Although the term “active learning” can encompass a broad array of tactics and activities, the key is that practice matters. Classroom time gives students the opportunity to work with concepts, such as the “muddiest point,” so that knowledge can take hold in their own minds.

Active learning techniques range from quick-and-simple interventions to semester-long redesigns of course structure and delivery. These teaching strategies can include group work, cooperative learning. and peer instruction. This way, the learning process becomes more engaging and your class becomes more rewarding to teach.

The techniques below can be used in your class to improve student engagement and learning outcomes. While some of these ideas work better in specific disciplines, each one can be adapted for use in any context. Active learning strategies can also encompass assignment-setting and evaluation (at least at a formative stage.)

1. Think-pair-share

Instructors briefly pause their lecture and ask students to pair up and discuss the material that was just presented, and to be prepared to ask questions or share observations with the entire class. This technique can effectively solve any issues that arise with class attention span, or prevent students from falling behind on key concepts.

2. Minute papers

During a brief pause, students alone or in pairs are asked to answer a question in writing about the day’s teaching. The submitted responses can be used to gauge student learning and student comprehension of the material.

3. Quick quizzes

Administered at the start of class or during a pause, not for a grade, but to assess comprehension, much like minute papers.

4. Muddiest point

Students are given index cards and asked to write down which part of the course material is least understood by them.

5. Debates

Having students defend different viewpoints for the class is a means of structuring class discussion and ensuring that even those in the back rows have the opportunity to speak.

6. Case studies and problem solving

Students work in groups, applying knowledge gained from lectures or reading materials to a given situation.

7. Peer instruction

Have students prepare and present course material to the class.

8. Flipped classrooms

Students watch pre-recorded lectures as homework, then arrive in class prepared to spend the time engaged in any number of the learning activities described above.

Our new free download, The Active Learning E-Book, covers the latest in research and best practices for the active learning classroom and interested educator, and talks about practical techniques and technologies. Get your copy here.

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Philip Preville

Philip Preville

Philip Preville is an award-winning journalist and a former Canadian Journalism Fellow at Massey College at the University of Toronto. He’s currently a member of the Professional Advisory Council with the Department of English at Ryerson University.