Activities

word cloudSo 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.

Affective Response

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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Ask the Winner
  1. Ask students to silently solve a problem individually at their seats, or on white boards around the room if in an Active Learning Classroom.

  2. After revealing the answer, instruct those who got it right to raise their hands (and keep them raised)

  3. Then, all other students are to partner with someone with a raised hand to better understand the question and how to solve it next time.

  4. If time allows, give a second practice problem, this time for students to solve together in their partner groups.

  5. Instruct students to have the student who missed the first problem take the lead on solving the new problem, explaining their steps as they go, with the student who solved the first problem acting as coach.

Adapted in part from: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 7. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, December 5, 2017.

Board Rotation

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.

Brain Drain

Divide students into groups of 5 or 6. Hand out to each student an empty grid with a prompt or task at the top to brainstorm, 5-6 rows (one for each group member) and 3-4 columns. Each row represents a brainstorming round. Each column represents a distinct component of the focus issue.

  1. Each person brainstorms possible answers in row one, filling in each of the columns in that row with their response to the prompt.

  2. After three minutes, rotate papers clockwise. Each student works on the same problem in row 2, without repeating any answers from row 1.

  3. Continue until sheet is filled in, with each progressive round generating more creative responses to the original issue.

  4. After the entire sheet is completed, groups debrief to find the best answers and optionally present to the rest of the class.

Example:

Issue: Develop a plan to clean up the local park, determining how you will gather the human resources needs, the financial resources needed, and how you will publicize your project.

Round Human Resources Financial Resources Publicitiy
1 Volunteers from local high schools Bake sale Flyers posted in public spaces
2      
3      

Adapted in part from: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 7. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, December 5, 2017.

Build from Restriced Components
  1. Provide limited resources (or a discrete list of ideas that must be used) and either literally or figuratively dump them on the table

  2. Ask students in groups to construct a solution using only these things

  3. If possible, provide “red herrings”, and ask students to construct a solution using the minimum amount of items possible.

Adapted in part from: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 7. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, December 5, 2017.

Concept Mapping
  1. Create a focus question that clearly specifies the issue that the concept map should address, such as “What are the potential effects of cap-and-trade policies?” or “What is materials science?”

  2. Tell students (individually or in groups) to begin by generating a list of relevant concepts and organizing them before constructing a preliminary map.

  3. Students may be asked to start from scratch, or you may give them a partially completed map where they need to fill in information.

  4. Encourage students to create maps that:

    1. Employ a hierarchical structure that distinguishes concepts and facts at different levels of specificity;

    2. Draw multiple connections, or cross-links, that illustrate how ideas in different domains are related;

    3. Include specific examples of events and objects that clarify the meaning of a given concept.

Prepared by the Teaching and Learning with Technology Team.

Lecture Check
  1. After about 15 to 20 minutes of lecture, project a question for the class to see. This may be a multiple choice item that is similar to the type of question that will be used on an exam.

  2. Students vote for the response they think is correct using clickers (or hand-raising, etc).  

  3. If most of the students have the correct response, the instructor simply continues with the course material. If, however, more than approximately 20% choose the incorrect response, the instructor has students turn to their neighbor and convince them of the correct choice.  

  4. Finally, the instructor goes through the items again to see how many choose each alternative. If an unacceptable number still have incorrect responses, it may be wise to go back over the material.

Bonus: Students also can be called on to defend the selection they have made.

Prepared by the Teaching and Learning with Technology Team.

Debate

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

"Present an abbreviated case study with an ethical dilemma related to the class subject." Invite students to weigh in, possibly after having them discuss as groups first.

Source: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 9. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.

Fishbowl

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.

Source: Active Learning Strategies: Fish Bowl. http://www.austincc.edu/adnfac/collaborative/online_fishbowl.htm. Accessed Oct. 17 2016.

Jigsaw (Group Experts)

This activity is especially efficient for covering larger amounts of information in a relatively short time, over 1-2 class periods.

  1. Give each group a different topic to investigate, discuss, or research. These will be the “expert” groups. Inform students that each group member should be prepared to report out on the group’s findings.

  2. After a set amount of time spent in the “expert” groups, create new groups. Each new group should have one “expert” on each of the original topics.

  3. Each “expert” now has to teach his new group the topic he or she focused on in the first part of the activity.

Adapted in part from: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 7. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, December 5, 2017.

Literature Circle

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. Christopher-Gordon Publishers.
Muddiest Point 

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.

Note Comparison

Take a break for two to three minutes to allow students to compare their class notes so far with other students, fill in gaps, and develop joint questions.

Prepared by the Teaching and Learning with Technology Team.

One Minute Paper

This activity helps the instructor gauge student understanding. Give students one (or a few) minute(s) to write down an answer to a question. Collecting and reviewing the responses will tell you weather you are meeting the lesson's goals.

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. 7. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.

Pass the Problem
  1. Divide students into groups.

  2. Give the first group a case or a problem and ask them to identify (and write down) the first step in solving the problem or analyzing the case (3 minutes).

