To Increase Motivation and Goal Achievement

These 17 Motivation & Goal Achievement Exercises [PDF] contain all you need to help others set meaningful goals, increase self-drive, and experience greater accomplishment and life satisfaction.

Created by Experts. 100% Science-based.

We have many useful articles and worksheets you can use with your students. To get an excellent start on the foundations of motivation, we recommend our article What Is Motivation? A Psychologist Explains .

If you’re curious about intrinsic motivation, you may be interested in What Is Intrinsic Motivation? 10 Examples and Factors Explained . And if you wish to learn more about extrinsic motivation, What Is Extrinsic Motivation? 9 Everyday Examples and Activities may be of interest to you.

Perhaps using kids’ reward coupons such as these may help increase motivation. Teachers could modify the coupons to fit their classroom or share these exact coupons with parents at parent–teacher conferences to reinforce children’s efforts at school .

For some students, coloring is an enjoyable and creative outlet. Try using a coloring sheet such as this Decorating Cookies worksheet for when students complete their work or as a reward for good behavior.

These 17 Motivation and Goal Achievement Exercises were designed for professionals to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques. You can consider these exercises to better understand your own motivation or tweak some activities for younger learners.

“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”

C. S. Lewis

While we know how challenging it is to motivate students while teaching our specific subjects and attending to classroom management, we also understand the importance of motivation.

You will have some students enter your classroom with unequivocally developed intrinsic motivation, and you will have students enter your classroom with absolutely no motivation.

Teachers have to be able to teach everyone who walks into their classroom and incite motivation in those who have no motivation at all. Motivating the difficult to motivate is challenging; however, it can be done.

As Plutarch asserted, it is better to think of education as “a fire to be kindled” as opposed to “a vessel to be filled.” In addressing the needs of students with little to no motivation, it will take more time, patience, and understanding; however, implementing a few of these strategies will put you on the fast track to lighting that fire.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free .

  • Benabou, R., & Tirole, J. (2003). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The Review of Economic Studies , 70 (3), 489–495
  • Cole, K., Schroeder, K., Bataineh, M., & Al-Bataineh, A. (2021). Flexible seating impact on classroom environment. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology-TOJET , 20 (2), 62–74.
  • Doğan, F., & Yücel-Toy, B. (2020). Development of an attitude scale towards asking questions for elementary education students. Ilkogretim Online, 19 (4), 2237–2248.
  • Frenzel, A. C., Goetz, T., Lüdtke, O., Pekrun, R., & Sutton, R. E. (2009). Emotional transmission in the classroom: Exploring the relationship between teacher and student enjoyment. Journal of Educational Psychology , 101 (3), 705–716.
  • Homer, R., Hew, K. F., & Tan, C. Y. (2018). Comparing digital badges-and-points with classroom token systems: Effects on elementary school ESL students’ classroom behavior and English learning. Journal of Educational Technology & Society , 21 (1), 137–151.
  • Järvelä, S., Volet, S., & Järvenoja, H. (2010). Research on motivation in collaborative learning: Moving beyond the cognitive–situative divide and combining individual and social processes. Educational Psychologist , 45 (1), 15–27.
  • Kippers, W. B., Wolterinck, C. H., Schildkamp, K., Poortman, C. L., & Visscher, A. J. (2018). Teachers’ views on the use of assessment for learning and data-based decision making in classroom practice. Teaching and Teacher Education , 75 , 199–213.
  • McFarland, L., Murray, E., & Phillipson, S. (2016). Student–teacher relationships and student self-concept: Relations with teacher and student gender. Australian Journal of Education , 60 (1), 5–25.
  • Peled, Y., Blau, I., & Grinberg, R. (2022). Crosschecking teachers’ perspectives on learning in a one-to-one environment with their actual classroom behavior: A longitudinal study. Education and Information Technologies , 1–24.
  • Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2020). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation from a self-determination theory perspective: Definitions, theory, practices, and future directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology , 61 , 101860.
  • Schunk, D. H., & DiBenedetto, M. K. (2020). Motivation and social cognitive theory. Contemporary Educational Psychology , 60 , 101832.
  • Setiawan, M. R., & Wiedarti, P. (2020). The effectiveness of Quizlet application towards students’ motivation in learning vocabulary. Studies in English Language and Education , 7 (1), 83–95.
  • Shatz, I. (2014). Parameters for assessing the effectiveness of language learning strategies. Journal of Language and Cultural Education , 2 (3), 96–103.
  • Sheehan, R. B., Herring, M. P., & Campbell, M. J. (2018). Associations between motivation and mental health in sport: A test of the hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Frontiers in Psychology , 9 , 707.
  • Tóth-Király, I., Morin, A. J., Litalien, D., Valuch, M., Bőthe, B., Orosz, G., & Rigó, A. (2022). Self-determined profiles of academic motivation. Motivation and Emotion , 1–19.

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10 Types of Assignments in Online Degree Programs

Students may respond to recorded video lectures, participate in discussion boards and write traditional research papers.

students like assignments

(Getty Images) |

Learn What to Expect

Experts say online degree programs are just as rigorous as those offered on campus. Prospective online students should expect various types of coursework suited for a virtual environment, such as discussion boards or wikis, or more traditional research papers and group projects .

Here are 10 types of assignments you may encounter in online courses.

Businesswoman working at laptop

Read or Watch, Then Respond

An instructor provides a recorded lecture, article or book chapter and requires students to answer questions. Students generally complete the assignment at their own pace, so long as they meet the ultimate deadline, Bradley Fuster, associate vice president of institutional effectiveness at SUNY Buffalo State , wrote in a recent U.S. News blog post .

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(Jessica Peterson | Getty Images)

Discussion Boards

The discussion forum is a major part of many online classes, experts say, and often supplements weekly coursework. Generally, the professor poses a question, and students respond to the prompt as well as each other. Sometimes, students must submit their own post before seeing classmates' answers.

"Good response posts are response posts that do not only agree or disagree," Noam Ebner, who then led the online graduate program in negotiation and conflict resolution at Creighton University 's law school, told U.S. News in 2015. "When you read another student's post, you have the ability to expand the conversation."

Businessman having teleconference on laptop in office

(Ariel Skelley | Getty Images)

Group Projects

Just because online students may live around the world doesn't mean they won't complete group work. Students may use Google Docs to edit assignments, email to brainstorm ideas and software such as Zoom to videoconference. Katy Katz, who earned an online MBA in 2013 at Benedictine University in Illinois, used both Skype and a chat feature in her online classroom to communicate with classmates.

"That was a good way for our instructor to see that everyone was participating," she told U.S. News in 2015. "Any planning we did – if there were going to be changes to meeting times – we would communicate in that chat area."

Serious Caucasian businessman using laptop

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Virtual Presentations

Students may also give either live or recorded presentations to their classmates. At Colorado State University—Global Campus , for example, students use various video technologies and microphones for oral presentations, or software such as Prezi for more visual assignments, says Karen Ferguson, the online school's vice provost.

Oftentimes, Ferguson says, "They're using the technology that they will use in their field."

Webcam on computer monitor

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Like on-campus courses, online courses may have exams , depending on the discipline. These may be proctored at a local testing center, or an actual human may monitor online students through their webcam. Companies such as ProctorU make this possible.

In other cases, students may take online exams while being monitored by a computer. Automated services including ProctorTrack can keep track of what's happening on an online student's screen in case there are behaviors that may indicate cheating.

Woman using laptop computer with wireless internet connection on kitchen table next to a pile of old books. Flowers on kitchen windowsill in background.

(Dr T J Martin | Getty Images)

Research Papers

Formal research papers, wrote Buffalo State's Fuster, remain common in online courses, as this type of writing is important in many disciplines, especially at the graduate level .

While there are few differences between these assignments for online and on-ground courses, online students should ensure their program offers remote access to a university's library and its resources, which may include live chats with staff, experts say.

Woman watching a film on a laptop

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Case Studies and Real-World Scenarios

When it comes to case studies, a reading or video may provide detailed information about a specific situation related to the online course material, Fuster wrote. Students analyze the presented issues and develop solutions.

Real-world learning can also take other forms, says Brian Worden, manager of curriculum and course development for several schools at the for-profit Capella University . In online psychology degree programs, students may hold mock therapy sessions through videoconferencing. In the K-12 education online master's program , they create lesson plans and administer them to classmates.

students like assignments

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These are particularly useful in online courses where students reflect on personal experiences, internships or clinical requirements , Fuster wrote. Generally, these are a running dialogue of a student's thoughts or ideas about a topic. They may update their blogs throughout the course, and in some cases, their classmates can respond.

The word wiki on cubes on a newspaper

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These allow students to comment on and edit a shared document to write task lists, answer research questions, discuss personal experiences or launch discussions with classmates. They are particularly beneficial when it comes to group work, Fuster wrote.

"A blog, a wiki, even building out portfolios – we see a lot of those in communications, marketing and some of our business programs ," says Ferguson, of CSU—Global. "You may not see as much of that in accounting," for example, where students focus more on specific financial principles.

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A journal assignment allows an online student to communicate with his or her professor directly. While topics are sometimes assigned, journals often enable students to express ideas, concerns, opinions or questions about course material, Fuster wrote.

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More About Online Education

Learn more about selecting an online degree program by checking out the U.S. News 2017 Best Online Programs rankings and exploring the Online Learning Lessons blog.

For more advice, follow U.S. News Education on Twitter and Facebook .

2024 Best Online Programs

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Compare online degree programs using the new U.S. News rankings and data.

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10 Best Planner Apps for Students (Free & Intuitive)

Photo of author

Student life can be a wild ride, right?

Homework, assignments, class schedules, upcoming exams – it’s like a never-ending rollercoaster. But guess what? We have solutions for you.

Here are the 10 best planner apps for students, tested and approved, to help you conquer the chaos and ride that rollercoaster like a pro.

Say goodbye to missed deadlines and hello to seamless planning and efficient time management. Let’s dive right in!

I. How to choose the best student planner app for your needs

Here are 4 key factors to consider:

1. Free Version. Money matters, especially for us students. Look for free planner apps with generous feature offerings.

2. User-Friendly Interface. A good student planner app should help you get stuff done, not get lost in itself. Look for apps with clear navigation menus and well-designed icons.

