The evidence for the effectiveness of active learning keeps mounting. The Teaching Professor's research indicated that the student exam scores improved by six percent when active learning strategies were adopted. Not just this, but students in traditional classrooms are almost 1.5 times more likely to fail because of the standard course content. We discussed this in our recent blog about active learning and how to design a curriculum that adopts these approaches.
It is time to discuss some practical active learning strategies that you can adopt to make your classroom more interactive, the content more engaging, and the semester experience more fruitful for the students.
Whether your classes are in person, online, or hybrid, here are ten active learning activities to try this semester that can make a big difference:
One-minute paper is a quick, interactive way to judge the response of your students toward the learning material. In this activity, you can give your students a brief time of around one to two minutes and ask them an open-ended question. Depending on what was taught in the class and the difficulty level, the questions can range from feedback on their comprehension, or they can be a simple reflection exercise.
Questions like; ‘Write down the most important learning from the lecture today?”, “Describe today’s class in one sentence” and “Ask one question bothering you.” are some examples you can use. Use the answers as a means to help students get a better understanding.
Think/ Pair/ Share is one of the most popular active learning strategies. Within it, you pose a question that requires higher-order thinking to the students individually. Set a deadline for each student to come up with their answers. Once done, ask students to pair with each other and discuss their solutions. Apart from discussing, they also have to decide on one answer that fits the rationale best. Lastly, ask students to verbally present their answers and explain the justification for the chosen one to the class.
Think/ Pair/ Share is an excellent way of getting students to think about different topics creatively. It promotes individual thinking and encourages group work by pairing students with each other and allowing them to discuss their ideas. Picking one out of multiple suggestions develops the understanding of the best and the most appropriate explanations.
This strategy helps with complex topics, especially the ones that deal with real-life or practical situations. Using case studies or scenarios allows students to think of real-life situations where they can use the learning. Then, you can either pose a question to the class asking to generate a discussion about how they would approach a particular situation or can ask them to think of a place where they can implement the concepts taught.
Depending on the discipline you teach, this activity can also be an extensive take-home assignment where students conduct research, use critical thinking, and analyze how to approach a scenario effectively. The findings can be presented to the class or shared as a paper/ assignment. Finally, this activity can also be used to foster collaboration as a group task.
This approach asks students to take the opposing side of a predominant argument during a lesson. Once the class is completed, pick a topic that can result in a productive discussion, whether agreed or disagreed with. Allow students to choose sides or self-divide them into groups of the opposition. Give them some time to think, reflect and then argue in favor of their stance. If the topic requires one side to win, you can decide at the end of the class in favor of whichever side brought the best arguments.
This approach stimulates critical and imaginative thinking. It allows students to examine multiple sides of the same issue and listen to arguments for or against it. This way, they produce a deeper understanding of conducting a rigorous analysis to collectively clarify, investigate, and pose alternatives to problems in discussion.
A fish bowl approach is a good way to discuss debates or confusion dilemmas. It encourages participation, active listening, and analytical thinking. The students follow the fish bowl method, with some sitting in an inner circle and others around the edge observing the discussion happening in this circle. The students who are a part of the inner circle get some time to prepare their ideas and questions regarding the topic that needs to be addressed together. On the other hand, the students sitting outside should be instructed to catch the major points discussed and other crucial ideas resulting from the discussion.
With the fish bowl method, you actively engage smaller groups of students in discussion while the remaining ones have to listen and give their remarks proactively. Unlike large group discussions, everyone gets the opportunity to observe and walk away with something meaningful from this experience.
This might be the easiest active learning strategy on the list. It promotes effective listening and understanding in the classroom and helps students process information without overwhelming them. Pause for two to three minutes every 10 to 15 minutes during class. During this time, ask students to share their notes, discuss their thoughts, or just simply talk about what they learned in the last couple of minutes. Then, after listening to each other, give them one to two minutes to rework their notes or to ask questions if there is any confusion.
This exercise also helps neurodivergent students take a break from constantly focusing on the lecture. In addition, it helps everyone double-check their notes and encourages shy students to ask questions.
We have all heard of brainstorming, but what is brainwriting? This approach is intended to do the same as brainstorming but helps verbalize all the ideas. Students are given time to brainstorm and think of whatever comes to mind about the topics identified. Once done, they either share them out loud or post them on a discussion board on their LMS. This activity works best for online or hybrid classes where students can engage and interact with each other on their own time and pace.
With brainwriting, the students build a space for individual reflection that results in less groupthink and simulates more idea production. In addition, it motivates students to think and engage more as no idea is presented as a bad idea or something not worth discussing.
Another popular strategy for active learning, the muddiest point, gives students a chance to identify what they are most confused about and clearly explain what is muddy. It is straightforward. You create a prompt like, “What is the muddiest point in (insert topic)?”. Students write down their answers individually. Then you can read through the responses and ward off any confusion.
The Muddiest point also works best for courses and modules previously proven difficult for students to grasp. It can help you recognize the themes and patterns among what’s puzzling students the most so you can rectify that the next time or explain it in-depth.
This is the most befitting exercise for online lectures or video-based modules. If you are teaching online or have shared a webinar/ video with students to watch, real-time reactions can increase understandability and attention toward the content. It can also help you ensure that the students watch the videos.
When students are watching the videos, ask them to respond with real-time responses. While listening, they must type what they think and keep sending their comments and reactions to what’s being said. It helps spot multiple angles and consider different points of view on the same topic. You can use the chat feature in your online lecture or the discussion forum to do this activity.
Sketchnoting is a great individual way of taking lecture notes uniquely. Instead of students taking notes the traditional way, ask them to sketch a picture. The students will have to represent what was taught during the lecture visually.
With this activity, the key is not to find the next Picasso or to see who draws the best. Instead, it is just to give students a new way of visualizing and illustrating prompts that exhibit their understanding of the content. It also helps them look at their learning from a different perspective.
To sum it up, there is much more to learning than just cramming and taking notes. If education is fun, the students will understand the material better and grasp the real-life meaning of the concepts. Active learning strategies are a great way to enrich the learning process and strengthen ideas and creativity.