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Understanding Anchor Activities and How to Use Them

Understanding Anchor Activities and How to Use Them

October 23, 2018

No matter how carefully you have planned your lesson, there is often no way to create an activity that is going to be perfectly paced for the allotted class time for each student. Some students will finish early, and if you make that the benchmark to move on to other activities, you will inevitably leave some students behind. What’s the solution? Anchor activities!

1) What’s an Anchor Activity?

An anchor activity is an activity that is meaningfully connected to the lesson, engaging and worthwhile for the students, and completed on an ongoing basis over a relatively long period of time. This means that any time students are waiting for the next task to begin, finished early with extra time, or stumped and waiting for your individual attention, they can turn to their anchor activity and turn what would be idle time into active learning.

2) What are the Benefits of Anchor Activities?

Anchor activities allow you to turn those times in class that can turn unproductive in a more meaningful and intentional way. Anchor activities are particularly useful for the following times:

  • At the beginning of class while students are still settling into the environment
  • After students complete an individual activity but while other students are still working
  • When a student is stuck on an assignment but the teacher is not immediately available to help

By having a set activity to turn to during these times, students are empowered to take control of their own education in a way that gives them agency in their learning. It also helps stretch the teacher’s resources since it can be difficult to get to each individual student in a large classroom if several students are asking for assistance.


These practical benefits are matched by the activity’s curricular strengths. Anchor activities often give students the opportunity to think about the lesson in a new, multi-disciplinary way, making connections deeper and more applicable to the students’ lives.

3) How Do You Get Started?

Anchor activities come in many different forms. To get started, choose some simple ones that will not require a lot of prep work in order to get into a routine use of them. As you get more comfortable with them, you can build up to more complex and involved activities.

Some common anchor activities include the following:

  • Independent reading selections
  • Vocabulary activities
  • Journaling
  • Art projects
  • Math problems
  • Logic problems

Anchor activities work best when a few key principles are kept in mind:

  • Make sure the concepts have been taught before. An anchor activity is not about introducing new material. Rather, it gives students the opportunity to practice what they’ve already learned in a deeper way. Keep the anchor activities grounded in lessons that have already been covered.
  • Allow some time for everyone to work on them. While anchor activities can be used to keep early finishers busy, this should not be the only time allowed for them or some students may never get to work on theirs. A great strategy for anchor activities can be splitting the students into groups that flip in a single class period or over multiple class periods. This has the added benefit of giving you a chance to meet individually or in small groups with the students who are not working on the anchor activity.
  • Make it meaningful. Anchor activities should not just be “busy work.” They should actively engage students and give them a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the material. Make sure that the anchor activities provide information and practice that will come up in class and illustrate the connections in an authentic way.

However you decide to implement them, anchor activities can be an excellent addition to your classroom strategies.

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