Center for Faculty Excellence

Tips for Teaching

Active Learning Strategies for Enhancing Traditional Class

These are strategies that can be used at the beginning of a class, within the class session, or at the end of the class.

  • In an individual writing activity, have students summarize the main ideas from the previous class session and speculate (or pose questions) about the upcoming class session.
  • Ask students to identify one question from the assigned readings that they would like to have answered in class (could be done prior to class or as "open book" in class). Students then share their questions with 2 or 3 peers and pick one question from the group to pose to the instructor. Finally, each group asks the instructor a question.
  • Have students form groups of three or four and discuss a) the issues they expect will be relevant to the day's scheduled topic (i.e., have students create the day's agenda); and/or b) what they expect to get from the class and how they think it can be used (applied) in their life or Army career.
  • Put students into groups of three and have them develop a set of "consensus answers" to a series of eight to ten questions about the topic for the day. Following discussion should discuss various answers (completeness, correctness, etc.). Perhaps "reward" group with the most correct answers.
  • The students could work in small groups to brainstorm and possibly organize past experiences that may relate to the class objective(s) for the day OR identify military applications for the material.
  • During the first ten minutes provide the students with a "real world" problem related to their previous night's reading. Ask them to hypothesize how the problem might be resolved. Then have them compare their hypothesis with the actual resolution. Have them discuss those factors which were responsible for the differences between the hypothesis and the actual resolution. Activities for the middle of class
  • Use "thumbs up, thumbs down, or thumbs sideways." Make a statement about the content and tell students to put their thumbs up if they agree with the statement - thumbs down if they disagree, or thumbs sideways if they don't know. Discussion on why the choices were made follows.
  • Stop and have students engage in a short write ("What do you think and/or feel about what has been said?"). Students can share some of their comments as a springboard for discussion.
  • Have students work in small groups to complete a cognitive map (a diagram showing relationships between elements) of concepts addressed in class. Completed maps can be put on board (or done on transparencies for overhead) and discussed by whole class.
  • Have students work in small groups to complete an ungraded mini-test over concepts addressed in class. Discussion of the answers follows.
  • Distribute clearly worded questions, relevant to the topic introduced in the first ten minutes of class, to small groups. Each group discusses its assigned topic, using notes and text, and presents a brief answer to the class. The remaining time is used to summarize and to integrate the responses.
  • Have students find/report statistical information and then prepare generalizations based on those results. For instance, in a geography class, use the current edition of Goodes' World Atlas and have students in groups list the top four alloy metal producers (countries) from the atlas. Instructor will write these on the board (e.g. Chromicism, countries 1-4, etc.). At this point, the board will be covered with statistics of various metals ("boring" according to students). Then have students work in small groups to make four generalizations about these countries.
  • When there is a topic which lends itself to the discussion, differences of opinion, etc., the class is divided into smaller groups. The topic is then addressed in small groups with a "reporter" in each group. After a ten to fifteen minute time frame, the reporters are asked to exchange places within the groups, i.e., each reporter ends up in a different group, and continues the exercise sharing input from his/her previous group. The groups then discuss the previous group's comments, identifying areas of agreement and disagreement. Each reporter then makes a brief report to the whole class on the groups' take on the topic, identifying areas of agreement and disagreement.
  • After lecturing for ten to twelve minutes with material and information from sources beyond the assigned class readings, pause for three to five minutes. Students, working in groups of 2 or 3 with those seated next to them, share their opinion of the most interesting (or provocative, or important) idea presented. Groups are then invited to share their perceptions as a prelude to full discussion of the ideas. The point is an integration of the outside material with the material in the assigned lesson, developing students' awareness of applications, etc.
  • Have a structured, small-group group discussion following a film, focusing on controversial issues, ethics, etc.. Provide specific questions to be answered by the groups, each having a facilitator and a recorder/reporter. Groups report to whole class, and instructor summarizes conclusions of the groups and/or challenges students' conclusions.
  • Fishbowl. Have students bring one question on the course material on a 3x5 card (submitted anonymously) and place their cards in the "fishbowl" (bowl or box provided). Instructor (or section marcher) "fishes" out a card and poses the question to the entire class (which can be divided into groups for a "competition"). Subsequent discussion should provide an indication of "quality level" in answers--i.e., a good answer because... ; an inadequate answer because... This is a good way to review for a WPR or TEE.
  • Have the students form small groups (3-4), and provide each group with a real-life example related to the course content. The students critique the example using what they have learned. For instance, if they have studied research methods, they could be given a real survey that they can redesign and improve. Activities to include in the last ten minutes of a class.
  • Hand out 4x6 cards to the students (one card per student) and ask them to write down on the cards (one side) the major points covered in the class or the purpose of that specific class. Then, have them discuss what they have written with a partner for about two minutes. Then, ask them to write a revised version of the points or purpose on the reverse side of the card, which they hand in as they are leaving class. (The instructor could e-mail the "best" summary to the class--or put on board during next class meeting--as a form of "review.")
  • Have students working in pairs or groups develop an outline of the day's presentation. (These could be used as in the preceding example).
  • Have students (in small groups) develop an alternative way to present the class material. (E.g., as a "mind map," as a series of slides in a Powerpoint presentation, as a lesson for a high school (or grammar school) class.
  • Have students form groups of three or four. Introduce a problem related to the day's content. Provide ONE solution, and ask groups to generate an alternative solution (to counter "approved solution" mentality and encourage thinking "outside the box").
  • Have students form groups and write one or two good questions and present these questions (via overhead) to the class. Discuss appropriate responses to the questions OR discuss the quality of the questions themselves (i.e., Why is this a good question?).
  • Have students review each other's notes to enhance learning--perhaps providing a brief written critique.
  • Have students keep a journal, using the final few minutes of class to write down their feelings and thoughts regarding various topics (one technique is to pose a key question for them to respond to for each lesson or group of lessons).