So you want to utilize active learning methods in your class. What does that actually look like? Because active learning is such a broad concept that can take many forms, it can be helpful to look at examples of the types of in-class exercises instructors use to put it into practice. Below are a sampling of activities used in Rutgers classroom settings that are designed to get students to engage with material, test their knowledge of concepts, critically work through problems, develop their ability to constructively dialogue and work with others, and more. The best activity will be customized to your content, students, and teaching goals. Use these as a starting point for your course. If you use an active learning method that is not listed here or would like to provide a specific example of you use one of these methods, let us know. This is a dynamic list based around the techniques employed by Rutgers faculty.
Ask students to write down or discuss with partners or groups their reaction to some facet of course material and "provide an emotional or valuative response." In subject areas for "which such questions are appropriate," this exercise can be a useful starting point, particularly when followed by theoretical analysis. By hearing varying views before learning theory, students will be prepared to see the subject in context and explore their own thinking. This approach can also be valuable when discussing a scientific area where the general public may have views that differ from current scientific thinking.
Ask students what they think of Dr. Jack Kevorkian's actions before discussing "what various moral theorists would make of them."
Ask students whether is it better to use plastic or paper packaging.
Gather student reactions to the comparative environmental pros and cons of nuclear power.
Source: Jennifer L. Faust & Donald R. Paulson, Active and Cooperative Learning.
https://www.calstatela.edu/dept/chem/chem2/Active/index.htm, Accessed Aug. 16. 2016.
Write one question on each group's board. After each group discusses and writes an answer below the question, instructor each group to rotate and repeat, writing their answer below the first. Continue rotating until the groups are back at their board.
Adapted in part from: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 7.
www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.
Ask the class to form groups and have them discuss a concept. Ask them to make sure each student provides one idea. After ten minutes, ask groups to report out while having other groups that reached the same conclusion to raise their hands. As they report out, record the main points on the whiteboard or screens using a computer or document camera.
Source: McKeachie, W. J., & Svinicki, M. (2006). McKeachie’s teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Content check can be used to ensure enough of the class understands a concept that was covered in class or at home that you can move on to another topic. Ask the class a multiple choice question which students can answer by raising their hand or using a polling system. If more than 80 percent of students answer correctly, move on. If not, ask students to turn to their neighbor and convince them why their response was correct. Ask the question again and if less than 80 percent of the class still answer incorrectly, revisit the topic.
Source: Mazur, E. (1997).
Peer instruction: A user’s manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Publishing.
Divide the class in half and assign opposing positions on an issue to each half. Solicit five arguments from each side. You can repeat this, with rebuttals, until all concepts are explored. At the conclusion, request one or two students from each side to summarize their side's argument.
Considerations from the Community
Soliciting rebuttals is often the most challenging part of this exercise.
Debate may be easier to conduct in graduate-level courses.
Source: Frederick, P. J. (2002). Engaging students actively in large lecture settings. In C. A. Stanley, & M. E. Porter(Eds.), Engaging Large Classes: Strategies and Techniques for College Faculty(pp. 58–66). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company.
Everyday Ethical Dilemma
A fishbowl typically involves dividing students into two groups in the classroom: a smaller "inner circle" who discuss a topic and an "outer group" who observe. After the "inner circle" finishes discussing a topic, the outer groups is asked to comment on both content and the process of the discussion. Instructors can choose the discussion question or invite students to provide a question in advance.
Jigsaw (Group Experts)
In literature circles, small groups of students gather together to discuss a piece of literature in depth. The discussion is guided by students' response to what they have read. Students might talk about events and characters in the book, the author's craft, or personal experiences related to the story. Literature circles provide a way for students to engage in critical thinking and reflection as they read, discuss, and respond to books. Students should reshape and add onto their understanding as they construct meaning with other readers. Through structured discussion and extended written and artistic responses, students should develop a deeper connection the the writing.
Source: Johnson, J & Schlick Noe, K (1999)
. Getting Started with Literature Circles.
Before class or in class, ask students to write down the "most confusing" point of the last class or concept covered. Collect the responses and select some to read and discuss with the class. One minute papers can be given at the end of class or before a break, giving you time to select the most appropriate submissions.
Considerations from the Community
It can be hard to read and integrate all the muddiest points into class. Consider using Poll Everywhere or Twitter to identify the most important points.
