Teaching Hub

Active Learning Quick Start Guide

by Jessica Porter, Office of Educational Technology (eTech)

Two female students working on an assignment

Active learning replaces the traditional lecture with a mix of meaningful activities. Instead of sitting and listening passively, students purposefully interact with the course material, allowing you to see what they know and troubleshoot in real time. In other words, active learning promotes deeper, more engaged learning, and it establishes a much-needed feedback loop.

Common Strategies

If you’re new to active learning, here’s an annotated list of strategies to help you get started. The best methods will help you accomplish your goals 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 write them on the board.

Concept mapping: Students create 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 students answer anonymously on a sheet of paper. Then have them ball up their response and throw it to someone else (can repeat several times). Students 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: Pose a question at the end of class and have students write a quick response.

Muddiest point: Ask students to identify 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 the 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

This chart pairs a few common activities with the levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Consider using this list to verify that your goals and strategies align — or to help you scaffold activities throughout a unit.

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

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