3. Feature Set. Think about what’s essential for your study style, and check if the app has what you need – calendars, to-do lists, collaboration, compatibility with other productivity apps! And hey, the ability to personalize it with categories and labels is a plus.

4. Cross-Platform Compatibility . Make sure your app plays well with the devices you’re frequently using.

We noticed most students are glued to their mobile devices these days, so most planner apps we recommend below are available on both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

II. 10 Best Planner Apps for Students for 2024

Below are the 10 highest-rated planner apps for students we found for you.

Availability : iOS | Android | web

Imagine having a personal assistant who can keep your class schedules in check, handle your to-do lists like a pro, and make group assignments feel like a walk in the park.

Well, meet Upbase!

It ticks all the boxes: a great free version, a user interface that’s easier to navigate than your campus, and privacy controls.

Whether you’re in high school or college, this trusty sidekick will make your study life a whole lot easier. Here’s why it’s the coolest:

A. Generous Free Version

Upbase’s free version is like finding money in your old jeans – unexpected and awesome. Here’s the good stuff it packs:

  • Unlimited users and tasks .
  • Daily, monthly, and weekly schedule , with a time-blocking feature.
  • Task priorities, start and due times, durations, etc.
  • Shared/private projects.
  • Real-time chat tool and discussions
  • Collaborative docs, files, calendars, and links.

B. Comprehensive feature set

Upbase is not just a school planner app; it’s a toolkit for academic success that you can easily access from the left-side menu.

i) Schedule

Centralize all your schedules in one place. Easily make plans for the upcoming week, day, and month. That’s what the Schedule page can do for you!

It has four views: Daily Planner, Weekly Planner, Week Calendar, and Monthly Calendar, each integrated with a drag-and-drop feature, making scheduling 2x faster.

And hey, don’t skip these secret weapons if you want to skyrocket productivity:

  • Pomodoro timer.
  • Notepad for taking quick notes.
  • Daily Notes for daily journaling.

Perfect for managing homework, assignments, and group projects. Each list is like a project hub where all information is organized within reach.

For group assignments, you can delegate tasks, add priorities, set deadlines, and attach files. You can also create knowledge bases, organize files, post announcements, communicate with your team, and more.

The cool thing is: you get control of who can access each list .

This is crucial for college students who often work on multiple group projects simultaneously. They can ensure that only the relevant team members have access to a particular list, maintaining privacy and security.

Want to use lists as a solo? Easy-peasy! Just hide the collaborative tools with a few simple clicks.

This tool lets you access Slack-style channels, so you can keep the entire conversation within Upbase.

It also supports direct messages, so you can chat 1-on-1 with anyone on your team.

students like assignments

This feature allows you to categorize, search, and filter tasks in your workspace. You can filter tasks by one or multiple tags – a capability that other planner apps lack.

Take your task management experience to the next level with filters.

The feature lets you create a custom filter of multiple criteria such as lists, assignees, due dates, tags, priorities, etc.

vi) My Tasks

A private place where you can easily keep track of all assigned tasks and tasks you create. You can show tasks on a list or on a Kanban board and choose how to group them.

C. Great customizability

Make Upbase yours. Tailor it to your preferences and style:

  • Personalize list icons and colors for a tailored look.
  • Group similar lists into folders for intuitive navigation.
  • Choose between List and Board views for tasks.
  • Show/hide tools based on your needs for a clutter-free experience.

This study planning app is free to start and offers full access to all the Premium version features.

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Availability : Web browsers | Windows | macOS | Android | iOS

Notion is like the cool kid on the block when it comes to study planning apps.

Unlike other apps, it gives you the freedom to design your own school planner, notes, and task lists.

Best Planner Apps for Students: #2 Notion

You can also link related information, keeping your subjects, courses, and projects cohesive.

Working on group projects? Notion allows you to share pages with your classmates, delegate tasks, and more.

students like assignments

In short, Notion is the best planner app for students who value customization, seek an all-in-one solution, and are comfortable with a slight learning curve.

Key Features

  • Slash command & rich text format options
  • Databases, tables, and pages
  • Rich template inventory (such as project planner, homework planner, school planner, etc.)
  • Able to create custom workflows, planners, and databases
  • Easy to link related information together
  • Accessible across devices
  • Steep learning curve
  • No real-time chat tool
  • Time-taking for initial setup

students like assignments

3. Google Calendar

Availability : Web | Android | iOS | Desktop

Google Calendar is a user-friendly student planner app, thanks to its clean calendar interface with various color-coding options.

For example, you can assign blue for classes, green for homework, and red for exams. So, when you spot blue in your calendar, you’ll immediately recognize it as a class.

Best Planner Apps for Students: #3 Google Calendar

But what truly sets Google Calendar apart from other student calendar apps is its seamless integration with other Google services. This makes it the best planner app for students who are either already part of the Google ecosystem or considering joining.

  • Rich color-coding options
  • Seamless integration with Google apps
  • Day, week, month, and year calendar views
  • Simple to use
  • Manage your to-do list schedules, emails, etc. in one place
  • Easy to distinguish different activities
  • Weak task management capability
  • Not sync well with non-Google apps

This student calendar app is typically included for free as part of Google’s suite of apps.

Availability : iOS | Mac | iPad | Apple Watch | Android | Windows | Web

Todoist is one of the few student planner apps that utilize natural language processing for task creation.

For example, when you jot down “Math assignment due Friday at 5 PM”, Todoist transforms your words into an actionable task named “Math assignment” with a due date at 5 PM on Friday.

Pretty cool, right? But that’s not all!

You can add notes, create a reminder, or add labels to this task.

Best Planner Apps for Students: #4 Todoist

Furthermore, this school planner allows you to create projects, share tasks with your group, and delegate work.

  • Due dates & reminders
  • Labels and filters
  • Recurring tasks
  • Natural language processing
  • Available on multiple devices
  • Never miss any important deadlines
  • Easy to sort and filter tasks by your needs
  • Lack of start dates
  • Unable to assign a task to multiple members
  • Only support 5 collaborators per free project

students like assignments

Availability : Web | iOS devices | Android devices | macOS | Windows

Trello is the best planner app for students, and here’s why it rocks.

First off, Trello’s intuitive Kanban-style interface is a breeze to navigate. It’s like digital sticky notes that actually keep you on track of upcoming tasks.

Best Planner Apps for Students: #5 Trello

Secondly, it’s got all the features most students might need like due dates, labels, priorities, and reminders.

And if you’re teaming up on a group project, Trello enables you to invite friends, assign tasks, and share files.

students like assignments

  • Kanban-style interface
  • Easy to track a project’s progress
  • Save time on repetitive tasks
  • Suit different preferences and styles
  • Too basic subtasks (no due dates or assignees)
  • The calendar view is available only on the Premium plan and up

students like assignments

6. Power Planner

Availability : iOS | Android | Windows

Power Planner is a good college student planner app for both iOS and Android users.

What makes Power Planner special? It’s got your back for all things school-related, such as grade and GPA calculation, homework management with automatic reminders, and schedule tracking.

Best Planner Apps for Students: #6 Power Planner

Plus, Power Planner offers nifty features like widgets for quick task check-ins and offline mode.

But note that while Power Planner is free to download, it includes an in-app purchase for premium features, such as the ability to add more than one semester and five grades per class.

  • Grade and GPA calculation
  • Automatic reminders
  • Quick task check-ins
  • Offline mode
  • Easy to track grades
  • Keep your class schedule in check
  • Able to use when Wi-Fi is unavailable
  • It takes time and effort for the initial setup
  • Occasional synchronization issues
  • Lack of collaboration features

Free with an in-app purchase of $1.99.

7. myHomework – Student Planner App

Availability :

What’s the deal with the myHomework Student Planner App?

Well, it’s super easy to use, with no confusing stuff here. It’s like having a friendly assistant to keep your academic life on track without any tech headaches.

Best Planner Apps for Students: #7 myHomework - Student Planner App

Unlike many student planner apps, myHomework is accessible whether Wi-Fi is available or not. It’s also compatible with multiple devices, including phones, tablets, and computers.

So, whether you’re online or offline, your schedule is right at your fingertips – upcoming events, homework, exams, it’s got you covered.

And it won’t let you forget with those handy reminders.

In short, if you want a friendly, no-fuss solution for tracking assignments and organizing subjects, myHomework is the best planner app you can think of.

  • Reminders & notifications
  • Due date reminders
  • Assignment tracking
  • Upcoming homework widgets
  • Offline access
  • Little to no learning curve
  • Able to access your schedule and assignments offline
  • Simple to keep track of lectures, labs, and assignments.
  • In-app ads in the free version
  • Collaboration features are only available on the paid version

students like assignments

8. iStudiez

Availability : iOS | macOS | Android | Windows 10

Alright, imagine iStudiez as your digital planner buddy! Why’s it cool?

Well, iStudiez is not just a study planner app, it’s like your academic superhero. You can track your grades, manage assignments, and nail your class schedule. Plus, it sends you handy reminders so you’re always on top of things.

Best Planner Apps for Students: #8 iStudiez

You can access iStudiez offline no matter what device you’re on.

So, if you’re all about keeping your school life organized and stress-free, iStudiez is the study planner app you’ve been looking for.

  • Grade tracking
  • Customizable subjects
  • Tailored specifically for students
  • Easy to keep tabs on your grades and GPA
  • Access your schedule even without an internet connection
  • Learning curve
  • Occasional syncing issues between devices

iStudiez Pro is initially free with no ads. The paid version costs $2.99 USD on mobile and $9.99 USD on desktop, offering full features and synchronization.

Availability : iOS | Android

What makes Egenda stand out from other school planners is its simplicity.

No complex menus or tech mysteries. This planner app for students offers a straightforward and user-friendly interface that even non-experienced students can start using with ease.

Best Planner Apps for Students: #9 Egenda

And guess what? Egenda is accessible offline – only a few study planner apps offer this functionality for free.

So, if you’re seeking the best planner app for students that’s mobile-dedicated and straightforward to use, Egenda is right up your alley.

Note: Unlike other apps, Egenda has no web or desktop versions.

