Active Learning and Active Learning Strategies

To help all your students gain the most from your classes, you should aim to provide  opportunities for them to grapple with the ideas and material in the course in a variety of ways. Your classes should not only present information and ideas, but also provide opportunities for students to “do” and observe the processes they are learning about, as well as to reflect on and make connections with what they are learning. By presenting your material in different formats, by structuring a variety of instructional activities, especially experimentation, problem solving, and collaborative work, and by providing alternate ways of meeting course requirements, you will help more of your students achieve a deeper understanding of the course more often.

Classroom Activities/Ice Breakers

The following are examples of classroom activities and teaching strategies that you can employ when trying to deliver course content. You may find that some activities are specifically designed and best suited for reviewing material, while others are implemented to allow you to observe, assess, and evaluate student learning. These kinds of activities are meant to foster cooperative and collaborative learning, meaningful engagement, reflection, and deeper student learning.

Three-step Interview (Ice Breaker or Review)

Person ‘A’ interviews Person ‘B’ for a designated number of minutes, actively listening and asking probing questions. At the signal, students switch roles and Person ‘B’ interviews Person ‘A’ for the same length of time. At the next signal, each pair turns to another pair, forming a group of 4. Once everyone has (re)introduced themselves, each person takes turns highlighting the most interesting points.

Roundtable (Learning Activity)

Teacher poses a question to the class (this may also work if the class has been broken into smaller groups thus allowing for each group to have a different question). The question(s) or problems posed MUST have a variety of possible correct responses. Each group will have one piece of paper and a pen. The first student writes a response and says it out loud to the group. The paper is then passed onto the next student who will write their response to the question/problem and say it out loud. This continues until everyone has had an opportunity to express their response (or until designated time runs out). Students may pass at any time. Teacher will then take up and discuss the multitude of responses given in relation to the question/problem/course/text. This should allow for a good deal of discussion and additional question posing to occur within the class.

Structured Problem-Solving (Review or Learning Activity)

Break class into smaller working groups. Teacher selects problem/issue for each group to consider. Ask each member of the group to number themselves chronologically. Groups will discuss/analyze the assigned the problem/issue. Each member of the group needs to understand the topic at hand as each person should be prepared to respond to the larger group. Teacher will call a number and begin by asking that individual to relate the problem/issue back to the larger group. Another number will be called and this person may be asked to relate some of the material discussed. Everyone should be given the opportunity to present group material.

One Minute Paper (Review)

Give students one minute to write a paper in response to the following questions: What was the most important thing you learned today? What two important questions do you still have; what remains unclear? What would you like to know more about? This activity is meant to focus students on the day’s content as well as provide feedback to you as a teacher. Papers should be collected an may also form the basis of the next class’s discussion.

Value Line (Learning Activity)

Present an issue/topic to the group and ask each member to determine how they feel about it. Form a rank ordered line and number the participants from 1 up (strong agreement to strong disagreement). This exercise will allow you to visually depict the diversity in thinking in the classroom. From here you can break into smaller groups ensuring that you have a group of students from different parts of the line. You may also consider using this line as a basis for group discussion and critical questioning? Why is there such a range in classroom perspective for example?

Double Entry Journal (Homework)

This can be used to allow students to think and critically reflect on assigned readings. Within the double entry journal, students should list points they see as being significant and write responses to these points. This kind of mini-assignment can form the foundation for a number of other learning activities and critical discussion.

Paired Annotation (Learning Activity)

Students are paired to review/learn the same article/chapter/content area and exchange double entry journals for reading and reflection. This is to facilitate discussion on key points and look for convergent and divergent thinking. Together students prepare a composite annotation that summarizes the assigned reading.

Think-Pair-Share (Introductory or Learning Activity)

Teacher poses a question (one that requires analysis, evaluation, synthesis) and gives students a few moments to think through (perhaps write) their responses. Students then turn to a partner and share their responses. These responses may be shared with the larger class if they wish and may form the basis of classroom discussion.

Jigsaw (Learning Activity)

Teacher divides the class into equal groups (all groups must have the same number of students). The teacher will then assign each group a topic/reading for which the group must become an ‘expert’. After allowing sufficient time for students to master their assigned material, ask each student in each group to number off (in each group there should be a number one, two, three, etc). Ask all of the ‘number one’s’ to form a new group. Do the same with the two’s, three’s, and so on until everyone has a group. Within these new groups, each student is to teach the content that they became the ‘expert’ on. Once everyone has had an opportunity to teach the group, every person in the class should have a solid level of understanding what comprised the topic/reading.

The University of Minnesota has annotated a list of active learning strategies that you can modify and implement into your class.

Active learning in higher education is a peer-reviewed journal for those who teach and support learning in higher education and those who undertake or use research into effective learning, teaching and assessment in universities and colleges.