If you have a smart board in your classroom, here is an idea I used today which worked wonderful. I think you could adapt it to a wide variety of lessons. I was introducing polynomials and monomials today in Algebra I and since it is their first exposure to these topics, I wanted to give them a good background before I just rushed into teaching multiplication properties of exponents.
I put up a slide that said "Monomial" on the left side and "Polynomial" on the right side. In the middle, I put about eight or nine algebraic expressions that were either monomials or polynomials arranged in a column.
The directions at the top of the slide said to slide each expression to the appropriate side of the board. I had no shortage of volunteers who wanted to come to the board and "slide" an expression to the appropriate side of the board. The students absolutely love playing with the smartboard and got a big kick out of doing this. After we had finished sorting the expressions, I was able to ask some critcal thinking questions like "What would you say the difference between a polynomial and monomial is," or "How would you define a monomial and polynomial based on these examples." The kids seemed to enjoy the discussion and correcting each other on their ideas.
I think the idea of sorting things based on similarities and differences is an important concept and allows a mental folder to be placed into the brain so new concepts have a place to land. So many times we skip this introductory step in learning and our students suffer for it.
I think this smartboard activity would work great for so many things. I had a few ideas today like putting linear equations in standard form in the middle column and sort them based on positive slope/negative slope or maybe positive y-int/negative y-intercept.
How about sorting different functions to determine whether they are linear or quadratic?
Maybe use it for function transformations. Which functions will produce a stretch or a shrink. The possibilities are endless and it needn't be a time consuming activity. Ten minutes is plenty to sort and then have some type of discussion.
If anyone else has an inspiration, I'd be glad to hear it.