  • Daily reminders
  • Sort by class, completion, and due date
  • Easy to sort tasks by specific needs
  • Accessible in areas with limited or no internet connectivity
  • Unable to use across devices
  • Lack of advanced features available in some other daily planner apps.

This planner app for students is free to download, with in-app purchases ($2.99 per item).

10. My Study Life

Availability : iOS | Android | Windows | Web

My Study Life is like the Swiss Army knife of student planner apps.

It’s got everything a student needs, all wrapped up in one neat package and synced seamlessly across devices, so your schedule and assignments are always up-to-date, no matter where you are.

Homework, exams, class schedules – this study planner app handles it all. It’s like having a personal academic assistant that fits right in your pocket.

If you’re in search of an all-in-one planner app for students, My Study Life is the way to go.

Best Planner Apps for Students: #10 My Study Life

  • Customizable school planner
  • 3 Different types of tasks: Revision, Reminder, & Assignment
  • Class, task, and exam reminders
  • Offer comprehensive academic-focus features
  • Easy to track tasks, exams, and revision progress
  • Accessible even without an internet connection
  • Unable to rearrange tasks
  • No calendar feature for task due dates

III. Which Study Planner App is Best For You?

Alongside smart planning practices, having a good planner app in your arsenal is essential. We’ve introduced you to the 10 best study planner apps for students out there; now, it’s your turn to make an informed decision.

Need our suggestion? Sure, give Upbase a try!

It offers seamless synchronization across devices, intuitive assignment tracking, and a user-friendly interface that simplifies academic organization. With Upbase, you can stay on top of your assignments, never miss a deadline, and make the most of your study time.

So, why wait? Sign up for a free Upbase account and embark on a successful study path. Your future self will thank you!

1. What is a student planner app?

Student planner apps are digital tools designed to help students stay organized, manage their to-do list, view upcoming classes, and improve time management skills.

2. Are student planners worth it?

Student planners are real game-changers to make study life easier. They help with organization and keeping track of homework assignments and upcoming deadlines.

3. What is the best planner for a student?

The best planner apps for students depend on individual needs, but some good choices include apps like Todoist, Upbase, and Google Calendar, which offer user-friendly interfaces and versatile features tailored for students’ organization.

4. What is the best online planner for school?

Here are some of the best online planners for school: Todoist, Upbase, and Google Calendar. They are all free to start, simple to set up, and easy to use, offering a wide array of features to streamline your school life.

5. What is a good free planner app?

One great free school planner app is Upbase. Its free version offers:

  • Built-in calendars for hours, days, weeks, and months.
  • Private and shared to-do lists with unlimited users for group projects.
  • Real-time chat and rich collaboration features for seamless teamwork.
  • Additional features like note-taking, bookmarks, and Pomodoro timers.

Furthermore, Upbase is user-friendly and accessible on web browsers, the Google App Store, and the Apple App Store.

One place for all your work

Tasks, messages, docs, files, chats – all in one place.

students like assignments

  • Help center
  • Terms of service
  • Privacy policy
  • iOS mobile app
  • Android mobile app

Classroom Q&A

With larry ferlazzo.

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected]. Read more from this blog.

Here’s What Students Think About Using AI in the Classroom

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I’ve been sharing a series of posts in which educators have been discussing their ideas on using artificial intelligence in the classroom.

Now, it’s time to hear what some students think about the topic.

As part of a two-week unit on artificial intelligence finishing this school year in my IB Theory of Knowledge classes, students wrote short paragraphs answering this prompt from Facing History :

What impact do you think generative AI might have on schools and the way people learn?


Bo Villegas is a rising senior at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif.:

Generative AI was made to aid humans, hence its ability to perform humanlike tasks. A way these AIs can assist students is by giving inspiration for assignments regarding writing and art. The “help” provided by generative AI can negatively affect schools and how people learn because of the false information, chatbots specifically, are known to give out.

An example of this is when I used the chatbot Poe to give five quotes from The Diary of Anne Frank , and none of the quotes given were in the publication at all. The spreading of misinformation done by these generative AIs just goes to show how unreliable they may be. Despite the help they may bring to humans, their downsides prove them to be untrustworthy.


‘Very Biased’

Karol Garcia is a rising senior at Luther Burbank High:

I think that the impact that generative AI might have on school is that it can narrow down the learning and perspectives that the students might have. For example, when we used most AI generators for images, we saw that it was very biased and only showed a certain group of people when talking about certain topics. According to magazine Insider, “The study found 97% of DALL-E 2’s images of positions of authority—like “CEO” or “director” —depicted white men.” If we keep on teaching kids these narrow-minded ideas and images, we will never see some try and show people that they can do a lot more and make a greater impact to the Earth without having to be a certain race or ethnicity.


Neither Good or Bad

Adeline Perez and Naxiely Gonzalez are rising seniors at Luther Burbank High:

Generative AI has both a positive and negative impact on schools and the way people learn. Tools such as these can benefit people in working more efficiently and also checking one’s work. Although these AIs help people work more efficiently, the work is not always held to a high standard nor is it always correct. Many times tools like these make up work that is not even real.

They do not function as humans. These tools “learn patterns from their training data and use that to create plausible responses to prompts.” They don’t actually have information that is credible or reliable. This can cause problems and affect how both schools function and how people learn. While AIs can help improve one’s work, they should not be used to produce a person’s work. AIs don’t have the mind or capacity a human brain has.

Students also must not rely on AIs to do their work because then they won’t feel the need to pay attention in class and learn because they know that an AI can do the work for them. AIs are not bad at all, it’s just that people might use them for the wrong things like to get work done instead of doing your work and then using an AI to check that work. AI is neither good nor bad, it all just depends on how a person uses the AI.


‘A.I. Just Can’t Match Up to Humans’

Joseph Ruiz is a rising senior at Luther Burbank High School:

Artificial intelligence has a negative impact on students and the ways they learn. Throughout the various videos and toying-around-with-AI, I’ve come to the conclusion that artificial intelligence may impede on the value of learning/creating and just factually distribute wrong information.

Addressing my first claim, I think that artificial intelligence takes away the meaning from the learning process within the classroom; normally you’re told to communicate, to better your work, and to get help. If we use AI to do things such as suggesting changes or judging a person’s writing/work to better fit the AI’s idea of what “good” is, then we lose the complete meaning and discovery of various subjects.

As depicted in our AI Jigsaw experiment, we saw the ever-improving nature of AI, and how it can soon surpass the intelligence of humans. Putting that in a classroom environment, you lose so much from the learning process and make everything about subjective perfection, not worthwhile improvements and actual meaning.

Furthermore, AI may distribute just wrong information. For instance, when experimenting with AI tools, I saw firsthand how common it is for a chatbot to churn out false citations. When asking the chatbot for citations from Anne Frank’s diary, the chatbot gave me citations that never existed. This also applies to pretty much every essay: If you want a citation to put in your essay in order to support your argument, the chatbot will likely give you a false citation. Not only is this just not helpful, but it can land students into a cycle of relying on false information, not looking at whether the information is correct, and extending those falsehoods into their own words.

AI just can’t match up to humans, to teachers, and ultimately turn everything into processes and numbers and set goals, not meaning and improvement.


A Source of ‘Inspiration’

Alex Valenzuela is a rising senior at Luther Burbank:

The impact I believe generative AI might have on schools and the way people learn is creating a new era of knowledge revolving around inspiration. Generative AI is able to provide all sorts of ideas and automated answers to questions which can take the load off for students. However, not all automated answers are correct; this will call for the student to double-check sources and scrap the AI’s response into their own.

As stated in the article, “Generative AI”, AI has been used to “create overviews on topics, essays, and artwork” which allows the student to take inspiration from suggestions instead of plagiarizing. This means that the conversation surrounding plagiarism will become more common in institutions of education, but the ability to receive aid will also improve.


Thanks to Bo, Karol, Adeline, Naxiely, Joseph, and Alex for sharing their thoughts.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching .

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones are not yet available). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 11 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

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  • Listen Up: Give Teachers a Voice in What Happens in Their Schools
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  • Educators Weigh In on Implementing the Common Core, Even Now
  • What’s the Best Professional-Development Advice? Teachers and Students Have Their Say
  • Plenty of Instructional Strategies Are Out There. Here’s What Works Best for Your Students
  • How to Avoid Making Mistakes in the Classroom
  • Looking for Ways to Organize Your Classroom? Try Out These Tips
  • Want Insight Into Schooling? Here’s Advice From Some Top Experts

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column .

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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Classroom Q&A

With larry ferlazzo.

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected]. Read more from this blog.

Late Assignments: Tips From Educators on Managing Them

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Today’s post finishes up a two-part series on how different teachers handle late student work.

‘Taking Late Work Can Be Challenging’

Ann Stiltner is a high school special education and reading teacher in Connecticut with more than 20 years of experience in education. She shares her passion and love for working in the classroom at her blog from Room A212 (www.annstiltner.com/blog). Follow her on Twitter @fromrooma212:

Being a special education teacher means most of my students have the IEP modification of extra time, which generally translates to time and a half. For a test a teacher gives a class one hour to do, my student would have 1½ hours. For a project the class had one week to complete, my student would have 11 days. However, even with this extra time, some of my spec. ed. students are not able to complete the work. With diagnoses such as ADHD, LD (Learning Disabilities), or anxiety, they find maintaining focus and accessing one-on-one support difficult to fit into these time constraints. Their motivation is unpredictable based on their mood, family challenges, or social drama.

Due to these factors, I have adopted a policy where I accept work from both regular and special education students at any time for full credit or I take points off for each day late depending on the circumstances and if that will motivate a student to finish.

I realize that taking late work can be challenging for teachers of 100-plus students. It means constantly updating your grade book and keeping track of papers. Some teachers don’t accept late work because they think a firm cutoff teaches students the importance of meeting deadlines. Even though I agree this is an important skill, I fear that some students won’t learn that lesson from a policy of not accepting work late. These students prefer to give up and forget about the assignment in order to feel a sense of control and protect themselves from failure. Getting a zero on an assignment does not make them rethink their decision to not do the work, since a zero to them doesn’t mean the same as it does to us teachers. To them, a zero is the grade they think they deserve based on their past experiences.

