Simple Activities for Exemplary Learning

Creating classrooms that are developmentally responsive, challenging, empowering, and equitable can be tricky considering most classrooms serve students with a wide range of abilities, from learning disabled to gifted to standard and everything in between.

The following activities can help all students develop their content, process, and reasoning skills.


Creating a classroom that is developmentally responsive begins by getting to know the students.

  • Have students complete an interest inventory that asks about their social, emotional, physical, and intellectual interests and needs. Ask parents to share what they know about their children and how they learn.
  • Keep a file (paper or electronic) on each student listing their interests, strengths, outside activities, and learning styles. Add to the information throughout the year.
  • Welcome students at the door every day. Observe their nonverbal communication for cues about how their day is going.

Developing relationships with young adolescents takes time, but is critical to motivating them to learn and take risks.


A challenging environment is one that addresses expectations, provides access to learning tools, and celebrates student success.

  • Display student work throughout the classroom.
  • Make sure students have the tools they need to do classwork. In my math classroom, I had bins full of tools such as colored pencils, sticky notes, rulers, and calculators.
  • Create structure. For example, start every class with a warm up so students know what’s expected of them when they arrive.

Students need to know structures are in place and that the classroom is an environment of care, support, and expectation for success.

Goal Setting

Academic and behavior goals are tools of empowerment, promoting students’ belief that they have control over their academic success.

  • Have students put their own academic and behavior goals on a 3 x 5 card and tape it to their desks.
  • Together, create class goals such as “listen to each other” and “ask good questions.”
  • On Fridays, give students a printed summary of their grades for the week as well as a reminder of missing assignments so they know what goals they need to work on.

When students set goals for themselves and have those goals in front of them, they are reminded of the high expectations they set for themselves.

Group Work

Students often are more comfortable talking and sharing in small groups.

  • Group students in pairs or small teams to increase communication.
  • Give group quizzes. Each student takes the quiz; then, students get together to compare and talk about the answers.

Allowing students to work in pairs or small groups brings different groups of students together and allows them to celebrate each other’s strengths and successes.

Teachers can follow pacing guides and know their content, but to create a truly exemplary classroom environment, they should consider relationships, the environment, goal setting, and group work.

Nancy Ruppert is middle grades coordinator at the University of North Carolina, Asheville.