Taking active learning into the primary school: a matter of new practices?

Christine Stephen, Jennifer Ellis, Joan Martlew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the extension of active learning pedagogical practices familiar in preschool settings to the first class of primary school. Policy and practice guidance in the UK is advocating the benefits of experiential learning as a way of engaging young children as they move into primary school but for teachers this means a move to new practices which can be in tension with other expectations. In this paper, the rationale for active learning is considered along with an account of the classroom activities of teachers and children in five primary schools that were implementing the policy shift to active learning. The children in these classes spent varying amounts of time in whole class activities led by the teacher or in small groups directed to engage with specific activities. They had opportunities to engage and respond verbally, through manipulating objects and with physical actions but the emphasis was on planned, teacher-directed learning activities. The characteristics of active learning as introduced in these innovative classes are compared with the expectations of practice guidance and theorising about early learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315 - 329
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Early Years Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • active learning
  • primary school
  • classroom practices
  • teacher actions
  • implementing policy


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