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Strategy or Activity?

Even for those of us who have been in the field for a very long time, it is difficult at times to know the difference between an activity and a strategy. In its simplest form, a strategy is the plan you intend to use to teach a concept or achieve an objective, while an activity is the actual means you use to accomplish it.

You may wonder why it is important to understand the difference seeing as they appear part and parcel of each other. The importance is found in knowing why we do what we do. Our strategies guide our instruction since they are based upon the needs of the students and our state standards. The activities we choose to use are selected based upon classroom management concerns, personal comfort, and what we understand about the interests of our students.

As you look through the strategies and activities below, think about the needs in your classroom and choose the ones that will work best for you. 

Strategies & Activities

Instructional Strategies

Education is like every other profession in that we have a very specific lexicon of terms that we use to describe and define what we do. Even for those of us who have been teaching for many years, the terminology can be a little confusing at times. The main reason for this lies in the fact that while there is “nothing new under the sun” many of our terms get reworked and are referred to as something else. While there are many educational strategies available, differentiated instruction and scaffolding are two foundational ones I believe every educator should use.

Differentiated instruction forms the basis of much of what we do in the classroom. This strategy comes from the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson, Howard Gardener’s work on multiple intelligences, and learning styles theory. If our objective is to ensure that every student learns the required skills during their time in our class, we must ensure that we teach those skills more than one time and in more than one way. Modalities, multiple intelligences, and learning styles are all terms we are familiar with, but they must translate into learning objectives, lesson plans, and instructional delivery for all of us to become successful with differentiated instruction.

Scaffolding is another foundational strategy that must be implemented in every classroom every day. As a former construction worker, scaffolding is a vital part of what I did as a drywall finisher and painter. Without the scaffold, I would never have been able to finish the hard to reach areas of the project. In the same way, the scaffolding, or individual support a teacher provides, enables students to reach higher objectives than they could on their own. When I was first introduced to this term and practice, I felt that it was almost akin to cheating. Since that time, I have come to realize that supporting learning is not the same as providing answers. That is not the purpose of the scaffold. The scaffold merely provides support, but the student still needs to do the work. Using a ladder to replace a light bulb isn’t cheating; it is using a tool that allows the job to get done safely and efficiently. Supporting struggling learners means they can achieve mastery and experience success.

There is a plethora of learning strategies that exist for educators to implement in their instructional practice, and the list below is in no way exhaustive. I have sorted them into the broad categories of Direct Instruction, Indirect Instruction, Interactive Instruction, and Experiential Learning. Within those categories I have included various learning strategies and a brief description of each.


Learning Activities

Educational activities are often confused with educational strategies, and while it may not particularly matter which term you use, it matters a great deal that we understand the difference. The root word for “activities” is “active.” Therefore, activities are the things we do. Strategies are the means we use to deliver the instruction. It is possible to do activities all day long but accomplish very little at the end of the day because there was no stated objective and no defined strategy to reach it.

To provide an exhaustive list here would prove impossible since there are literally hundreds of thousands of classroom activities posted on websites like Pinterest, Scholastic, Teachers Pay Teachers, or any site you might find when you search for teaching ideas on the Internet. Just as students have learning styles, educators have teaching styles. There are some activities we are more comfortable with than others. Some teachers love to sing and incorporate that activity into their lessons regularly. (Note: Using music is an effective strategy. Singing a song is an activity.) Others like to dance, or have carpet time, or use workbook pages. These are all activities which should be tied to a learning strategy. Activities should not be used only because they are fun, cute, or fill time. Activities are part of the instructional process; they are meant to have purpose.

Remember, we use activities to differentiate our instruction, but we must match the activity to the standard we are teaching. State standards drive our instruction, and our strategies and activities are tied to those standards. Below are a few examples of classroom activities commonly used in classrooms:


This is by no means all the activities teachers use in their classrooms, but they are all things that we “do” with our students. A strategy is the means we use to teach the concept; activities are how we practice and reinforce the skill.

  • Drawing

  • Singing

  • Dancing

  • Hundreds chart

  • Morning message

  • Calendar time

  • Math manipulatives

  • Venn diagrams

  • Character maps

  • Flip books

  • Handwriting practice

  • Science experiments

  • History timelines

  • Book reports

  • Pocket charts

  • Vocabulary review

  • Worksheets

  • Game boards

  • Educational videos

  • Flash cards

  • Story maps

  • D.E.A.R./S.S.R.

  • Think-Pair-Share

  • Math fact relay

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