I have found a time limit gives students a reason to give up and not try. This is learned helplessness in action. My working definition of learned helplessness is a person’s lack of effort due to previous experiences which have taught them that making even the smallest effort won’t make a difference.

For many students, trying involves a large investment of cognitive effort and a huge risk to put themselves out there. They are not ready to set themselves up for what, they are sure, will make them feel like a failure and especially not in a setting where they might be bullied, yelled at, or insulted. If they do not feel safe and supported, they will not risk being teased by their classmates. This is the thinking behind my policy to accept late work at any time. I do not want my conditions and requirements to be used as an excuse for why they do not engage in my lesson and do the work.

This same philosophy explains why I provide supplies like writing utensils or computer chargers. I consciously decide not to create barriers for a student to complete work. I do not want to rob them of a chance to engage with the material, learn something new, experience deep thinking and feed their curiosity by dictating conditions that they can blame for not engaging in the work. Accepting an assignment late gives them time to get motivated or set up one-to-one support so they can focus on the work when they are ready. I do not want to distract students with rules concerning time limits, pen vs. pencil, or on paper vs. on computer.

Don’t get me wrong: I do have classroom rules and expectations. I want the focus in my class to be on what is most essential—learning. This approach means the student—and their parents—will have a hard time holding me responsible for their grade. The responsibility falls on the student and their choices. This open policy allows me to create rapport when I explain my belief in their ability to do the work and my dedication to provide them the support and necessary modifications to be successful. If and when a student is ready to engage in the work, make an effort and take a risk, I am ready.


‘A Balanced Approach’

Ruth Okoye, Ed.D., is a 30-year veteran educator. She has taught in private and public school settings and is passionate about literacy, educational technology, and ed-tech coaching. She currently serves as the K-12 director at a nonprofit organization:

As an ed-tech coach working with fellow educators in their journey of professional growth, handling assignment submissions beyond the designated due date is a nuanced process that reflects both practicality and a deep understanding of individual circumstances. The approach I adopt recognizes the unique challenges that my learners who are teachers face in their daily lives, and it aims to create an inclusive learning environment that supports their development while acknowledging the diverse contexts in which they operate.

My policy on due dates is rooted in the realization that a one-size-fits-all approach fails to account for the myriad of responsibilities and situations that learners encounter. Rather than rigidly adhering to stringent deadlines, I advocate a balanced approach that considers the academic integrity of assignments and the need for flexibility.

To strike this balance, I establish a preferred due date for assignments, considering the majority of learners and allowing them ample time to complete their work. This desired deadline also has a more concrete counterpart—a hard deadline—that offers a reasonable time frame for those genuinely committed to finishing their tasks. This dual-deadline structure allows proactive learners to demonstrate their dedication while acknowledging the potential challenges others may face.

For example, in a book study, there would be weekly assignments. The posted due dates would give the learners three weeks to get each assignment done. I would establish a hard deadline for all assignments two weeks after the study is completed. I’ve found that for a six- to eight-week book study, that allows ample time for a learner to deal with an external complication and then get back on track.

Of course, the purpose of the assignment plays a significant role in determining the flexibility of the due date. For instance, tasks geared toward in-class reflection, like exit tickets, maintain their original deadline as they serve an immediate and time-sensitive purpose. On the other hand, assignments designed to assess learners’ application of covered material need a more lenient approach, allowing participants the time to digest the content and apply it effectively.

I also believe in allowing learners ample time to attempt tasks and even granting multiple opportunities for submission. This practice is grounded in the understanding that the learning process is not linear, and different individuals require varying duration to internalize and implement new concepts. By granting extensions and multiple tries, I encourage a growth mindset and empower learners to engage more deeply with the subject.

One of the cornerstones of my policy is the recognition that external factors beyond the learning experience can impact a learner’s ability to meet deadlines. Illness, family emergencies, or resource constraints can hinder progress, and rigid due dates should not serve as barriers to measuring their ability to apply course concepts. Instead of penalizing them for circumstances beyond their control, I aim to evaluate their understanding of the material and capacity to use it effectively, irrespective of external hindrances.

So you can see, my approach to handling late submissions from learners revolves around flexibility, empathy, and practicality. By acknowledging the diverse challenges teachers face and tailoring due dates to the purpose of assignments, I create an environment that fosters deep learning, personal growth, and a commitment to the subject matter. This policy recognizes the unique circumstances of each learner. It underscores the overarching goal of professional learning—to nurture and support the development of capable and resilient professionals in education.


What Is the Goal?

Jessica Fernandez is a full-time high school teacher and instructional coach near Chicago who specializes in teaching multilingual English learners and in supporting colleagues to make small language shifts that will benefit all learners:

Fortunately, my high school freshman English PLC has decided to have two categories: formative (anything at all that is practice), which is weighted 10 percent, and summative, which is weighted 90 percent. Since the purpose of formative tasks is to practice a skill they will later demonstrate, late work is accepted until we complete the summative demonstration for that skill. Afterward, there’s not so much of a point, plus it would drive us crazy and make work-life balance tough.

The goal, after all, is to give frequent and prompt feedback so kids can improve before their final summative demonstration. Late points are more of what we used to call “habits of work”; important soft skills, yes, but for our purposes, if the kid practiced for their summative skill demonstration, I’m happy, and I’m not scoring them on timeliness. Who knows what they had going on? I’ve gotten grace, and 10 percent won’t make or break their grade anyway.


Thanks to Ann, Ruth, and Jessica for contributing their thoughts!

Today’s post responded to this question:

How do you handle students turning in work after the due date, and why do you apply that policy?

In Part One , Chandra Shaw, Stephen Katzel, and Kelly Owens contributed their ideas.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email . And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 12 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list here .

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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27 Classroom Games Students Will Want To Play Again and Again

Practice important skills … and have fun!

Classroom games feature

The classroom games you choose to play with students may become their favorite memories. (I still remember playing Heads Up, Seven Up in Mrs. Merar’s first grade class!) Classroom games are a great way to build collaboration and community and practice important skills. Plus, they’re fun!

Benefits of Classroom Games

Classroom games capture what kids are naturally good at—playing—to improve other skills. Games support kids’ executive functioning skills , things like planning, organization, turn-taking, and problem-solving are all skills that students need to be successful. Playing games, from Memory to Monopoly, gives kids experience in focus and concentration, working memory, and flexibility in safe spaces where they can grow and stretch these skills. Plus, they’re a fun way to learn more about how your students think and work together.

In addition to all the classroom games listed below, check out our lists of most loved educational board games and best board games for 6-to-12-year-olds .

Here are our favorite classroom games that you can use to teach, reteach, and engage students.

Games for Practicing Academic Skills

Classroom games can help students practice things that they need to know—like multiplication tables, vocabulary words, and science facts. They’re great ways to do a quick review or practice for a quiz.

Math (or Fact) Baseball

Divide the class into two teams. One team is “at bat” and scores runs by answering questions that are worth one, two, or three bases. You “pitch” the questions using flash cards. If the at-bat team answers correctly, they move around the baseball field and rack up runs. If the at-bat team does not answer correctly, the defending team can respond correctly to earn an out. Once the at-bat team has three outs, they switch.

You can also put students into pairs and have them play a partner version.

Why we love it:  This game is great for upper elementary students who are able to follow the game and will love the strategy of earning runs.

Beach Ball Toss

beach ball with writing on each side for students to practice answering questions during a classroom game

Write questions on the sides of a plastic beach ball. You can write questions about a story (plot, theme, setting, characters, structure), about math (write numbers 1 through 6 on the beach ball and students have to select a math problem based on the number they choose), or simply silly questions that students can answer. As students catch the ball, they answer the question. When they’ve answered, they throw the ball to the next player. If you’re working with material that may be new for some kids, you can give each kid one “pass” and they can share the problem-solving with another student.

Why we love it: It’s flexible and works with students’ eye-hand coordination.

Buy it: Beach Balls at Amazon

Learn more: More Than Elementary

paper covered with drawings that students have done as part of a pictionary game. drawings including a pumpkin for halloween and a turtle.

Create a list of topics that students can visualize (think: science concepts, vocabulary words). Students work either in two teams for the entire class or in small groups that are divided into two. One student selects a card and has to draw an image that the other team uses to guess the word. The rest of the group guesses the term that’s being drawn. Add a timer for an added challenge. Provide additional differentiation by allowing students to provide one, two, or more letters in the word as well.

Why we love it: Kids who have strengths in drawing and thinking outside the box can really shine.

Learn more: Differentiation Daily

There’s the Simon Says you know from the playground and the Simon Says classroom game. In this Simon Says, tell students to do something that lets them show off what they’ve learned or practices a skill. So you might say, Simon Says spell “conundrum.” Or Simon Says solve this equation. Play either as a whole class with you as Simon or in small groups with cards of prompts that students can use when they take turns being Simon.

Why we love it: In addition to practicing skills, students also practice listening and impulse control.

20 Questions

Prepare cards with related words or topics. Group students into teams of two to four students. One at a time, students choose a card and the others have to try to guess what the card is by asking questions that can only be answered with a yes or no. Keep track of how many questions are asked, because you’re only allowed 20 questions to get to the answer. Have students put aside the cards they didn’t get for review.

Why we love it: Students practice working memory as they add new information to what they already know.

Also, Guess in 10 is a great 20 Questions–style game played around various topics, including animals, countries, and cities.

Buy it: Guess in 10 at Amazon

Memory is a game that students can do with any content—vocabulary words paired with their definitions, chemistry terms paired with images that depict them, or text structures paired with graphic organizers. First, have students create card pairs. Shuffle the cards and put them on the table. Take turns flipping cards over and finding the matching pairs.

Why we love it: Memory is so versatile you can use this game with anything from procedures to vocabulary to history facts.

Buy it: Blank Memory Cards at Amazon

charades cards that students could act out, including riding a bike and raising your hand to play during a classroom game

In charades, students choose a card and act out the information on the card. For a unit on weather, you may have the words cloud , tornado , or hurricane for example. Scaffold this game with three rounds. In the first round, students can explain the topics using a few words. Then, in the second round, they can only use one word to describe what they are acting out. And in the third round, they have to be completely silent, using only their bodies to act out each word.

