Interactive Learning Structures

Interactive Learning Structures

Do you ever notice students zoning out, getting distracted, or acting antsy in the middle of a lesson? Add some spark to your lesson plans with interactive learning structures! These fun, hands-on activities get kids out of their seats and interacting with peers. Structures like Snowball and Graffiti make learning active and collaborative. Learn how to implement these purposeful structures to engage students and motivate learning.

What Are Interactive Learning Structures?

Interactive learning structures are easy-to-use, purposeful activities that promote maximum learning by being active (hands-on) and interactive (involving collaboration amongst students).  By giving students opportunities to move around a bit, positively interact with peers, and stretch their thinking, these interactive learning structures motivate students to engage more deeply with their learning. These structures enable you to provide varied opportunities for lively learning while maintaining order and purposefulness in your classroom. Each structure helps you quickly organize students into pairs or small groups and provides a format that helps students work together on a specific learning goal, assignment, or project.

Interactive learning structures are fun, but they’re much more than that. They are also ignitors of learning. By piquing students’ interest in the material, these structures encourage maximum
effort and strengthen students’ academic and social-emotional skills. By letting students interact in positive ways with classmates, these structures help build a positive classroom community. And by giving you quick and easy ways to organize students’ learning, they help you make the most of your most valuable and limited resource—time. The result: improved motivation and learning outcomes for every student you teach.

Using Interactive Learning Structures Effectively

The following tips will help you get the most out of the interactive learning structures you decide to use in your classroom:

  1. Take time to plan and reflect. To help students be successful, it’s important to give yourself time to plan how you’ll use each structure. Think about the learning goal, whether your classroom allows enough space for the structure you have in mind, and if students are developmentally ready to do it—for example, can they exercise self-control when everyone’s moving around the room at the same time? Then after students have used the structure, take some time to reflect on what went well and what didn’t, and adjust as needed next time.
  2. Make sure students have the skills they need. You’ll want to make sure that any structure you choose is relatively easy for all students to use successfully so it supports rather than interferes with learning goals. For example, Maître d’ requires students to move around the classroom to form small groups with different classmates and share a wide range of ideas, so you’d want to be sure they can do both of those things successfully. One quick, effective way to teach skills like these is by using a Responsive Classroom practice called Interactive Modeling.
  3. Use pairs as the starting point. Working with just one person can feel safer for students as they develop their academic conversation skills, so have students start working in pairs rather than small groups or as a whole class.
  4. Form pairs and groups purposefully. Most of interactive learning structures call for putting students in pairs or small groups of three or four. Think about the learning goal, as well as students’ abilities and interests, when assigning them to pairs or groups. Some ways to form groups are mixed abilities, mixed interests, similar abilities, similar interests, or randomly. When you think students are ready to be respectful and inclusive, give them some autonomy in choosing their own partners or groupmates.
  5. Speak briefly, directly, and genuinely. Because a teacher’s language—words, tone, and pace—is one of the most powerful teaching tools available, how you speak to the
    class while using these structures helps ensure their success. Effective teacher language helps students learn by conveying faith in their abilities and intentions, and by focusing on their actions rather than their character or personality. This includes teacher language such as open-ended questions, reinforcing language, and reminding language.
  6. State the expectations for small group learning. It’s important to emphasize that you expect everyone to make a contribution and that both individual and group effort determine success. Regularly remind students of these expectations whenever they’re about to begin working with partners or in small groups.
  7. Clarify roles and responsibilities. To ensure true collaboration, teach students how to carry out their individual roles and responsibilities as members of a group or team. Often you’ll want to assign specific roles within each group, such as a facilitator, recorder, reporter, or presenter. Be specific when teaching each of these roles: name exactly what to do and model as needed. Post anchor charts that list roles and responsibilities to support students in being successful.

Popular Interactive Learning Structures

Four Corners

  1. Pose a question (academic or social) that has four possible responses. For example: “If you could choose one favorite weekend activity, what would it be?”
  2. Designate one corner of the room for each response, for example: Corner one—Listening to music Corner two—Reading Corner three—Spending time outdoors Corner four—Sleeping
  3. Give students a minute to reflect on their choice. When time is up, they move to the corresponding corner.
  4. In their corners, students discuss in small groups (or pairs) why they made their choice.
  5. Allow about 1–2 minutes for the discussion. Provide a 10-second warning before time is up.
  6. Repeat, with a new question and responses, as time allows.


  1. Give each student a strip of blank white paper.
  2. Students write a statement on the paper in response to a question or topic you pose (they do not put their names on the paper).
  3. Students gather in a circle, crumple up their piece of paper, and toss their “snowball” into the center of the circle.
  4. Everyone picks up a snowball and, going around the circle, takes turns reading it aloud.


  1. Post charts around the room with different questions or ideas that relate to one content area being studied.
  2. Invite students to write their ideas on the charts. They can start at any chart, go in any order, and write in any style anywhere on the chart.
  3. Working in small groups, students find common themes among the ideas on each chart.
  4. Have each group share their findings with the whole class.

Further Resources

For a more comprehensive look at interactive learning structures, including ideas and tips, check out the following resources: