25 Tips and Examples for Student-Centered Learning

Alex Cohill is a special education teacher with ten years of experience serving students with severe cognitive disabilities and specializing in phonics instruction, assessment tracking, and functional learning.

Read on for actionable tips and practical examples for implementing student-centered learning using research-backed approaches.

Examples of student-centered learning

The term “student-centered learning” has become ubiquitous in education circles. It conjures images of engaged students guiding their learning while a teacher knowingly facilitates their experience. This learner-driven approach sounds idyllic, but what does it look like practically in the classroom?

Moving past buzzwords to applications, the student-centered model offers benefits like increased student engagement and personalized instruction. Actualizing it, however, is where anyone who operates in the real world faces challenges. How can teachers transition to this style amid the constraints of standards, packed schedules, and existing structures? Let’s explore actionable tips for creating a student-centered classroom using research-backed approaches.

What is Student-Centered Learning?

To understand how to implement student-centered learning, we must first define it. As the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) outlines, this model is characterized by tailoring instruction to meet individual needs, giving students greater autonomy and input, employing active learning strategies, and getting students to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning (Kallick & Zmuda, 2017). The teacher acts as a guide and facilitator rather than solely an information provider.

Research affirms the benefits of active, personalized learning. A meta-analysis published by Barbara McCombs in 2010 (revised in 2013) found that student-centered approaches boosted outcomes across categories of learners. However, actualizing this in contemporary school environments presents obstacles. How can pressed teachers foster self-directed learning while still meeting standards? Here are a few strategies you can realistically bring to your classroom today.

Examples of Student-Centered Learning To Try in Your Classroom

Start Small: Bite-Sized Student-Centered Steps

Reorienting one’s instructional approach can feel daunting. Student-centered teaching does not happen all at once. Teachers can start small with manageable steps:

  • Infuse brief “think-pair-share” activities to get students to reflect and collaborate. Provide an open-ended discussion prompt and have students talk in pairs or small groups before sharing with the class.
  • Administer mini-surveys (via paper or a tool like Google Forms) at the beginning or end of class to garner student feedback. Use this intel to adjust your approach.
  • Include brain breaks where students can move around, stretch, or participate in quick collaborative challenges. Letting students reset can improve focus.
  • Incorporate technology tools like Kahoot that allow students to direct activities and work at their own pace. Games and interactive learning tools boost engagement.
  • Assign open-ended reflective writing prompts for students to make deeper connections. End class with a “3-2-1” prompt: 3 things they learned, 2 connections, 1 question they still have.

Deploying these simple techniques creates bursts of learner autonomy and reflection amid teacher-led instruction. When starting, less is more. Identify two or three manageable entry points that work for your learners and subject area then build from there.

Leverage Assessments for Student-Driven Learning

Formative assessments present a prime opportunity to glean student needs and adjust instruction accordingly. When used strategically, they provide real-time data to personalize learning. Tools like Google Forms make embedding formative assessments easy.

  • Poll questions: Gauge student understanding of key concepts. You can tailor instruction based on students who grasp the material versus those needing more support.
  • Open-ended questions: Gain insight into student thinking and learning processes. Responses reveal how students interpret and make connections.
  • Multiple choice/short response questions: Identify gaps in knowledge. Use data to provide mini-lessons on struggling areas.
  • Draw It: Have students illustrate concepts. Comparing visuals shares diverse perspectives.
  • Discussion questions: Break into small groups to apply learning. Facilitate rich dialogues driving deeper learning.

Weave in formative assessments regularly to diagnose student needs and shape your approach to student-centered instruction. Dedicate planning time to crafting questions that reveal student readiness, interests, and learning profiles. The payoff? Student-driven learning is based on their progress.

Cultivate Student Interest and Choice

Centering learning around individual student interests boosts motivation exponentially. But how can teachers foster this within the required standards and curriculum? The answer? Provide choices around activities, resources, and products.

Given a set objective or text, survey your class on their interests tied to the topic. Then provide options:

  • Book clubs or literature circles with diverse text choices
  • Multiple research resources (articles, videos, interviews) to dig into a topic
  • Project with choice boards where students select their product (video, podcast, essay, poster, etc.)
  • Assignment menus detailing activities, formats, due dates, and grading options
  • Learning stations or “centers” with various learning modes represented

Build in structures where students can align required content with their passions and backgrounds. This will look different across disciplines and age groups. Remain flexible and responsive to the evolving interests emerging in your classroom.

Empower Students as Co-Teachers and Leaders

At its essence, student-centered learning encourages students to take on responsibility for their own learning experiences and offers leadership opportunities. Inviting students to take on teaching roles allows peer-to-peer learning and flips the script on traditional power dynamics.

Strategies include:

  • Flipped classroom (my personal favorite!) where students watch video lessons as “homework” to prepare for application activities in class. Students can also create videos!
  • Student presentations where learners research and teach a topic. Develop parameters tied to your goals.
  • Jigsaw activities where student groups become experts on subtopics and teach their peers.
  • Labs/stations where groups rotate through student-led activities related to the lesson objective.
  • Opportunities for student input on lessons, assignments, and class policies.

Co-constructing norms and syllabi boosts ownership. Leveraging student expertise and leadership fosters an inclusive learning environment. Encourage creativity and collaboration as students direct their learning. You can step back as they step up!

Overcoming Obstacles: Making It Work In Your Context

Implementing student-driven learning within rigid standards and existing power structures demands creativity. But it is possible when applied sensibly.

  • Identify areas of flexibility in standards or objectives where you can incorporate student interests and input.
  • Build student choice and autonomy into existing lesson templates and formulas required by your school. For example, allow a choice of research resources or final products.
  • Lobby for scheduling changes like block periods, floating “flextime,” or minimum days for student-driven activities.
  • Partner with supportive administrators, coaches, and teachers to brainstorm solutions. Change is easier collectively.
  • Temper expectations for yourself and your students. Meaningful student-centered learning happens incrementally through small changes. Slow and steady!

Each educator must determine what student ownership looks like in their unique environment. Leverage points of flexibility and take it step-by-step. As your institutional community sees the impact on student motivation and learning, spaces may open up for more significant shifts.

Start Where You Are With What You Have

Student-centered learning remains aspirational for many teachers, but I promise it is not out of reach. Scaffolding ownership, crafting responsive assessments, and boosting student leadership happens through small, yet purposeful, moves. Meet students where they are to guide them forward in their learning journey. Success lies in our ability to understand and inspire our students. And often, the most powerful learning comes when we step aside and let students lead. What change can you start today?


Kallick, B., & Zmuda, A. (2017, January 27). Students at the Center. ASCD.

McCombs, B. (2010). Learner-centered practices: Providing the context for positive learner development, motivation, and achievement. In Handbook of research on schools, schooling, and human development (pp. 60-74). Routledge.

About the author

Alex Cohill


About Alex

Alex is an Exceptional Children’s teacher, soccer coach, and aspiring children’s author. He has been teaching Special Education for ten years with the last six spent serving… Read more

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