Why we love it: This game gets students up and moving around and thinking creatively about how to show what they know.

Learn more: Savvy Apple

Put students in the hot seat to review the plot points of a story, practice answering questions, or review for a science test. First, choose vocabulary to review. Then, select a student to sit in the hot seat. The other students ask questions about the topic or information. The student in the hot seat must answer as quickly as possible. If their answer is correct, they stay in the hot seat. If they get a wrong answer, they can pass the seat to someone else. (You can take the pressure out of this game, which can make some students nervous, by removing the timed aspect.)

Why we love it: Hot Seat is a great way to get students to practice information they need to have right at the tip of their tongue.


Scattergories can be played for academics or for fun. It also helps students improve their creative thinking. You’ll need a list of at least 10 categories—mix serious topics with silly ones. Then, select a letter of the alphabet. Have students brainstorm words to go with each category that starts with that letter. So, if the categories you have are Weather, Bees, and Favorite Places, and the letter is H, students might write: hurricane, hive, Hawaii. Give a set amount of time for students to complete their own brainstorm, then share out. Students can rack up points for the number of categories that they complete. And sharing out helps them connect their brainstorming with everyone else’s.

Why we love it: The boundaries that kids have to work in when playing Scattergories is ideal for inspiring creativity.

Get printable Scattergories sheets on Pinterest.

Fix It Relay Race

fix-it game cards that have sentences with a grammar error on them for students to fix to use during classroom games

Divide the class into teams of four to six students, and prepare sentences that each have an error—it could be a factual error for content classes or grammar or spelling mistakes for language classes. Arrange students in a line, with students standing a few feet apart. The first student in each team must correct one mistake in the sentence they are given. Then, they pass the card to the next teammate. The next student corrects another mistake. This continues until each team member has seen the card and they think all the errors are corrected. Then they run the card to the front to complete the relay.

Why we love it: Teams work together to complete each task.

Buy it: Fix It Sentences at Teachers Pay Teachers

This is another classic game that can be adapted to any academic content. Each student gets a card that is taped to their back or their forehead. The card has a name of a person you’re studying or a topic on it. Then, the students circulate and ask questions of other people to try to figure out who or what is taped to them.

Why we love it: This game is easily differentiated by providing students with personalities that you know they are familiar with, and by providing them with questions to ask or a checklist of personalities that they can be thinking about as they figure out who everyone is.

Word Scramble

Each student or group has a word. The goal is to pull as many words out of the original word as possible within the time limit.

Why we love it: Word Scramble encourages flexibility, and students may be surprised at what they see in each game.

Stickyball Bingo

Create a bingo board on your whiteboard with the words that you want students to work with or the math problems you want them to do. Then, have students throw a sticky ball at the board to select their game.

Why we love it: When their aim is poor, students may have to answer questions that push them out of their comfort zone.

Musical Chairs

Prepare a list of discussion questions or prompts. Students choose a card, then walk around the room while music plays. When the music stops, they find a partner and work on the questions they see on the card. You can prepare cards with math or science problems, questions from social studies, getting-to-know-you questions, or silly questions. Changing the type of questions that students are working with keeps this game fresh.

Why we love it: Musical chairs really gets students up and moving, and if you remove the loss of a chair each time, all students can stay in the game.

Check out these school-appropriate songs kids love .

Flashcard Duel

Students each have a set of flash cards and use them to “duel.” In pairs, students show each other a flash card one at a time. If they answer the card right, they get to keep the card. If they don’t, their partner keeps the card.

Why we love it: It’s fast-paced and easy for students to pick up and play during a few minutes of downtime.

Classroom Games for Communication

Games that require students to talk and listen to each other are great ways to encourage communication.

Yes, No, Stand Up

Have a list of sentences prepared. When you read a sentence, students stand if their response is yes and stay seated if it’s no.

Why we love it: Students practice listening skills and inhibition by standing or not in response to your questions.

Blind Square

Use a long rope and blindfolds. Have students stand in groups of four, then put the blindfolds on and hold the rope between them so it creates a square. They have to work together to put the rope down on the floor in front of them.

Why we love it: This game is great for middle schoolers to learn to work together.

Odd One Out

Prepare this game with a set of words or phrases written on slips of paper. Have students work in pairs or small groups to categorize the words or phrases as they relate to each other. Students have completed the game when they find the odd one out. So, students may have a group of four people from the Revolutionary War but only three who were presidents, so the one who is not a president is the odd one out.

Why we love it: Odd One Out requires students to use critical thinking and working memory as they come to each answer.

Can You Hear Me Now?

This is a fun warm-up or cool-down for the day. It’s also a great classroom game to play if you’re teaching virtually. Play as a class or in groups. Each student takes a turn describing an item for the others to draw one step at a time. For example, if the object were “cat,” the description might be: Draw a circle. Draw two triangles on top of the circle. And so on until a cat is drawn. It’ll surprise students how their directions are interpreted, and how hard it is to get people to follow their directions.

Why we love it: This is a humorous way to reinforce that students need to be clear in their directions and listen to yours.

Classroom Games for Collaboration and Team Building

Games that require teamwork are ideal for helping kids practice collaboration in short bursts and around a common, if silly, goal.

Minute To Win It

Minute to win it games including cereal box puzzle and boy trying to keep balloons in the air.

Challenge your class to compete in tasks that can take under a minute. You could:

  • Speed-stack paper cups.
  • Roll a coin between fork tongs.
  • Transfer pom-poms with chopsticks.
  • Build a tower out of marshmallows and toothpicks.
  • Pass a balloon from one person to another without using your hands.
  • Put together a puzzle.

Why we love it: It’s a quick way to engage students and shift students into a positive frame of mind.

Learn more: Fun and Easy Minute To Win It Games

Over the Electric Fence

Put two chairs in a row, and tell students that they are connected by a wire that is 3 feet high. Even better, string a rope 3 feet high. Students have to imagine that this is an electric fence and if they touch it they are dead. They’ll help everyone get over the fence and work together to do so. Make it even more challenging by telling students that they have to hold hands while moving everyone from one side of the fence to the other.

Why we love it: Students will have to slow down and figure out exactly how to solve the problem.

Create a square in your classroom using tape. Then, place plastic cups or cones around the inside of the square. This area is the minefield. Break students into pairs. One student is blindfolded and the other leads them. The students have to cross the minefield without touching or knocking down the plastic cups. The non-blindfolded student gives directions and the blindfolded student must follow them to cross the minefield without blowing up a “mine” or knocking over a cone.

Why we love it: Students will get out of their comfort level while playing this game.

Start with general everyday scenes (eating dinner, brushing teeth). Have two people act out a scene while everyone else watches. After a time, stop the scene and have someone swap out for a new player. Then, they have to change how the scene is being done. They could, for example, turn eating dinner into taking care of a pet. Once students are familiar with the game, make it more challenging with prompts from the book you’re reading or history scenarios (e.g., Washington crossing the Delaware turns into the French Revolution).

Why we love it: This game gives older students the opportunity to work with a variety of people and get creative connecting scene to scene.

Check out more team-building activities for kids and cooperative games for kids .

Classroom Games for Fun

Sometimes you need classroom games that simply let students have fun and blow off steam!

Freeze Dance

This is a great brain break. Put on music and dance (challenge kids to a Floss-off or the Macarena to get everyone moving). Then, pause the music and any student who unfreezes before the music starts again is out.

Why we love it: You’ll see some students come out of their shells once the music starts.

Heads Up, Seven Up

Why we love it: This is a classroom game we remember from our elementary school years, and now we’re passing it along!


Use a version of tic-tac-toe during the dreaded indoor recess or as a brain break.

Tic-tac-toe with Hula-Hoops:

Human Tic-Tac-Toe:

Why we love it: Whichever version you choose, tic-tac-toe is a quick game that’s always a winner.

Place a number of objects (up to 20) on a table (or post on a slide with 20 words or pictures) and have students take one minute to try to memorize as many as they can. Then, cover the objects or hide the slide and have students write down as many as they can remember. Play this game once a week or so and see how students improve their memory strategies.

Why we love it: Students will sharpen their focus and memory skills trying to remember as many objects as possible.

For more articles like this, be sure to  subscribe to our newsletters  to find out when they’re posted!

Teaching online check out these top online educational games ..

Sometimes classroom games are just what students need! Here's our go-to list of 27 games for learning and fun.

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‘A completely different game’: Faculty, students harness AI in the classroom

Grace Honeyman ’26 describes her final project, made with AI, for Prof. Juan Hinestroza’s class “Textiles, Apparel and Innovation Design” in fall 2023.

Grace Honeyman ’26 describes her final project, made with AI, for Juan Hinestroza’s class “Textiles, Apparel and Innovation Design” in fall 2023.

By Susan Kelley, Cornell Chronicle

For 15 years, Professor Juan Hinestroza had been teaching his course on innovative textiles essentially the same way. But last fall, he changed it up, requiring his students to use generative AI.

In the past, the final project took a five-student team two months to finish. Last semester, each student working alone with AI did it in two weeks – with superior results.

Documenting their progress with blog posts, the students used AI tools to summarize research papers, then used that information to update an existing design that applies innovative textiles to a garment or object to solve a real-world problem. Some improved gloves that ease arthritis. Others updated shoes that convert the wearer’s movement to energy that warms the feet of people with diabetes. They also used the tools to create images of their designs. For the final research posters, they used only AI for imagery, text and references.

Juan Hinestroza, the Rebecca Q. Morgan ’60 Professor of Fiber Science and Apparel Design in the College of Human Ecology, has embraced the use of AI in his courses.

Juan Hinestroza, the Rebecca Q. Morgan ’60 Professor of Fiber Science and Apparel Design in the College of Human Ecology, has embraced the use of AI in his courses.

“AI really liberated them to dig deeper. It’s like a calculator: You can spend your time doing your calculations by hand. But if you have a calculator, then you can spend more time doing something else,” said Hinestroza, the Rebecca Q. Morgan ’60 Professor of Fiber Science and Apparel Design in the College of Human Ecology (CHE).

