You’ve just delivered an amazing lesson. Your students seem to grasp the new concepts, and they’re working away at a learning activity to get some practice under their belts and help solidify what they’ve just learned. But some students are finishing early. With nothing else to do, they’re distracting others who are still working away. Anchor activities can help!

Transitions in the classroom can be difficult – and even the most perfectly planned day will have a few gaps. How can you transform those moments from a problem into an opportunity for constructive learning? That’s where anchor activities can play an important role in your lesson planning and curriculum mapping.

Let’s take a look at what they are, how they work in a classroom and a few lesson planning ideas you can use today.

The low-down on anchor activities

Anchor activities are projects or assignments that students turn to during gaps in classroom time. They’re easy for students to pick up and put down over shorter periods of time, such as at the beginning of class, after they complete classwork or when they’re waiting for help with a question or problem.

Unlike the learning activities you include in your lesson plan, anchor activities are often self-directed, meaning students have the freedom to choose what topics or projects interest them most. And they’re often not teacher-graded, meaning they don’t add to your marking work, though offering feedback to students is still important.

Don’t confuse anchor activities with busywork, either. They’re about much more than killing time and avoiding idle hands; they’re opportunities to continue instruction in an engaging way that ties into your overall curriculum.

Benefits for both teachers and students

More than a plug to fill in extra time during a lesson, anchor activities keep students productive throughout the day and prime them for learning between activities and classes.

Having a set of activities that students can turn to helps them:

  • Build and hone the skills they gain in class.
  • Practice new knowledge by applying it in different ways.
  • Make material relevant and exciting by tying it to their individual interests.
  • Teach time management and independent study.
  • Take ownership and responsibility for their learning.

Anchor activities are especially effective with high-achieving students who are motivated to learn more, goal-oriented students who enjoy checking goals off of lists, competitive students who enjoy a challenge among their peers and less enthusiastic students who can connect material that doesn’t resonate with them to an external interest.

And teachers love them, too, as an essential classroom management tool that:

  • Provides a strategy for dealing with “ragged time” during instruction when students finish at different paces.
  • Frees up time for helping students who need extra support with class material.
  • Makes smooth classroom transitions when students know what to do next.

Putting anchor activities to work

How do students know when to start working on an anchor activity? How do they know what the activities are, and where to find the materials they need to start or continue their work? Success depends on how you roll anchor activities out in your classroom.

You’ll find the greatest success with anchor activities when you:

  • Set expectations: Tell students at the beginning of the year when, where, why and how they can work on these assignments. Be explicit about any procedures you’d like them to follow.
  • Start small: If you or your students are new to anchor assignments, introduce the idea with one or two activities. As everyone gets more comfortable with the practice, you can begin introducing more – and ask the class for their ideas, too.
  • Create space: Students should know where to put their in-progress work, where to find any materials they need to complete the work, and where to submit work when it’s done.
  • Make them meaningful: Assignments should relate to the material they’re learning in the classroom, build on core skills and contribute toward their learning goals, while giving students the flexibility to explore their interests.
  • Keep things accessible: Not all students have the same access to resources, or have an easy time getting started with self-directed learning. Include lesson planning ideas that “level” your anchor activities so there’s a variety of starting points and challenges.
  • Don’t drain your resources: Anchor activities shouldn’t add more work to your already busy schedule. They should be easy for students to manage on their own and simple to assess – think answer keys, peer review and teacher feedback rather than grading.
  • Celebrate accomplishments: Progress charts are a great way to let students keep track of – and openly acknowledge – milestones, both big and small.
  • Share, share, share: Where it makes sense, make it easy for students to share their work with others, whether it’s on a bulletin board, during in-class presentations or on a class website.

Need a few lesson planning ideas?

The sky’s the limit! But if you’re looking for lesson planning ideas you can start using in your instruction today, we’ve got loads to share:

  • Independent reading on a subject you’re teaching in class (or that students pick on their own) to hone important reading skills.
  • Responding to “Questions of the week” that give students more chances to apply and reinforce learning from their current studies.
  • Adding to an “In The News” board that ties in-class learning with current events, and allows the class to participate as a whole.
  • Becoming the in-class expert on a topic that interests them, giving them time to do research and present what they’ve learned to the class.
  • Investigating the history of a person, a place or a concept they’re studying to help broaden and deepen understanding while exercising those research muscles.
  • Writing a story, composing a song or creating art in the style of an author, musician or artist they admire.
  • Journaling from the perspective of a character in a book or an important figure they’re learning about in class.
  • Solving brain-teasers, puzzles or logic problems that challenge students to apply their learning “outside the box.”
  • Playing educational games online that encourage exploration, expansion and play in service of a learning goal.

A vital tool for curriculum mapping and lesson planning

Sure, students can pick up and put them down throughout the year – but great anchor activities take a little more planning on the other side, starting with your curriculum mapping and lesson planning.

Make sure concepts have been taught before.

Anchor assignments are meant to grow knowledge and practice skills once they’ve been acquired. As such, they need to come at the right time in your curriculum, once students have been introduced to that knowledge and those skills. To further enhance learning, you can design activities that tie current lessons in with past ones, either in your class or past grade levels.

Connect learning to other subjects.

Pay close attention to what other teachers are planning as you’re mapping your curriculum, especially where opportunities for overlap appear. If you’re teaching history and students are learning about a particular formula in math, consider combining the two by creating an anchor assignment that explores the life of a related mathematician or a particular historical application of the formula.

Get intentional about making time.

If left only for “ragged time” when some students are finishing classwork while others are struggling, not every student will have a chance to work on their anchor assignments. Setting time aside in your lesson plans may be as simple as blocking off 30 minutes each week to make progress on anchor assignments, or even splitting the class into groups and rotating them between class activities and anchor assignments.

Anchors, aweigh!

Once students are engaging with your content, they’re not just making those classroom gaps and transitions smoother… they’re also deepening and broadening their learning, forging new connections, practicing new skills and having fun while doing it!

Looking for other ways to engage your students in the classroom? Try technology! Learn more with our article on How to Increase Student Engagement with Technology.

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