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My 4 favorite no-prep student-centered activities for high school science

no-prep student-centered activities

If you are a secondary science teacher, I can bet that you are probably pretty tired from all of the responsibilities that go into your job. It can be hard to come up with ways to engage students in your classroom that don’t require a TON of behind-the-scenes prep work on your end. But have no fear, I am here to share my FAVORITE no-prep student-centered activities with you.

I’ve used all of these strategies with my own students and love that they put the learning back on the students AND don’t require additional preparation on my end. This was especially helpful when I was balancing 5 preps and trying to keep my classes engaged – without entirely exhausting myself. I hope you find them helpful, too!

Fave No-Prep Student-Centered Activity #1: Build Models.

no-prep student-centered activities

I cannot tell you how underestimated model building is as a teaching method! If there is ONE thing I URGE you to try after reading this blog it is to have your students start building models! It is such an easy, no-prep activity that is entirely student-centered.

I started bringing model building into my teaching toolbox when I moved to an NGSS school, as one of the science and engineering practices (one of the 3 dimensions of NGSS) is “Develop and use models.”

At first, when I thought of models, all I could picture were edible cell organelle models out of food (please tell me I am not the only one!!) but I quickly learned from some coworkers that model building is SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT!!

A model is simply a representation of something. If you ask your students to build a model, it can be ANYTHING that represents what you are teaching in class. YES, it can totally be 3-dimensional, like the traditional edible cell model, but it can be much simpler than that!

My favorite ways to have students build models with virtually NO prep required for you the teacher are:

  • Building models with chalk markers (or Neon expo markers) on lab tables! Students LOVE writing on the tables. So simple but 100x more fun for them than drawing with markers on paper.
  • Building models with play dough. I love giving them the opportunity to do something tactile, and honestly, there is something incredibly soothing about play dough. You don’t have to buy it, either! Here is an easy DIY recipe you can do.
  • Building models with simple supplies you have in your classroom. I have students make models of ATP using construction paper and brads. That’s it! So simple and they get so much out of it!
  • Building models with concept maps – which brings me to my next favorite no-prep student-centered activity!

Fave No-Prep Student-Centered Activity #2: Create Concept Maps.

no-prep student-centered activities

A concept map is really just a model – and it can be a GREAT one, at that, for students seeing the connectedness of different terms and concepts.

We had a big push one year when I was teaching in the “Freshmen Academy” at my school to incorporate concept maps all the time. I am not sure if it was a district initiative or an admin’s research project for their doctorate, but we were required to do all sorts of pre and post-tests and record how often we were using concept maps.

It was honestly exhausting having to make them ALL OF THE TIME, and I thought, why not have students start making them?? It was incredibly effective and required virtually 0 prep on my end! Here is how I did it:

  1. Make sure to do concept maps (pre-made) with your students for a bit first so they know what a concept map is.
  2. Start small. Write just 5-6 vocabulary terms on your white board and have students work with a partner to make a concept map connecting the terms. There should be two versions – a blank one that they could give another classmate to complete, and a filled in “answer key”, too.
  3. Get bigger! Start challenging students with more words to connect. Have them work on their own, and then trade and solve their neighbor’s. This is such good practice for their brains, completely student-centered, and the ONLY prep it requires from you is writing a list of terms of your whiteboard for them to include!

Fave No-Prep Student-Centered Activity #3: Try out POGILs!

no-prep student-centered activities

I first discovered POGILs (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) when I was teaching AP biology for the first time. They SAVED me from lecturing for hours with my students and helped so much with engagement when I had 0 money for lab supplies.

Not only that, but I found them to be an incredibly effective tool for engaging my students in content that truly required no-prep on my end. It was 100% worth the $60 I spent to access the book of POGILs for AP Biology and the corresponding answer keys. You can check out all of the available POGILs here from Flinn.

I honestly wish I could be sponsored by POGIL – ha!! – because of how many people I have now convinced to start using them. My department chair fell in love with the chemistry ones. I think they are especially helpful for tackling the trickiest subjects. As with anything, if you do something TOO many times, the kids will lose interest, so pick and choose each year which you want to do!

Note: These MUST be done in class to be effective because (1) they are designed to be done in groups, and (2) unfortunately many teachers have broken the laws and illegally uploaded the answer keys online.

Fave No-Prep Student-Centered Activity #4: Play “4 Corners” or “2 Sides”.

no-prep student-centered activities

Last but not least of my favorite no-prep student-centered activities would have to be playing “4 Corners” or “2 Sides” with my students. All you have to do is come up with any sort of claim and present it to your students.

This could be a controversial question (Ex. Asking, “Should screening for genetic disorders be a routine part of prenatal care?” in your genetics unit) or it could just be a statement (Ex. Saying, “Genes are on chromosomes, and your chromosomes are your DNA.”) This statement could be correct OR incorrect. The point is to throw something out there and have your students “pick a side”, and then debate it as a class, backing up their claims with evidence and reasoning.

I like to think of this type of activity as a CER in action! It gets students on their feet, thinking critically, and having to defend what they think with evidence and reasoning. Here is how it works:

  • Come up with any sort of claim (again, can be just a statement or an ethical dilemma, or anything!)
  • Have students pick a side (Ex. This side of the room is “for” vs. This side of the room is “against”.)
  • Discuss with their peers on their side their list of evidence and reasoning.
  • Present these to the class.
  • Allow rebuttals.
  • Create space for them to research for further support, if needed.

If your statement or questions is more than a “this or that”, you can send students to one of the “4 Corners” in your room. If you have my Genetics Unit, this is how the introduction to Concept 2 inquiry activity is designed that is included!

I hope this gives you some ideas for how to implement student-centered activities that require no extra prep on your end!

Have any favorites from your teaching experience? I would LOVE to hear! You can reach out to me and share here.

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