He is one of many faculty members across Cornell’s colleges and disciplines who are embracing AI’s capabilities and limitations in their classrooms.

To be sure, some faculty members do not allow the use of AI in their courses; a university committee initiated by Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff offered faculty guidance on the use of AI in the classroom in fall 2023.

“I tell my colleagues, especially those who are opposed to these tools, that you cannot teach the same way you were taught. Because it’s a completely different game,” Hinestroza said. “The reality is that these tools are being used by companies. They’re being used by other universities. So you have to train the students for the real world. The world that we as faculty members think exists – it doesn’t exist anymore.”

Hinestroza is one of five winners of the 2024 Teaching Innovation Awards (see sidebar). They will discuss their approaches at the Provost’s Teaching Innovation Showcase: Creative Responses to Generative AI, on April 11.

“The award winners, and other applicants as well, represent a wide and impressive range of responses to the new challenges and opportunities associated with generative AI in the classroom,” said Steven Jackson, vice provost for academic innovation. “They provide more great evidence of the skill and imagination of Cornell teachers in responding to ongoing changes in the teaching environment.”

‘We’re going to experiment’

Grace Honeyman ’26 had minimal experience with AI prior to taking Hinestroza’s course, “Textiles, Apparel and Innovation Design.” She had never even opened a ChatGPT account on her computer.

Grace Honeyman ’26 gave the AI platform Midjourney the prompt “create a schematic image of an elderly man wearing a piezoelectric nanogenerator embedded textile for medical monitoring” to create this image.

Grace Honeyman ’26 gave the AI platform Midjourney the prompt “create a schematic image of an elderly man wearing a piezoelectric nanogenerator embedded textile for medical monitoring” to create this image.

The course introduced her and other students to AI tools that can create images and interpret scientific literature, including ChatGPT, Midjourney, BingChat, Claude.ai, DALL-E, Jasper.ai and Adobe’s Firefly and Sensei. “I told them, ‘I’m learning as you are. And we’re going to experiment,’” Hinestroza said. “The students were incredibly patient and played along as we made mistakes and found ways to optimize the use of tools.”

For her final project, Honeyman redesigned a medical undershirt, which reads the vital signs of people with congestive heart failure, to include a piezoelectric nanogenerator that converts the kinetic energy of the wearer’s movement into electrical energy within the textile, eliminating the need for a bulky battery pack.

Nancy Wang ’24 used the AI DALL-E3 and the prompt “create a schematic of one layer of flexible battery, one layer of woven conductive thread, and one layer of textile” to create this image.

Nancy Wang ’24 used the AI DALL-E3 and the prompt “create a schematic of one layer of flexible battery, one layer of woven conductive thread, and one layer of textile” to create this image.

She fed a series of prompts into Midjourney and Bing.AI, which eventually created images that matched what she had in mind. “I don’t have time to do a five-hour Photoshop tutorial and put together a schematic of what my textile looks like,” she said. “Doing that on DALL-E or Midjourney take five or 10 minutes, depending on how long it takes you to type in your prompt.”

That gave her more time to research how to update the technology, textile applications and intended use. “A lot of what people are missing is that students start with an image in our minds,” she said. “It’s not really all being done by AI – we still have to use our creativity.”

And they had to watch out for the tools’ mistakes. Sometimes AI creates images of a hand, for example, that has only three fingers, or “hallucinates” research papers that don’t exist.

“Honestly, being very, very critical of all this technology is one of the most important skills to learn and one of the most important things I did learn from this class,” Honeyman said.

‘The genie is out of the bottle’

A few major AI image-generating tools were released about a month before Jennifer Birkeland , assistant professor of landscape architecture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, started teaching her course on graphic communication.

And she had heard many professionals in landscape architecture were using them already, so she started playing around with the tools herself. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is really weird and interesting. This is a really critical tool. I need to incorporate this somehow into my class,’” she said.

Matthew Sprague, MLA ’26, used Midjourney AI to create this digital landscape for a class on graphic communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Matthew Sprague, MLA ’26, used Midjourney AI to create this digital landscape for a class on graphic communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Her students wrote a series of prompts to make the tools create an image that they’d work with for the rest of the semester. They used Rhinoceros 3D, a modeling software, to create 3D models and then cross-sections of the object, and further iterations through the traditional design process.

She aimed to teach students to think critically and become AI literate. “It’s two-sided,” Birkeland said. “Yes, AI is cool and smart, but it’s also dumb.”

For example, she asked students to use one prompt with different AI tools and compare the results. The exercise demonstrated that each tool draws from a different library of data to generate images – and often include racial and gender biases. “I asked, ‘Did you get only men in this one? Or did you only get white men, versus another tool that might have had something else?’” Birkeland said.

The tools are helping Matthew Sprague, MLA ’26, learn to recognize good design, he said. The images AI tools create are “pretty peculiar and strange-looking, mostly,” he said. “It makes you think about style and what visually works or doesn’t. And you can identify some of that in your own work. You need to have some design skills to take that and make it look right.”

Matthew Sprague, M.L.A. ’26, used Midjourney to create this architectural model of an urban community garden for a class on graphic communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Matthew Sprague, MLA ’26, used Midjourney AI to create this image of an urban garden for a class on graphic communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The tools have other limitations. For example, they wouldn’t be able to do assignments for his main studio class, Sprague said. “If I tried to tell it to make those drawings, it wouldn’t have any clue what I was talking about, especially with architectural drawings that need to be precise. It’s not there yet.”

But the tools do level the playing field for students who don’t have a fine-art background, Birkeland said. “People who don’t draw are now able to generate these images, and then use them as references to show people what they’re envisioning.”

Given the increasing use of AI, instructors have a responsibility to teach students how to use it, Birkeland said. “Whether we like it or not, it’s not going away – not at this point. The genie is out of the bottle.”

Transformative change

In the government class “America Confronts the World,” students treated large language models like ChatGPT as interlocutors that supported, rather than substituted for, original writing.

“After attending Center for Teaching Innovation workshops and consulting instructor reflections, we implemented a two-pronged approach that required responsible yet creative student engagement with AI,” said Peter Katzenstein , the Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. Professor of International Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. He collaborated with his teaching assistants – doctoral candidates Amelia C. Arsenault, M.A. ’23, and Musckaan Chauhan, M.A. ’23 – to integrate AI into the classwork.

“This is a tool that students are using already, and it’s probably not going away,” said Arsenault, whose research focuses on surveillance technologies, which rely heavily on AI. “We thought this would be an opportunity for us to teach them how to use it in a way that was actually most useful for them.”

2024 Teaching Innovation Award

Five faculty members have been honored with the 2024 Teaching Innovation Award, sponsored by the Vice Provost for Academic Innovation and the Center for Teaching Innovation . This year’s theme, “Creative Responses to Generative Artificial Intelligence,” recognizes creative approaches from the last year developed in response to generative AI.

Award winners will present their experiences at the Provost’s Teaching Innovation Showcase: Creative Responses to Generative AI, on April 11. The winners will collaborate with CTI to share their experiences with colleagues.

The winners:

  • Jennifer Birkeland , assistant professor of landscape architecture, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences;
  • Tracy Carrick , senior lecturer, John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, College of Arts & Sciences (A&S);
  • Juan Hinestroza , the Rebecca Q. Morgan ’60 Professor of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, College of Human Ecology;
  • Peter Katzenstein , the Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. Professor of International Studies, Department of Government, A&S; and
  • Amie Patchen , lecturer, Department of Public and Ecosystem Health, College of Veterinary Medicine.

The course focuses on the wide range of views at play in American politics and foreign policy. Four written assignments integrated AI, while four had non-AI prompts.

In one assignment, students wrote an essay based on class readings and then brainstormed an objecting argument; in another, they fed their essay into an AI tool and asked it to come up with an objecting argument that they then counterargued to strengthen their thesis. Throughout the course, the students did reflections on their experiences with AI.

“The students appreciated that we were willing to deal with it in some way, shape or form,” Arsenault said.

Esteban Lau ’25, a government major in A&S, was surprised to find that when he prompted the AI tool to counter his essay, it argued for his point instead. Like other students, he found he had to try several different prompts to get the result he wanted. “I guess that comes down to what people call ‘prompt engineering.’ I’m actually getting better at using the AI tool,” he said.

“But at the same time, I think there’s a lot of value in not using them and developing your own analytical thought,” he said. “And it’s a difficult balance to strike because, you know, some students do use AI writing as a crutch, and they rely on it too heavily. And I think that impacts their education.”

Increasingly there are tools that purport to identify when a student has cheated and used an AI tool to write their essay, but they are highly unreliable, Arsenault said. “Rather than getting yourself in that position where you have to make very difficult, probably impossible decisions about what is and what is not generated by ChatGPT, we can put up parameters about how we would like to see it used in the class. The goal is, the students will learn real skills, and hopefully take those forward with them as they enter the workplace.”

Katzenstein thinks of AI as transformative rather than marginal change, he said. “Students will have to find their way in this world while writing, as a basic cultural technology, will fundamentally change.”

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Vague school rules at the root of millions of student suspensions

Public schools nationwide suspend students for ambiguous reasons, prompting hundreds of thousands of missed days for behavior that rarely threatens school safety..

Yousef Munir was suspended as a high school junior for disobeying his principal. They remember thinking of the punishment: “The only thing you’re doing is literally keeping me out of class.”

Corrections & Clarifications: This story from The Hechinger Report has been updated to clarify Johanna Lacoe's title. She is the research director of the California Policy Lab's site at the University of California, Berkeley.

A Rhode Island student smashed a ketchup packet with his fist, splattering an administrator. Another ripped up his school work. The district called it “destruction of school property.” A Washington student turned cartwheels while a PE teacher attempted to give instructions. 

A pair of Colorado students slid down a dirt path despite a warning. An Ohio 12th grader refused to work while assigned to the in-school suspension room. Then there was the Maryland sixth grader who swore when his computer shut off and responded “my bad” when his teacher addressed his language. 

Their transgressions all ended the same way: The students were suspended.

Discipline records state the justification for their removals: These students were disorderly. Insubordinate. Disruptive. Disobedient. Defiant. Disrespectful. 

