Round Table Discussion: How do you use hands-on instruction in your classroom?

By Victoria Jasztal on January 28, 2010

This week my goal is quite simple: I want to gather at least 50 ways that teachers who visit use hands-on instruction in their classrooms. Please post a comment with one way you extend learning "beyond the books" in reading, math, science, social studies, or your writing instruction. You do not need to be a grades 3-5 teacher, though your idea should be appropriate for grades 3-5 teachers to try.

As your grades 3-5 teacher advisor this year, the most important part of my job is to encourage people to share! Your ideas are extremely valuable, and I cannot wait to read them. Of course, you may share more than one idea. I hope to hear from several people so this post is helpful to as many teachers as possible.

Here are two examples of hands-on instructional ideas from my classroom:


In the near future, we are going to be making a hidden alarm using this website from PBS' Design Squad to review our mini-unit on electricity. Students will make electromagnets, and connect simple series circuits. 

In a few months, I plan to review area, perimeter and volume by having my students construct model bedrooms with either cardboard or wooden walls. They will make furniture and calculate the area for their bed, dresser, and desk. 

I am very excited about reading your ideas! Of course, I will post more ideas for hands-on learning as people contribute.


Hi, Miss Kelly! Have you seen this unit plan from Angela Bunyi regarding the human body?

I plan on using it in May. Besides that, thank you for your submissions! Which grade do you teach?

When studying shape, I cut a long piece of string or elastic and tie to create a loop.

Groups of children stand inside the group and move back until the string/elastic is taut against the back of their legs.

I call out a shape and the children have to work as a team to make that shape, e.g 4 members will jump in to be a square, one will jump out to make a triangle and so on!

Encourages teamwork and how many sides & verticies (points) each shape has!

We are studying the heart, lungs and brain at the moment.

Next week we will be using plaster cast bandages (the craft type you dunk in water, and sets hard) to make a cast of a childs upper body (over clingfilmed play clothes). This will be cut off of the child, and a head made from the cast of a balloon. This will be cut in half so the front half is removable.

Inside we are going to put models of the heart, lungs (balloons with straws to inflate), ribs (bendy pipe cleaners so that they move out as the lungs inflate) and brain.

Each of 5 groups will have a specific body part to make (e.g q group the heart) and study up on - they will present their findings to the rest of the group!

Great idea, Hollie! I have used a few ideas from Family Fun magazine as well. I have heard that people have gathered boxes from electronics stores (for Wiis, Nintendo DS, the iPhone, etc.) and found the volumes of those during their study of geometry. It seems like a neat measurement and comparison lesson, though I have never done it myself.

In math tomorrow, my kids are going to begin working on illustrated math dictionaries in preparation for the FCAT next month.

When we reach our geometry unit in a couple of weeks, I plan on making life size 3 dimensional shapes with my class. We will make logs out of rolled sheets of newspaper and piece the logs together to make different geometric shapes. I found the idea in family fun magazine. When we are finished we plan on hangnig them from the ceiling. Im am excited about this project and how it is giong to turn out.

Mandy: Interesting! I cannot wait to build the houses with my students in a few months. I am going to try to get carpeting, wallpaper, and all kinds of awesome parent/community help for this project. My class will also be having United States Day and a camping day at school, which I have been thinking about a lot! I hope to hear more ideas from everyone.

I just found a great hands on activity to review geometry. I haven't tried it yet, but thought I would share.

Assign the students to create a hat that has 15 geometrical attributes. They can use all kinds of materials, craft supplies, recycled bottle, boxes, etc.

We're going to try this activity next week. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for sharing these great tips. We also share some instructional tips and best practice suggestions at

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