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Laurel Taylor is a high school English teacher and blogger. Over the past 12 years, she’s worked with 9th-12th graders in all levels of English classes. She has a passion for helping students develop...
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3 Reusable Student-Focused Classroom Activities

As a teacher, I’m always looking for structures I can use in my class that are reusable--activities that can be used for multiple units. Here are a few of my favorites.

  1. Index card swap: I give each student an index card at the beginning of class. I give them time to write down one question for class discussion. I ask them to make sure the question is one that fosters discussion, has multiple possible answers, and isn’t a fact that can be found in the book. I use this after students have read part of the novel or read a short story.

I collect all of the index cards. I then have the students get in groups of 4. In my class, I have them work with the groups they are assigned to through their seating arrangement. I give each group 4 cards, one for each group member to discuss with their group. Each group member writes their group’s answer on the back of their index card. Then the group submits one card to me for me to use in a whole class discussion.

I love this approach because it allows students to guide the class discussion, each student gets a chance to talk about the reading, and it keeps the class period from being one long class conversation.

  1. Color-coded Observations: As students walk into class, I hand them a green, yellow or blue index card. On the overhead, I have instructions for each color. Since I teach high school English classes, I often break it down into character, theme, and writing style, but you could easily adapt this for other subjects.

Students write an observation about character development, theme or writing style on their index card and give it to me. I shuffle them and give them out to different students. The new student agrees or disagrees with the observation and supports it with something from the text.

If time allows, I then have students get in groups and look at all of the cards of one color. They look for common observations and share their findings with the class.

I love this activity because it allows us to discuss the big ideas of a novel while allow the students to bring up things that are important to them. This activity is also a really fast way for me to see how my students are doing when it comes to understanding the deeper issues of the reading.

  1. Viewpoint Index Cards: When we are starting a new book, especially if it takes place in a unique time period and/or location, as students walk in the door, I will hand them an index card with a specific role on it (African American woman, white man, low income child, etc.) Each role relates to a person or groups of people in the novel. I tell them that they will be thinking about the events of the opening page through the viewpoint of the person they have on their card.

As we read, I pause after every few paragraphs to give them a chance to write down how their person would feel about the events/setting of the book. While you could choose to have students respond to each reading assignment from this viewpoint, I typically just use this technique to get students thinking about other people’s experiences and how the author is commenting on the social structures in the novel. I want students to have more choices in the ways they respond to the book, so I don’t require them to keep this viewpoint throughout the novel, but a teacher could use this as a unit-long approach.

No matter how you choose to use the ever-wonderful index card, always think about how you can make your teacher life better by spending time creating lesson plans that can be used again--different units, different classes, different content.  


Laurel Taylor is a high school English teacher and blogger. Over the past 12 years, she’s worked with 9th-12th graders in all levels of English classes. She has a passion for helping students develop reading and writing lives that will follow them as they leave high school. She also loves helping fellow teachers find effective and student-centered ways to improve their classrooms. Find her blog at