At most U.S. public schools, students can be suspended, even expelled, for these ambiguous and highly subjective reasons. This type of punishment is pervasive nationwide, leading to hundreds of thousands of missed days of school every year, and is often doled out for misbehavior that doesn’t seriously hurt anyone or threaten school safety, a Hechinger Report investigation found. 

Districts cited one of these vague violations as a reason for suspending or expelling students more than 2.8 million times from 2017-18 to 2021-22 across the 20 states that collect this data. That amounted to nearly a third of all punishments recorded by those states. Black students and students with disabilities were more likely than their peers to be disciplined for these reasons. 

Because categories like defiance and disorderly conduct are often defined broadly at the state level, teachers and administrators have wide latitude in interpreting them, according to interviews with dozens of researchers, educators, lawyers and discipline reform advocates. That opens the door to suspensions for low-level infractions.  

“Those are citations you can drive a truck through,” said Jennifer Wood, executive director for the Rhode Island Center for Justice. 

The Hechinger Report also obtained more than 7,000 discipline records from a dozen school districts across eight states through public records requests. They show a wide range of behavior that led to suspensions for things like disruptive conduct and insubordination. Much of the conduct posed little threat to safety. For instance, students were regularly suspended for being tardy, using a phone during class or swearing. 

Teachers need other tools to address behavior

Decades of research have found that students who are suspended from school tend to perform worse academically and drop out at higher rates. Researchers have linked suspensions to lower college enrollment rates and increased involvement with the criminal justice system.

These findings have spurred some policymakers to try to curtail suspensions by limiting their use to severe misbehavior that could harm others. Last year, California banned all suspensions for willful defiance. Other places, including Philadelphia and New York City, have similarly eliminated suspensions for low-level misconduct. 

Elsewhere, though, as student behavior has worsened following the pandemic, legislators are calling for stricter discipline policies, concerned for educators who struggle to maintain order and students whose lessons are  disrupted. These legislative proposals come despite warnings from experts and even classroom teachers who say more suspensions – particularly for minor, subjective offenses – are not the answer. 

Roberto J. Rodríguez, assistant U.S. education secretary, said he was concerned by The Hechinger Report’s findings. “We need more tools in the toolkit for our educators and for our principals to be able to respond to some of the social and emotional needs,” he said. “Suspension and expulsion shouldn’t be the only tool that we pull out when we see behavioral issues.”

In Rhode Island, insubordination was the most common reason for a student to be suspended in the years analyzed. Disorderly conduct was third. 

In the Cranston Public Schools, these two categories accounted for half of the Rhode Island district’s suspensions in 2021-22. Disorderly conduct alone made up about 38%. 

Behavior that led to a such a suspension there in recent years included:

  • Getting a haircut in the bathroom;
  • Putting a finger through the middle of another student’s hamburger at lunch;
  • Writing swear words in an email exchange with another student;
  • Throwing cut up pieces of paper in the air;
  • Stabbing a juice bottle with a pencil and getting juice all over a table and peers; and
  • Leapfrogging over a peer and “almost” knocking down others.

Cranston school officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Rhode Island Department of Education spokesperson Victor Morente said in an email that the agency could not comment on specific causes for suspension, but that the department “continues to underscore that all options need to be exhausted before schools move to suspension.” 

The department defines disorderly conduct as “Any act which substantially disrupts the orderly conduct of a school function, (or) behavior which substantially disrupts the orderly learning environment or poses a threat to the health, safety, and/or welfare of students, staff, or others.”

States let school districts define punishment

Many states use similarly unspecific language in their discipline codes, if they provide any guidance at all, a review of state policies found. 

For education departments that do provide definitions to districts, subjectivity is frequently built in. In Louisiana’s state guidance, for instance, “treats authority with disrespect” includes “any act which demonstrates a disregard or interference with authority.”

Ted Beasley, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Education, said in an email that discipline codes are not defined in state statutes and that “school discipline is a local school system issue.” 

Officials in several other states said the same.

The result, as demonstrated by a review of discipline records from eight states, is a broad interpretation of the categories: Students were suspended for shoving, yelling at peers, throwing objects, and violating dress codes. Some students were suspended for a single infraction; others broke several rules. 

In fewer than 15% of cases, students got in trouble for using profanity, according to a Hechinger analysis of the records. The rate was similar for when they yelled at or talked back to administrators. In at least 20% of cases, students refused a direct order and in 6%, they were punished for misusing technology, including being on the cell phones during class or using school computers inappropriately. 

“What is defiance to one is not defiance to all, and that becomes confusing, not just for the students, but also the adults,” said Harry Lawson, human and civil rights director for the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union. “Those terms that are littered throughout a lot of codes of conduct, depending on the relationship between people, can mean very different things.”

But giving teachers discretion in how to assign discipline isn’t necessarily a problem, said Adam Tyner, national research director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “The whole point of trusting, in this case, teachers, or anyone, to do their job is to be able to let them have responsibility and make some judgment calls,” he said.

Tyner added that it’s important to think about all students when considering school discipline policies. “If a student is disrupting the class, it may not help them all that much to take them and put them in a different environment, but it sure might help the other students who are trying to learn,” he said. 

Johanna Lacoe spent years trying to measure exactly that – the effect of discipline reforms on all students In Philadelphia, including those who hadn’t been previously suspended. The district banned out-of-school suspensions for many nonviolent offenses in 2012. 

Critics of the policy shift warned that it would harm students who do behave in class; they’d learn less or even come to school less often. Lacoe’s research found that schools faithfully following the new rules saw no decrease in academic achievement or attendance for non-suspended students. 

But, the policy wasn’t implemented consistently, the researchers found. The schools that complied already issued the fewest suspensions; it was easier for them to make the policy shift, Lacoe said. In schools that kept suspending students, despite the ban, test scores and student attendance fell slightly.

Overall, though, students who had been previously suspended showed improvements. Lacoe called eliminating out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions a “no brainer.”

“We know suspensions aren’t good for kids,” said Lacoe, the research director of the California Policy Lab's site at the University of California, Berkeley. The group partners with government agencies to research the impact of policies. “Kicking kids out of school and providing them no services and no support and then returning them to the environment where nothing has changed is not a good solution.” 

Students say suspensions are ineffective

This fall, two high schoolers in Providence, Rhode Island, walked out of a classroom. They later learned they were being suspended for their action, because it was considered disrespectful to a teacher. 

“It’s because they don’t like us,” said one of the students, Anaya, whose last name is being withheld to protect her privacy.

In 2021-22, disorderly conduct and insubordination made up a third of all Providence Public School suspensions. 

District spokesperson Jay Wegimont said in an email that the district uses many alternatives to suspension, and out-of-school suspensions are only given to respond to “persistent conduct which substantially impedes the ability of other students to learn.”

But nearly all parents and students interviewed for this series who have dealt with suspension for violations such as disrespect and disorderly conduct also said that the punishment often did nothing but leave the student frustrated with the school and damage the student’s relationships with teachers. 

From a suspended student to an advocate for others

At a Cincinnati high school in 2019, Yousuf Munir led a peaceful protest about the impact of climate change, with about 50 fellow students. Munir, then a junior, planned to leave school and join a larger protest at City Hall. The principal said Munir couldn’t go and threatened to assign detention.

Munir left anyway.

That detention morphed into suspension for disobeying the principal, said Munir, who remembers thinking: “The only thing you’re doing is literally keeping me out of class.”

The district told The Hechinger Report that Munir was suspended for leaving campus without written permission, a decision in line with the district’s code of conduct. 

The whole incident left Munir feeling “so angry I didn’t know what to do with it.” They went on to start the Young Activists Coalition, which advocated for fair discipline and restorative practices at Cincinnati Public Schools.

Now in college, Munir is a mentor to high school kids. “I can’t imagine ever treating a kid that way,” they said. 

Searching for consequences beyond suspension 

Parents and students around the country described underlying reasons for behavior problems that a suspension would do little to address: Struggles with anxiety. Frustration with not understanding classwork. Distraction by events in their personal lives. 

Discipline records are also dotted with examples that indicate a deeper cause for the misbehavior.

In one case, a student in Rhode Island was suspended for talking back to her teachers; the discipline record notes that her mother had recently died and the student might need counseling. A student in Minnesota “lost his cool” after having “his buttons pushed by a couple peers.” He cursed and argued back. A Maryland student who went to the main office to report being harassed cursed at administrators when asked to formally document it. 

To be sure, discipline records disclose only part of a school’s response, and many places may simultaneously be working to address root causes. Even as they retain – and exercise – the right to suspend, many districts across the country have adopted alternative strategies aimed at building relationships and repairing harm caused by misconduct. 

“There needs to be some kind of consequence for acting out, but 9 out of 10 times, it doesn’t need to be suspension,” said Judy Brown, a social worker in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Some educators who have embraced alternatives say in the long run they’re more effective. Suspension temporarily removes kids; it rarely changes behavior when they return. 

“It’s really about having the compassion and the time and patience to be able to have these conversations with students to see what the antecedent of the behavior is,” Brown said. “It’s often not personal; they’re overwhelmed.” 

In some cases, students act out because they don’t want to be at school at all and know the quickest escape is misbehavior. 

On Valentine's day 2022, a Maryland seventh grader showed up to school late. She then refused to go to class or leave the hallway and, according to her Dorchester County discipline record, was disrespectful towards an educator. "These are the behaviors (the student) typically displays when she does not want to go to class," her record reads. 

By 8:30 she was suspended and sent home for three days.

Dorchester County school officials declined to comment. In 2021-22, 38% of suspensions and expulsions in the district were assigned for disrespect and disruption.

This district took a hard look at its discipline practices

Last year, administrators in Minnesota’s Monticello School District spent the summer overhauling their discipline procedures and consequences, out of concern that students of color were being disproportionately disciplined. They developed clearer definitions for violation categories and instituted non-exclusionary tools to deal with isolated minor misbehaviors.

Previously, the district suspended students for telling an “inappropriate joke” in class or cursing, records show. Those types of behavior will now be dealt with in schools, Superintendent Eric Olsen said, but repeated refusals and noncompliance could still lead to a suspension.

“Would I ever want to see a school where we can’t suspend? I would not,” he said. “Life is always about balance.”

