The Importance of Low Floor, High Ceiling Activities
While some schools today track their students and group them by academic ability, it is generally considered best practice to keep students in mixed groupings. As a result of this, most teachers work in inclusion classrooms with students who have a wide variety of needs and abilities. In one classroom there may be English language learners, students on IEPs, students with 504 plans, advanced learners, and everyone in between. How can teachers create lessons that meet the needs of all of their students, are accessible to all learners, and challenge even their most advanced pupils? This is where low floor, high ceiling activities can be helpful.
What are Low Floor, High Ceiling Activities?
Low floor, high ceiling activities are essential tools that should be in every inclusion teacher’s toolbox. They are activities that have a low threshold for entry, so they are accessible to every learner in the classroom. However, with scaffolding and support, these activities can increase in complexity to challenge even the most advanced learner. These activities often include a lot of student choice so that students with different learning styles and academic strengths have multiple ways to demonstrate their mastery of the material. Think: number talks.
Low Floor, High Ceiling Examples
An example of a low floor, high ceiling activity would be a social studies project that asks upper elementary students to create their own communities. The project would open with a low floor activity such as asking students to describe their communities or draw a picture of their neighborhoods. This is a low-risk task that all students can engage in. It might then ask students to make a list of things they like about their communities and explain why that like those items. They would make a similar list of things that they dislike about their communities. These are all low floor activities that allow the learners to pull from their own backgrounds.
From there the teacher might break the class into groups to discuss more complex question such as, “What makes communities work?” or “What are some things that every community should have?” or “What are some things that can damage a community?” If students need support with the discussion, teaches could introduce sentence starters and different discussion protocols to give the discussions more structure and support all learners. After the discussion, students would be asked to create their dream communities.
To increase the challenge while providing choice, students would be given options of how they will create and present their communities. They could choose to create a diorama, write a descriptive essay, create a brochure for their community, or even create a community website. These are high ceiling activities that require creativity and critical thinking. Essentially, teachers use low floor activities to ensure that all students are able to access the content, and then use scaffolding and student choice to guide them to more challenging high ceiling activities with a higher depth of knowledge.
Other examples of low floor, high ceiling activities can be found in upper elementary math classrooms where teachers provide students with math Bingo sheets. The B column might contain questions that ask the students to change improper fractions into mixed fractions. The I column might ask students to add fractions with common denominators. The N might ask them to subtract fractions. The G column might have students multiplying fractions, and the O might require students to divide fractions.
The Bingo sheet works as a low floor because it provides students with choice. They can start working on the column that they feel the most confident in. This makes the activity accessible to all learners. Teachers can choose to allow students to work on the Bingo activity in pairs or in groups to provide students with more support as they move on to the more challenging columns. For students who need more support, the teacher may only require them to form Bingo by answering one question from each column. For advanced students, the teacher may require them to answer all of the questions on their Bingo cards. Teachers might even choose to extend the activity by asking students to create their own math Bingo sheets that they can then swap with their classmates. Everyone in the class is able to engage in the activity, and everyone is presented with just enough challenge to help them grow as a learner.
Why Use Low Floor, High Ceiling Activities?
The beauty of low floor, high ceiling activities is that they allow teachers to accommodate all of the learners in their classrooms without creating extra work for themselves. Instead of planning twenty-five different activities to meet all of the different learning activities and needs in the room, teachers create one lesson that everyone can access and that allows everyone to grow. For teachers in inclusion settings with English language learners or students on IEPs, low floor, high ceiling activities are a way to ensure that everyone is included in the lesson without feeling overwhelmed or excluded because of their academic levels.
Another benefit to using low floor, high ceiling activities is that it provides students with choice. These activities usually provide students with options so that they can customize their own learning experience and demonstrate their mastery of academic standards while working on assignments that they choose, and they enjoy. The high ceiling aspect of these assignments often leads to fun projects which allow students to be creative and bring their own backgrounds and interests into the classroom.
If you are a teacher who works with a diverse population of students, consider giving low floor, high ceiling activities a try. They are a great way to make lessons fun and accessible for all students while maintaining rigor and challenge in your classroom.