Whether you teach a large or small course, your students may benefit from active learning — a strategy that replaces the standard lecture with a mix of meaningful activities. Instead of sitting and listening passively, students purposefully interact with the course material, allowing you to assess what they’ve learned and target their specific needs. In other words, active learning promotes deeper, more independent learning and creates a much-needed feedback loop — a definite plus.

Common Strategies

If you’ve never tried active learning, you’ll want to take a step back and consider how it will affect your learning outcomes. The best methods will help students think critically and master skills without disrupting the natural flow of the class. 

Brainstorming: Introduce a topic or problem and ask for student input. Give students a minute to write down their ideas, and then record them on the board.Two female students working on an assignment

Concept mapping: Students construct maps representing the relationships or connections between concepts. Concept maps usually contain a collection of nodes (concepts) and links (lines connecting concepts).

Close reading: Show students how to read and interpret a passage as they follow along. Then ask them to interpret similar passages as a class.

Crumple sort: Ask a question and have each student answer anonymously on a sheet of paper. Then tell them to ball it up and throw it to someone else (can throw several times). Students will then open the paper balls and use their responses for discussion.

Interactive lecture: Break up the lecture at least once per class to invite student participation. They could interpret the features of an image or graph, make calculations and estimates, etc.

Minute paper: Ask students a question at the end of class and have them write a quick response.

Muddiest point: Ask students to list the “muddiest point” of a lecture or assignment.

Peer review: Have students evaluate the quality and delivery of a partner’s paper or project.

Pulse check: At the beginning of class, ask students to list which topics or parts of an assignment still need clarification. Alternatively, pause throughout a lecture to let an important point sink in, and then ask whether students understand.

Role playing: Have students assume the roles of individuals in real-life situations.

Think-pair-share: Pose a question to the class, and allow students time to think about it individually. Then ask them to pair up and explain their responses to each other.

Outcome Matching

Using Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, we paired common active learning strategies with their most likely cognitive levels. Try using this list to see whether your goals and activities align. 

Taxonomy Level Definition & Key Terms Strategies
Create Produce new or original work: 
design, assemble, construct, conjecture, develop, formulate, author, investigate
creative projects, experiential or service-related tasks
Evaluate Justify a stance or decision:
appraise, argue, defend, select, support, value, critique, weigh
class debates, role playing, peer review, writing reflections
Analyze Draw connections among ideas:
differentiate, organize, relate, compare, contrast, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test
concept mapping, class debates, close reading, lab activities
Apply Use information in new situations:
execute, implement, solve, use, demonstrate, interpret, operate, schedule, sketch, predict
think-pair-share, case studies, problem sets, close reading, interactive lecture
Understand Explain ideas or concepts:
classify, describe, discuss, explain, identify, locate, recognize, report, select, translate
discussion, interactive lecture, crumple sort, clicker questions
Remember Recall facts and basic concepts:
define, duplicate, list, memorize, repeat, state
minute paper, muddiest point, pulse check, brainstorming

More Resources