  3. Pass the problem on to the next group and have them identify the next step.

  4. Continue until all groups have contributed.

Adapted in part from: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 7. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, December 5, 2017.

Pick the Winner
  1. Divide the class into groups and have all groups work on the same problem and record an answer/strategy on paper.

  2. Then, ask groups to switch with a nearby group, and evaluate their answer.

  3. After a few minutes, allow each set of groups to merge and ask them to select the better answer from the two choices, which will be presented to the class as a whole.

Adapted in part from: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 7. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, December 5, 2017.

Picture Prompt
  1. Show students an image (photo, graph, diagram, cartoon, etc.) with no explanation, and ask them to identify/explain it, and justify their answers. Alternatively, ask students to write about it using terms from lecture, or to name the processes and concepts shown.

  2. Students may work on this individually and then share in small groups. Or, they may begin individually/in small groups and then share as a whole class.

  3. After students have explored all options, give students the “right answer” (or your expert insight) and use this to frame discussion.

Adapted in part from: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 7. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, December 5, 2017.

Polar Opposites
  1. Ask the class to examine two written-out versions of a theorem (or corollary, law of nature, etc.), where one is incorrect, such as the opposite or a negation of the other.

  2. In deciding which is correct, students will have to examine the problem from all angles.

  3. Follow with a group or whole-class discussion in which students explain their reasoning.

Adapted in part from: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 7. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, December 5, 2017.

Polling

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 Teaching & Learning with Technology 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. TLT offers more information on their Turning Point page.

Variations:

  • Compare and Contrast Sets of Data:  Ask students a question given to a larger data set and have them compare their results against a larger data set. You can then invite them to discuss the results, including any differences with one another.  For example, you could ask students if they own smart phones and then compare this result to a national survey of all adults. Students are then asked to discuss why their rate of smart phone ownership was greater. Source: Pires, Deb. 6 Simple Activities That Engage Students in Their Own Learning. Accessed May 17, 2017.
Questioning Students

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.

Quiz Tournament
  1. Divide the class into two or more groups of 4-6 and announce a competition for most points on a practice test.

  2. Let them study a topic together for a set amount of time and then give that quiz, tallying points.

  3. After each round, let them study the next topic before quizzing again.

  4. The points should be carried over from round to round, and the winning group may receive a small number of extra credit points. The student impulse for competition will focus their engagement onto the material itself.

  5. Variation: This can also be done over the course of a semester rather than in a single class period. Keep students in the same groups for the duration of the ongoing tournament to increase competition and make it easier to tally points.

​Prepared by the Teaching and Learning with Technology Team.

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.

Source: Kevin Yee. Interactive Techniques. 2. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.

Role Playing

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:

  1. the instructor explains the topic,
  2. the students prepare for the activity,
  3. the actual role-play activity, and
  4. a follow up discussion and debrief.

Examples:

  • 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. https://utah.instructure.com/courses/148446/pages/active-learning#role, Accessed Oct. 17 2016.
Six Degrees of Separation
  1. Provide groups with a conceptual start point and challenge them to leap to a given concept in six moves or fewer.

  2. One student judge in each group determines if each leap is fair and records the nature of the leaps for reporting back to the class.

​Prepared by the Teaching and Learning with Technology Team.

Student Generated Test Questions
  1. Challenge groups of students to create likely exam questions and model the answers.

  2. Students then submit them for you or a TA to review

  3. The best student-generated questions can later be distributed to the class as a study guide.

  4. Variation: same activity, but with students in teams, taking each others’ quizzes

​Prepared by the Teaching and Learning with Technology Team.

Taboo Game

One student faces the class. Behind him/her, a word is written that the rest of the class can see. The objective is for the class to shout words or concepts related to the word on the board and eventually get the student to guess the word.

Prepared by the Teaching and Learning with Technology Team.

Team-Based Learning

This is a structure for active learning in which students engage in exercises and assessments as members of a team. Team-based learning requires that students come to class having read assignments. In class, students take Readiness Assurance Tests, work on group exercises, and conduct peer assessment. Unlike project-based learning, team-based learning can be used in large classes, as well as small classes. For more information, view the Team-Based Learning Toolkit used and created by Rutgers professor Laura Willett.

Think-Pair-Share

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

Updating Notes

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. Interactive Techniques. 1. www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf, Accessed Aug. 12 2016.

Where in the World
  1. Students search the Internet for a real-world example that makes use of concepts/ideas from class, either in-class or for homework.

  2. Debrief either by submitting to an online discussion, sharing using Active Learning Classroom monitors and/or microphones, or use responses to frame discussion for next class.

​Prepared by the Teaching and Learning with Technology Team.

Wrench in the Gears
  1. Give a set amount of time to work on a problem, case study, or situation individually, in pairs, or in small groups.

  2. After students have begun developing a strategy, introduce one or more challenges (the “wrenches”) that add new data, complications, or mitigating factors to the case.

  3. Students discuss the problem again (pairs or small groups), focusing on revising their original assumptions or conclusions.

​Prepared by the Teaching and Learning with Technology Team.

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