Active Learning with Stay & Stray

When-we-keep-studentsWhy do so many teachers expect students to sit and listen to lectures when the research shows the strong connection between physical activity and learning? In fact, Eric Jensen, author of the book Teaching with the Brain in Mind, says, “When we keep students active, we keep their energy levels up and provide their brains with the oxygen-rich blood needed for highest performance. Teachers who insist that students remain seated during the entire class period are not promoting optimal conditions for learning.”

Maybe teachers are reluctant because they think it will require more time to prepare lessons that involve movement, or perhaps they are worried student behavior will get out-of-control.  However, in my experience students are often more engaged and well-behaved when they are allowed to get out of their seats in my English classroom.  Here is any easy activity to get students moving and also working together.

Stay and Stray:  Lots of teachers activate background knowledge before starting a new concept, and this is just twist on the traditional KWL chart.  First, students work individually to write a list for what they already know about the topic.  After they write their lists, they then turn to a partner sitting next to them and share their ideas.  Next, they square with another pair of students and create one long list that complies all of their information.  At this point, they choose one student to stray and circulate to all of the other groups in the room, collecting new information from all of the groups.  In the meantime, the remaining group members stay so they can share their lists with the visitors from the other groups.  When the student who has strayed returns to her original group, she adds the new information to the group’s paper, and all read a text on the concept together.  After reading, they do the following with the information on their lists:  put a check next to any information they found to be true, circle any information that contradicts information they thought to be true, add two – three new facts that were not already on the lists.  Finally, the each group chooses at least one thing to share from its list and reading to share in whole-class discussion.

I often use this at the beginning of a unit in American Literature to provide context for the time period.  For instance, my students would do this activity at the beginning of their readings from the Civil War era, and our textbook has several sections with nonfiction reading at the beginning of each unit.  Since our students also take United States History around the same time as they take my class, they often come with facts they have learned in social studies.  It reinforces their learning from the history class and helps them construct knowledge as they prepare for literature in my class!


OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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