How to Create a 21st-century Classroom

The demands on 21st-century teachers are crazy. There’s so much to do; it makes it seem impossible to keep up.

Many articles about 21st-century learning seem too good to be true. When you read them or see videos of “model teachers,” do you think, “Yeah, but how do those lessons work in a real classroom with real kids and a standardized testing culture that puts such pressure on both?”

21st-century classroom


I don’t believe it does for most of us…at least not every day, every lesson. I can’t picture it with the limited amount of prep time I had, and I believe most of you are in the same boat. Honestly, Every lesson doesn’t to be like that.Think balance. Take the best of everything that education has done over the years, and make it work together to make learning happen.

Technology integration is a big part of 21st-century learning, but change doesn’t happen overnight. You cannot do everything right away. Keep it simple and seamless. Keep it easy by working 21st-century skills into your curriculum a little at a time.

So, what are these skills? How do we integrate them into our curriculum? What do the kids to be successful?

Foundational Skills

When I picture a 21st-century elementary classroom, I picture a new way of thinking about education. We’ve been “having school” the same way for over 100 years, but the world is not what it once was. In order to be successful, these kids require different skills when they graduate from high school than their great-great-grandparents did. So our focus needs to shift.

Elementary school is a time for kids to gain a foundation in every subject. Without essential reading, writing, and math skills, it will be more difficult for them to think at a higher level. These skills are the basis for everything we teach and where we look for determining success. As time goes on, I also see the importance of adding coding skills as part of an elementary curriculum. Many jobs of the future are going to require being able to create the computer programs, not just run them. It will become one of the 3 Rs.


Public schools followed the same model as the assembly lines in the factories where many of the people worked. Everyone went through at the same pace. They learned the same things at the same times, and most of them left with the skills needed to succeed in the early 1900s.

Today, there are so many new options for our students to pursue. They can go to college, trade school, start a business, or get a job. These choices are why they shouldn’t all be on the same path and end up in different places. They have different talents and interests. We want them to see a purpose in what they are doing in school. They need to see how these skills are part of a path to their future.

An updated educational model for the 21st-century


21st century classroom


A factory style system is no longer appropriate for our kids today. Differentiating is challenging, but technology can make it so much easier. There are many different programs where the kids can practice skills at their level for a time during the day. When I was teaching, I loved MobyMax. The kids used MobyMax for part of their reading time each day. They practiced basic skills and standards at their own level. Then I worked with them in small groups or individually when I saw they were struggling.

Encouragement to be a life-long learner

The phrase “life-long learner” has been around for a very long time, but I think it’s even truer today. These kids might hold 12 to 15 different jobs before they even turn 40. The kids will need to keep learning even once they’re out of school.

For example, since leaving teaching, I’ve learned about blogging, content, and social media marketing to get my site up and running. My husband is working with financial planning after training to be a printer back in high school. I’m sure you have examples from your own life where you needed to continue learning. Share those with your kids.

The ability to think critically

The amount of information in the world is expected to double about every two years for the next decade. If I did my math right, there would be 32 times as much information after those ten years are up. It’s impossible to keep up with exponential growth like that.

Each student should know facts about science, social studies, and other knowledge-based disciplines, but since they can never learn it all, they have to practice how to find it and how to make informed evaluations of the information when they find it. Searching requires thinking skills that go beyond remembering and understanding. These skills are sometimes known as the HOTS, or higher order thinking skills. These skills are analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

  • Analyzing happens when students take information apart to its smaller parts and can see relationships between those parts. They are looking for hidden meanings and patterns in the data.
  • Students evaluate when they can make decisions about what they experience by critiquing and questioning it. They can recognize biases in the evidence and decide if the evidence is useful or not.
  • When the students are asked to create something, they take the information they have and make something new from it. It requires planning, designing, and modifying those designs for the final product to be successful. These skills are something that we can’t say have been mastered. Some of the kids may not be quite ready for higher level skills in the primary grades, but with practice, they will start to show growth with them as they mature.

21st century classroom


The 4Cs of 21st-century education

Also essential for tomorrow’s workforce are the 4Cs: Creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. I’ve already mentioned creativity and critical thinking, and the other two seem rather self-explanatory. Children need multiple opportunities to communicate and collaborate with others in their classroom, as well as others in the world. If students everywhere are like my classes were, they need a lot of practice with this skill! The only way they are going to master it is by practicing.

According to what I’ve read, the students should be doing 80% of the talking in the classroom. It seemed like my classes did that! But, I’m talking about purposeful, lesson related talking, not chatter. Maybe 80% seems like a lot, but perhaps a fitting goal for all teachers would be to give the kids a bit more time to communicate and collaborate each day than you have done in the past.

How can you do it all?

It’s tough to think of and remember all of these things when you are a busy classroom teacher. So what can I do to help you incorporate those ideas? I will be mostly focusing on the role of technology as part of the 21st-century learning model, but I think it’s important for us to be aware of the other skills and make them a part of as many lessons and learning activities as possible. On my simple and seamless lesson planner, I have a place for you to consider these skills as you plan. They are not there as a requirement, but they are there to remind us to be mindful of them and to add them to lessons whenever possible.

I also will…

  • Give you ideas for simple ways to incorporate 21st-century skills into lessons by using technology
  • Create ready to use lessons that incorporate the skills into them
  • Give you a platform where you can share ideas. Your fabulous idea may spark an idea in another teacher’s mind!

You want to use 21st-century skills and technology in your classroom, but you just don’t have the time. Discover ways to integrate those skills without spending your entire prep time on one lesson. Subscribe to my mailing list and receive access to free, student-friendly how-to sheets for applications you can use with your class.


Please follow and like us:
Follow by Email
Visit Us