Three simple activities for class

Active learning can be simply described as determining what skills you want your students to improve, and then making time during class to help them practice that skill effectively. Some instructors fill all of class time with working problem sets, practicing vocal exercises, or writing case studies. Other instructors pause lecture for ten minutes to try a simple activity. To try active learning in your classroom:

  • Find an old multiple-choice exam question that was heavily missed in a previous quarter, and present it as an activity halfway through class tomorrow. Have students explain why the right answer is right, and the wrong answers are wrong. Allow students to work in groups to prepare a half-sheet of paper to turn in.


  • Find two short, matching sections from the introductions of two student papers from past years (make sure writing is anonymous). Copy these onto a single sheet of paper, and photocopy enough so that groups of two each get one sheet. Have students discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each section.


  • Have students bring the first page of the reading to class. Have them get into pairs, and have the first student explain the first paragraph of the reading to their partner. The partner should ask authentic questions to fully understand the reading. Call on individuals to explain the text to you. Later, give students a new paragraph and have pairs switch the roles of explainer and questioner.


Are you interested in even more ideas? Here are several from a handout provided by DTEI’s Danny Mann to instructors:

  1. Small groups
    1. “Think-Pair-Share” – Students think to themselves on a topic provided by the teacher; they pair up with another student (or students if a larger class) to discuss it; they then share their thoughts with the class.
    2. “Co-op” – Students work in groups to produce a particular group product to share with the whole class; each student makes a particular contribution to the group. Assign roles such as “note-taker,” “presenter” (shares with class), “observer,” “time-keeper,” “devil’s advocate.”
    3. “Jigsaw” – Students break into groups, each group works on a particular topic or aspect of a larger topic. Then, groups are rearranged so that each new group contains one “expert” on each topic. Each member presents his/her “expert topic” to the group.
  2. Individual activities
    1. “Minute papers” – Instructor poses a thought question, students write a brief response, selected students share responses.
    2. “Test questions” – Students individually come up with test questions. Instructor can compile questions into a practice quiz or point out examples of good questions.
    3. “Note-comparisons” – Instructor pauses lecture periodically for students to share notes with their neighbors and fill in anything they missed.
    4. “Response Cards” (see polling in Technology section)– Every 10-15 minutes, instructor pauses lecture to ask a content question. Students respond by raising cards that have the answer choices written on them. A good way to check for understanding before moving to a new concept.
  3. Games (great for review sessions!)
    1. “Game-Show” – Substitute course material for the trivia in game show formats. You can write the questions or the students can.  Real prizes like candy are an incentive and an energy provider. Examples include: Jeopardy, Catch Phrase/Taboo, Family Feud, etc.
    2. Snowball fight: Ask all students to write a question they have on a small piece of paper. Have them crumple up the paper, and either split the room in half or get in a big circle. Ask the students to throw their “snowballs” at each other. Then ask students to share questions (anonymity will help shy students get their questions heard).
    3. “Team Quiz” – Students divide into a few groups. Group A creates a quiz, then other groups have to answer quiz questions, if one group gets a wrong answer, other groups have a chance to respond. Then Group B comes up with quiz and so on.
  4. Debate
    1. Teams prepare opening statements, give rebuttal, and summaries. This can be very dramatic and you’ll find the students really take on the roles.
    2. “Fishbowl”– Small group of students in the middle, rest of students circle around the outside. Group in the middle presents one side of an issue, those around the circle respond with questions from the opposite perspective.
  5. Technology
    1. Classroom Polling: Poll Everywhere, clickers, or google forms (survey) to gauge student understanding before or after introducing a concept.
    2. Discussion boards: You can use EEE/Canvas, Piazza or (free online tool) to facilitate discussions. allows anonymous discussion, but this introduces more risk of getting off-topic.
  6. Student presentations
    1. All the students can present in one class session or they can rotate weeks. Presentations can be individual or in groups.
      1. Provide students with a sample lesson outline, give them specific, focused topics, and let them know if and how they will be evaluated (i.e. provide rubric).
    2. “Role-Play”– Have students present group or pair role-plays. Then, the class can critique role play, ask questions, or discuss questions raised in the role-play.