Out of This World Literacy : Active Learning is NOT Enough...Kids NEED More!
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Active Learning is NOT Enough...Kids NEED More!

Hello friends!

Hold on to your coffee with both hands because this post is gonna get a little intense, and possibly quirky, but that's just me!

I have been thinking a LOT about how my students learn best.  I know they need to be actively involved in their learning, instead of sitting and listening to me talk at them all day long.

But, then I started thinking, it's probably NOT enough to know they need to be actively involved in their learning.

Kids need more...

They need to be passionate about what it is they are learning.  They NEED to care; to be motivated; to KNOW their learning matters.  To know what they are learning will benefit not only themselves, but the world around them.  They need to see the big picture in what they are spending their days learning and doing.

All kids are passionate, creative, unique individuals.  They all have passion.  Some just have different passions than others.

Take my own 12 year-old daughter Malaya, for example.  She is just a bit dramatic (insert thick sarcasm on the word 'just').

*** Sidenote: Now I know there are those certain subject areas that are a must to learn.  They are part of our standards in school.  And, no matter how hard we try to make it fun for everyone, it just isn't always that awesome for all.

What if...

What if we had some time carved out during the day where students could learn about something that they are really, really, really, really, really passionate about?

or better yet...

What if we didn't carve out time during the day to allow students to learn about what they were passionate about?  What if we started integrating the passionate topics that matter to our students into our reading, writing, language, art, music, science, social studies classes every day?

I wonder how kids would react...

How would they feel if teachers began taking into consideration the topics that mattered to them?

How much more engaged would they be?  Passionate?  Involved?

How much more learning would occur?

How much more impact would we have in the longitude of our students' lives?

And then I just kept thinking...

So, the more I thought about this, the more passionate I became about the idea.  The more it nagged at me, as I watched kids go through the textbook motions every day.  

"Boys and girls, turn to textbook page number...blah blah blah"  

"Boys and girls, turn to workbook page number...blah blah blah"

"Boys and girls, your assignments for tonight are page numbers...blah blah blah"

I started to wonder...

What are they really thinking?

What are they really learning?

Do they understand what they are learning?

And, more importantly, do they understand why they are learning this?  

And then even bigger questions came to my mind...

And even scarier questions because they were about me... 

Do I really understand why they are learning this?

How is this going to be a lasting life lesson that my students will value in their future?

Do I really know my students?

Do I know what excites them?  What drives them?  What matters to them?

My gut answers seemed scary.  I didn't want to udder them aloud.

I didn't really know my students.  Sure I knew them.  But I didn't really know them.

I didn't really know what excited them, or drove them, or mattered to them.

Because I was spending all my time getting through the textbook and keeping them quiet.  Getting through the workbook and checking off completed assignments, so that I could say I taught everything by the end of the year.  I couldn't really say for sure I motivated, or engaged, or excited my students.  But, they sure did listen to me move through the daily lessons.  They had a full workbook and graded tests and were very well behaved.  They listened and followed traditional school rules.

I decided to change my teaching

Yes, I was still accountable for the objectives and standards in class.  But HOW I taught them?  That was up to me.  

I began by passing out a graphic organizer and telling kids to write down everything they are passionate about, everything they want to know more about, or just anything and everything they were curious about.

Students began making their lists.  Some had two ideas.  Others had 30.

This was a great start, but I wasn't satisfied there.

We took a little field trip to the library.  I had them walk around the library, with their lists in hand, and add any more topics that looked interesting to them as they were browsing books.  

By the end of the trip, every student had there own unique list of topics that mattered to them. 

This one activity taught me more about my kids than anything else I had done all year!

From the list, I had them highlight three topics that they were just beyond excited about.  Three things they would do almost anything to study about!

Once students had their three items, I collected their lists, and began studying them.  I grouped kids together by interests and created project based learning teams.  Some were groups of two.  Others groups of four.  

For reading, they had to find books that fit their topics.

During writing, I challenged them to write about their topic.

I talked to the art teacher about having a few art classes where they could express their new learning in a creative way.

And at the end of the month I had each group create a presentation, in any way they chose.  They were to be the experts in the class, teaching the rest of us about all they learned.  They certainly were held accountable for all their learning and it was evident that they really did become experts in their topic area.  I learned so much more from them than I ever could teach!

Now, of course, there is much more to this.  And I was there to guide students every step of the way.  But I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that more learning and passion occurred in this time than in ANY other method of teaching I had EVER tried.  

And, I knew my kids.  I knew what excited them.  And I watched them grow into confident little leaders that weren't afraid to put themselves in front of their peers to share something that really mattered to them.

I hope this post encourages you to find a way to light the passion for learning in all your students, know matter what it is they really care about!

Give it a shot...I would be willing to bet you that almost every student will surprise you with brilliance!

*** If you are looking for more great ideas, please visit Terri over at Kinder Kapers by following this link:


*** You can also click on the link up buttons below and find topics that interest you!
Best wishes to all and happy teaching!!!


  1. This reminds me of the Genius Hour from Runde's Room - both are great ways to engage kids in learning through their own interests! We do learn better when we are engaged!

    Buzzing with Ms. B

  2. Hi Chrissy,

    I just learned about the idea of genius hour a week ago and have been meaning to get over to Runde's room to read more of what she posted. Thank you for reminding me :)

  3. I adore this post and couldn't agree more about this attitude toward effective, meaningful and engaging teaching. It's so important and sight is far too often lost to this necessity when teachers are trying to just "get through the curriculum". :)

  4. Hi Jen,

    I was so excited to see this post!!! We are doing Passion Projects #geniushour in our 2nd grade classroom! We just started a couple of weeks ago and it is so much fun! We have explored ourselves, ideas and topics and we made these cute little "passion pockets" I call them to hold things in. I blog about it each Wednesday (Wonder Wednesdays) if you want to pop by. It's a project in process for sure! You sure did a lot of work with your students! I bet they loved it! Did you get any feedback from parents? I will be sharing a survey I did with parents tomorrow. We are just getting going. I hope to do another survey in the middle of the projects to see if there is any difference.

    :) Shelley

    The Perks of Teaching Primary

  5. Hi!

    I'm glad you liked my "50 things I love" writing freebie. I use it in a similar way in my classroom.

    I'm not sure if you downloaded it and didn't remember where you got it from or what, but giving a link to the download and a shout out to me or my blog would always be appreciated! It's always nice for our readers to know where cool things come from so they can use them themselves!

    Here's the link to the product: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Writing-50-things-I-love-759175

    Sweet Rhyme – Pure Reason
    Follow my blog with Bloglovin

    1. Thank you for the reminder Nick! I did attach the link on my Facebook page but forgot to stop back over and do it on my blog. My apologies. Thanks again, Jen

    2. Nick R - Thanks for sharing the link! I was about to comment that I really want to do this with my class, but the pictures above didn't go to the product. Thanks again!