Learning is more meaningful when experienced first hand by our students, rather than when they hear about something. Let's share our "best practices" about a hands-on lesson we felt really hit a home run with our students.
When studying the medieval period during British lit, we often create our own medieval town, complete with guilds and other factors from the time. We host a one-hour town faire for some of the elementary students to come and visit. Students actually create items to display and sometimes give; they also conduct demonstrations and share their knowledge of the trade they chose for this activity. Everyone loves it--fairgoers as well as guild members.
Diagramming sentences! I love teaching students about grammar by diagramming, and I just happen to be blessed with an entire wall in my classroom which is magnetic. I have created magnetic words which are color-coded based on parts of speech, and we create sentences which are compound, complex, simple, etc. with all sorts of phrases, clauses, compound subjects, compound verbs, understood subjects, etc. to place on our little line. It is fun, active, and visual. Students really do get it, and I find that they turn to diagramming on the tests to figure out the functions of the words, phrases, and clauses in grammar.
I use a really cool cut and paste lesson that could be made three-dimensional if I ever tried.
Here's the idea: when I teach about the slave trade, my students have a ship on a piece of paper, and then I have different pieces that they have to cut out to try to fit in the ship. I position them as slave traders making decisions slave traders made when considering cargo. Their purpose was to make money. Many American companies today still like that money stuff. So my students cut out shapes and try to position as many items in the boat as possible without overlap. Each shape represents something - a certain number of people, medical supplies, clean water, or clothes among other things. After they have completed the task, students see what the consequences are of their choices. If they left medical supplies behind, a certain number of people died. By the time they are done, they feel great guilt for being materialistic and wanting to make money off the backs of the slaves. It drives home a great point and I am glad the spatial learning gives them that opportunity.
One particular lesson that I taught once was in science and the students made telegraphs. They really enjoyed making them because they learned a new and fun way to communicate with one another. Students always seem to like hands on activities better than lessons that they just hear.
Yes, multisensory learning is definitely key here. Anything we as teachers can do to involve the senses of our students really helps the learning process. Although I am not a science teacher, I remember making a rocket out of an empty plastic bottle and a valve etc, and it really made science come alive to me. Other examples include simulating a volcano and having our own DNA sample taken.
In science, pretty much anything is more understandable with hands-on activities. In high school bio, constructing DNA molecules with either a kit or available odds and ends shows how info is transmitted. We also use transferring water from a bucket with plastic cups (holes in the bottom) in chains of different numbers of students to represent energy transferred in a food chain. Not only are the hands-on ways effective, they are fun.