Olsen wants his students – all students – to feel valued and be successful. But they’re not his only consideration. “You also have to think of your employees,” he said. “There’s also that fine line of making sure your staff feels safe.” 

Monticello, like most school districts across the country, has seen an increase in student misconduct since schools reopened after pandemic closures. A 2023 survey found that more than 40% of educators felt less safe in their schools compared with 2019 and, in some instances, teachers have been injured in violent incidents, including shootings . 

And even before 2020, educators nationwide were warning that they lacked the appropriate mental health and social service supports to adequately deal with behavior challenges. Some nonviolent problems, like refusal to put phones away or stay in one’s seat, can make it difficult for teachers to effectively do their jobs. 

And the discipline records reviewed by The Hechinger Report do capture a sampling of more severe misbehavior. In some cases, students were labeled defiant or disorderly for fighting, throwing chairs or even hitting a teacher. 

Shatara Clark taught for 10 years in Alabama before feeling too disrespected and overextended to keep going. She recalled regular disobedience from students. 

“Sometimes I look back like, ‘How did I make it?’” Clark said. “My blood pressure got high and everything.” 

She became so familiar with the protocol for discipline referrals that she can still remember every step two years after leaving the classroom. In her schools, students were suspended for major incidents like fighting or threatening a teacher but also for repeated nonviolent behavior like interrupting or speaking out in class. 

Clark said discipline records often don’t show the full context. “Say for instance, a boy got suspended for talking out of turn. Well, you're not going to know that he's done that five times, and I've called his parents,” she said. “Then you see someone that's been suspended for fighting, and it looks like the same punishment for a lesser thing.”

In many states, reform advocates and student activists pushing to ban harsh discipline policies have found a receptive audience in lawmakers. Many teachers are also sympathetic to their arguments; the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers support discipline reform and alternatives to suspension. 

In some instances, though, teachers have resisted efforts to curtail suspensions, saying they need to have the option to remove kids from school.

Many experts say the largest hurdle to getting teachers to embrace discipline reforms is that new policies are often rolled out without training or adequate staffing and support. 

Without those things, “the policy change is somewhat of a paper tiger,” said Richard Welsh, an associate professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University. “If we don’t think about the accompanying support, it’s almost as if some of these are unfunded mandates.”  

In Monticello, Olsen has focused on professional development for teachers to promote alternatives to suspension. The district has created space for students to talk about their actions and how they can rebuild relationships. 

It’s still a work in progress. Teacher training, Olsen says, is key. 

“You can’t just do a policy change and expect everyone to magically do it.”

CONTRIBUTING: Hadley Hitson of the Montgomery Advertiser and Madeline Mitchell of the Cincinnati Enquirer, members of the USA TODAY Network; and Amanda Chen, Tazbia Fatima, Sara Hutchinson, Tara García Mathewson, and Nirvi Shah, The Hechinger Report. 

Note: The Hechinger Report's Fazil Khan had nearly completed the data analysis and reporting for this project when he died in a fire in his apartment building. USA TODAY Senior Data Editor Doug Caruso completed data visualizations for this project based on Khan’s work.

This story about classroom discipline was produced by USA TODAY publishing partner The Hechinger Report , a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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Tressie McMillan Cottom

Who Would Want to Go to a College Like This?

A silhouette of a graduate, in a cap and gown and seen from behind, looking up.

By Tressie McMillan Cottom

Opinion Columnist

The moral panic about “woke” campuses has metastasized into actual legislation, and not just in the swampy idylls of Florida. Last week the governor of Alabama signed a bill that purports to limit the teaching of “divisive” topics in its colleges and universities. The bill is similar to Florida’s ban on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in public colleges, which was signed into law last May. Both are all-out attacks on learning by excommunicating liberal ideas from the classroom. Other state legislatures have also been busy. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Republican lawmakers have proposed 81 anti-D.E.I. bills across 28 states. (So far, 33 haven’t become law, and 11 have.)

Because most students attend public universities, state-level threats to higher education are especially troubling. While the federal government has outsize authority, states have more direct political reach. Republican leaders in the most reactionary states are banking that their appeals to moral panics about teaching history, race, gender and identity will attract donors and political favor. Bills already passed in Florida and Alabama are examples of shortsighted, counterintuitive legislative overreach. This political theater lifts up a caricature of college, in which coddled minds are seduced into liberal ideas. Without university leaders, politicians or voters mounting a defense of faculty governance and democratic speech, anti-woke reactionaries can remake college into the very thing they claim it is: cloistered institutions that cannot respond to what their students want and need.

It is hard to combat legislative overreach in states where gerrymandering and the structure of elections favor reactionary Republicans. But unlike in K-12 schools, in higher education, the students hold a tremendous amount of power. Public colleges and universities need students’ tuition dollars. If states become hostile to students’ values, those students could choose to go elsewhere or to forgo college altogether. That would set up a standoff between right-wing political favor and students’ dollars. But first, students would have to be paying attention. They would have to care. And they would have to be willing to choose colleges that match their values.

That is why I read with interest a recent report put out by the Lumina Foundation and Gallup on how policies and laws shape college enrollment. Part of a larger survey about students’ experiences of higher education, the report left me with one major takeaway: The national debate about so-called woke campuses does not reflect what most college students care about. It is worth looking at the report’s key findings. They underscore how unhinged our national debate over higher education has become and how misaligned Republican-led public higher education systems are with the bulk of college students. It isn’t hard to imagine that students could vote with their feet, avoiding schools in states that are out of step with their values.

The report names four reactionary changes in the national policy conversation that might shape students’ feelings about going to or being enrolled in college. First, there’s the group of bills against teaching supposedly divisive concepts, as in Alabama and Florida. Second, there’s a 2022 Supreme Court decision on concealed carry permits for firearms. Students fear that it signals how states with more restrictive gun regulations will change their campus gun policies in anticipation of legal challenges. Third, there are the sweeping changes to the availability of reproductive health care that came after the fall of Roe v. Wade . The Wild West of different abortion bans, legal challenges to Plan B and birth control will shape students’ experiences of college . Finally, there’s the Supreme Court decision in 2023 that effectively ended race-based affirmative action in admissions. States are already broadly interpreting that decision to include scholarships and programming.

If you are applying to college in 2024, you are tasked with not just choosing a major at a college where you can be happy and that may admit you at a price you can afford. You are also considering if you will be safe from gun violence, able to get medical care if you need it, qualified to use some types of financial aid and likely to encounter a liberal arts education that could improve the trajectory of your life.

I read the report closely for takeaways and what some of the fine-grained data points mean. The big context is that most students still choose colleges based on quality, cost, reputation and job prospects. Because I am interested in which of the four reactionary changes matter most (and to whom), I pulled those out of the list of all things that matter to students. Students care about — from most to least important — gun violence, “anti-woke” laws and reproductive health care. Because race-based affirmative action is measured somewhat differently from the other concerns, it is not ranked.

I lived through a campus shooting last year . As I watched college students climb calmly out of windows to escape the building, I realized this is a generation raised on constant shooting drills. That might explain why 38 percent of students who study on campus said they were worried about gun violence at their schools. Campus gun policies mattered at least somewhat to 80 percent of those surveyed. And of those who cared, students who wanted more restrictive gun policies outweighed those who preferred looser policies by five to one, according to the report.

As for those “divisive” concepts? Students want them. A majority of students who cared about those issues, the report notes, said they did not want restrictions on classroom instruction. Even more notable, students’ opinions do not align with the rabid political partisanship that dominates headlines. In a look at the students who care about this issue, some political differences might be expected. And there are some. But the good news is that they aren’t nearly as partisan as one might imagine. Even 61 percent of Republicans who cared about this issue when choosing a college preferred a state that did not restrict instruction on topics related to race and gender. That’s compared with 83 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of independents.

It is remarkable, given these data points, how little politicians and the public are talking about how afraid college students are — not of new ideas but of being shot on campus.

Fears about reproductive health ranked third among these changes; 71 percent of those surveyed said that a state’s reproductive health care policies would influence where they chose to go to college. The gender split here was a mixed bag. While many men cared about reproductive health, women were, by 18 percentage points, more likely than men to prefer states with fewer restrictions on reproductive health care. It is impossible to claim causation, but hackneyed culture wars about gender are not happening in a vacuum. They animate men’s and women’s values. The data suggests that it will be hard to recruit men (who are inclined to want more health care restrictions for women) and make female students feel cared for and safe. There may not be a way for a single college to serve both masters.

The Supreme Court affirmative action decision’s role in shaping students’ college choices is harder to parse than the other reactionary changes. People do not have a common understanding of what affirmative action means or how it works. Even so, 45 percent of those surveyed said the ruling would shape their decision of which school to attend or if they went to college at all.

While the idea of woke campuses may get attention and motivate parts of the reactionary Republican base, the report says that those partisan differences are moderate among students. “Most current and prospective students of all political parties who say these issues are important to their enrollment,” the report notes, “prefer more restrictive gun policies, less restrictive reproductive health care laws and fewer regulations” on curriculums.

Put more simply: Republicans must seem like aliens — if not dinosaurs — to the very college students they claim to be saving from hostile college campuses.

Debates about what happens on college campuses are proxies for partisan politics. They are also convenient ruses for clawing back the nominal democratization that higher education underwent during the last half of the 20th century. Those of us who see education as something more noble than a political football should care about the way partisan attacks and sensational headlines will harm real people trying to make sense of their lives.

Students go to college because they want jobs, they want to be educated or they want to be respected by others (or some combination of all three). A college or university implicitly promises them that it has the legitimacy to allow access, foster learning and confer status. The trick is that when universities play into the con game of moral panics about woke campuses, they become the thing we fear.

The loudest story about American colleges is disconnected from what college students care about. Even so, the nation’s diverse, aspirational college students are trying to make college choices that align with their political values. According to this survey, they are remarkably progressive, fair-minded and unafraid of intellectual challenge. If only our politics lived up to their values.

Tressie McMillan Cottom (@ tressiemcphd ) became a New York Times Opinion columnist in 2022. She is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, School of Information and Library Science; the author of “Thick: And Other Essays”; and a 2020 MacArthur fellow.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , WhatsApp , X and Threads .


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