If you have students discuss muddiest points in groups before engaging in a discussion with the entire class, students may get their initial questions answered by their peers.
If students are submitting their muddiest point in writing, consider having them fill out index cards. This will confine the length of the answer to an appropriate space and make it easier for you to organize responses.
Adapted in part from: Jennifer L. Faust & Donald R. Paulson, Active and Cooperative Learning.
https://www.calstatela.edu/dept/chem/chem2/Active/index.htm, Accessed Aug. 16. 2016. Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 4. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.
One Minute Paper
Peer Review Writing Test
"To assist students with a writing assignment, encourage them to exchange drafts with a partner. The partner reads the essay and writes a three-paragraph response: the first paragraph outlines the strengths of the essay, the second paragraph discusses the essay’s problems, and the third paragraph is a description of what the partner should focus on in revision."
Source: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 6.
www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.
Polling can be a quick way to gauge your class's understanding of a concept, force students to pause and engage with a question, and provide feedback to them on how much they understand. Polling can be especially useful in a large classes and spaces that are not conducive to collaborative work.
Different Polling Solutions Used at Rutgers:
iClicker: a commonly used way to elicit responses from students who use either a hand-help "clicker" remote or their own mobile device. Visit the Office of Instructional & Research Technology's
iClicker page for more information. Poll Everywhere: a completely web-based method in which students use their mobile devices to respond. Learn more about how DCS has worked with faculty to trial Poll Everywhere on the
DCS Pilots page. Turning Point: similar to iClicker in use and options. OIRT offers more information on their
Turning Point Sakai page.
Role playing can be a useful way to promote 'real-world' application of theory. Along the way, it promotes interest in the topic, involves students in creating and negotiating meaning, and increases empathy as students view issues from different perspectives. Role playing typically involves four stages:
the instructor explains the topic,
the students prepare for the activity,
the actual role-play activity, and
a follow up discussion and debrief.
Students play out events as different characters from history.
Students act as patient and provider in a healthcare setting.
A debate in which students tackle a controversial topic assuming the roles of various stakeholders, such as community members, corporate board members, and workers in a meeting about the use of public land.
Students studying English as a second language act our everyday situations - such as eating at a restaurant, shopping, and using public transportation - to practice language skills.
Source: Promoting Active Learning.
, Accessed Oct. 17 2016.
Pose a question to the class and give students 30 to 60 seconds to think about or write down a response. Next, pair the students up and give them three to five minutes to explain their responses to each other. Discuss the issue or result with the entire class. For certain topics, you can also have students vote on their responses before and after discussing. You can invite students who changed their vote to explain their rationale. Before discussing with the entire class, you can also ask students to rotate or re-pair and repeat the exercise, allowing them the benefit of their previous pairing.
Adapted from: Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
While some student are eager to ask questions, these questions may not be representative of the entire class's understanding. At the same time, cold calling on students who are not prepared to or comfortable speaking in front of groups can also be unproductive. The following are a few ways to ask questions of students that can avoid these concerns:
Teach students to quickly sketch out a response to question in their notes. After posing a question, give students time to prepare their response, 15 seconds to a few minutes depending on the question’s complexity, before calling on a student.
Give questions at the end of class and begin the next class by calling on students for their responses.
Solicit answers from a small area of the class or on one group and wait for a volunteer. This can increase the pressure for someone to respond.
Clicker or web-based polling provides a way to encourage responses without the pressure of being put on the spot.
Adapted in part from: University of North Carolina, Center for Faculty Excellence . "Classroom Activities for Active Learning." For Your Consideration...Suggestions and Reflection on Teaching and Learning (Nov. 2009): 1. cfe.unc.edu/files/2014/08/FYC2.pdf. Accessed Web. 5 Aug. 2016.
Quote Minus One
Provide a quote relevant to your topic but leave out a crucial work and ask students to guess what it might be. For example, "I cannot forecast to you the action of _____; it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.'" This activity serves to quickly engage students in a topic and make them feel invested.
This technique can be used to allow students to check their understanding of material during a lecture and provides an opportunity for any students that were beginning to get lost to catch up. Take a brief break, perhaps 2 to 3 minutes, during which students compare their class notes "with other students, fill in gaps, and develop joint questions."
Adapted in part from: Kevin Yee.
, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.
Contact us with your ideas.
Creative Commons BY-NC-SA–OK to use and remix if non-commercial.