Active Learning Email Series


1. One-Minute Paper.  September 9, 2014

 In this technique, blank index cards or pieces of paper are distributed out to the class, and students are asked to respond to a question. Students are given about one minute to answer. Questions that are introspective in nature are particularly effective (e.g., What was the main purpose of today’s lesson? What did you learn? What are you still confused about?). Responses are collected afterwards by the instructor.

Formal description of this technique by Faust and Paulson (1998):

One-Minute Paper. Originally reported by Angelo and Cross (1993), this technique has been adapted for use in virtually every discipline (see, for example, Dorroh, 1993; Fishman, 1997; Kloss, 1993; Ludwig, 1995; Morrissey, 1982). It is a highly effective method for checking student progress and for providing a consistent means of communicating with students. To implement this method, the instructor simply stops class a few minutes early (or pauses at some point during a lecture), poses a specific question (for example, “What was the main point presented in today’s class material?”), and gives students one (or perhaps two—but not many more) minute to respond. Students’ responses tell the instructor whether or not they view the material in the way he or she envisioned. Depending on an instructor’s objectives, students may submit their responses anonymously or with their names on them. Anonymity may encourage otherwise reticent students to voice concerns or raise questions, but it will not foster direct communication between students and the instructor. Further, it has been argued that allowing anonymous submissions actually detracts from active engagement in the exercise because students may perceive that they have little to gain by applying themselves to the task (Harwood, 1996). ”

Useful Website:

Submitted by Peter Park and Jacqueline Washington

2.  Illustrating What We Want by Demonstrating What We Don’t Want

At Nyack/ATS we are all about many things…including modeling certain dispositions (like care for the hurting) and helping our students gain certain skills (like critical thinking or public speaking).  

            One way to involve students in either case to use examples of the opposite

I enjoy having my students come up with these bad examples.   For example, “In this class we are, as the course title suggests, concerned about good teaching.   In your already assigned small groups I’d like you to come to class next week with at least three youtube examples of teaching done poorly.    Choose your best one to show…have the others handy if another group shows one of the ones you had picked.  We will discuss why it is such a great example of terrible teaching.”    A classic is example is “Ferris Bueler’s Day Off”

            Short skits accomplish this well also.  “We’ve been talking about what contributes to customers being loyal to your small business.   One of the things we’ve highlighted is a sense that you/your employees care.  Get in your groups and you have 3 minutes to come up with a short sketch about customer care done poorly.   I suspect you’ve all experienced this yourself.”

Submitted by Len Kageler.

3. Teaching Concepts Via Student Professional Seminars

This idea works well with any topic that has a variety of aspects or components.  Instead of lecturing on these key topics, I like to have “seminar groups” in the class.  Each student is part of a group with 3 or 4 others.   The group is assigned (or picks from a supplied list) one topic about which they will become experts.  They are to prepare a professional seminar in which the goal is to make their classmates experts as well.    The imagined setting is this: people have paid $200 each to attend this seminar, they want to leave really “getting” the concept and how it is relevant to a larger topic.  Seminars are expected to last 25-30 minutes.

            Aspects of a “professional” seminar include:  attire and demeanor of presenters, : quality of media and handouts,  demonstrating their knowledge of all four learning styles

by tailoring some aspect of the seminar to “speak to”  each individual’s preferred style of learning,  and, if posibible, a pre-test/post test,.   At the conclusion of the seminar class members offer peer feedback.     Each seminar group also contributes one or two questions that will be including in a coming exam.

Len Kageler

4. Jeopardy in the Classroom

placeholder for Jack Wiltshire (contact to see if he would write this up on June 9.  Looking for a yes, and if so, due by mid Oct.)   

5.Rotating Trio Exchange


This is an in-depth way for students to discuss issues with some (but usually not all) of their fellow classmates.  The exchanges can be easily geared to the subject matter of any class.


  1. Compose a variety of questions that help students begin discussion of the course content.  Use questions with no right or wrong answers.

For example, an English teacher might ask:

  • What do you like about Shakespearean plays?  What don’t you like?
  • Why is Shakespeare considered one of the greatest playwrights of all time?
  • Pick any nineteenth- or twentieth-century playwright or filmwriter.  How would you compare this person to Shakespeare?
  1. Divide students into trios.  Arrange the trios in the room so that each trio can clearly see a trio to its right and one to its left.  The overall configuration of the trios would be a circle or a square.
  2. Give each trio an opening question (the same question for each trio) to discuss.  Select the least challenging question you have devised to begin the trio exchange.  Suggest that each person in the trio take a turn answering the question.
  3. After a suitable period of discussion, ask the trios to assign a 0, 1, or 2 to each of its members.  Direct the students with the number 1 to rotate one trio clockwise.  Ask the students with the number 0 to remain seated since they are permanent members of a trio site.  Have them raise their hands high so that rotating students can find them.  The result will be entirely new trios.
  4. Start a new exchange with a new question.  Increase the difficulty or “threat level” of the questions as you proceed to new rounds.
  5. You can rotate trios as many times as you have questions to pose and discussion time to allot.  Each time, use the same rotation procedure.  For example, in a trio exchange of three rotations, each student will get to meet, in depth, six other students.


  1. After each round of questions, quickly poll the full group about their responses before rotating students to new trios.

Adapted from Active Learning, 101 Strategies by Mel Silberman

6. Go to Your Post


This is a well-known way to incorporate physical movement at the beginning of a class.  This strategy is flexible enough to use for a variety of activities that are designed to stimulate initial interest in your subject matter.


Post signs around the classroom. You can use two signs to create a dichotomous choice or several signs to provide more options.

  1. These signs can indicate a variety of preferences:
  • Topics or skills of interest to the students (e.g., “Word processing, databasing)
  • Questions about course content (e.g., “How does a turbo engine work?”)
  • Different solutions to the same problem (e.g., capital punishment versus life sentence)
  • Different values (e.g., money, fame, family)
  • Different personal characteristics or styles (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic)
  • Different authors or well-known people in a field (e.g., Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy)
  • Different quotations, proverbs, or verses in a text (e.g., “Honor Your Father and Mother” versus “Question Authority”)
  1. Ask students to look at the signs and choose one.  For example, some students might be more interested in word processing than databasing.  Have them “sign up” for their preference by moving to the place in the classroom where their choice is posted.
  2. Have the subgroups that have been created discuss among themselves why they have placed themselves by their sign.  Ask a representative of each group to summarize their reasons.


  1. Pair up students with different preferences and ask them to compare their views.  Or create a discussion panel with representatives from each preference group.
  2. Ask each preference group to make a presentation, create an advertisement, or prepare a skit advocating their preference.

Adapted from Active Learning, 101 Strategies by Mel Silberman

7. Lightening the Learning Climate


A classroom can quickly achieve an informal, nonthreatening learning climate by inviting students to use creative humor about the subject matter at hand.  This strategy does just that and, at the same time, gets a student thinking.


  1. Explain to students that you want to do a fun exercise with them before getting serious about the subject matter.
  2. Divide them into subgroups.  Give them an assignment that deliberately asks them to make fun of an important topic, concept, or issue in the course you are teaching.
  3. Examples might be:
  • Government:  Outline the most oppressive or unworkable government imaginable.
  • Math:  Develop a list of the most ineffective ways to do mathematical calculations.
  • Health: Create a diet totally lacking in nutrition.
  • Grammar:  Write a sentence containing as many grammatical errors as possible.
  • Engineering:  Design a bridge that is likely to fall.
  1.  Invite subgroups to present their “creations.”  Applaud the results.
  2. Ask:  “What did you learn about our subject matter from this exercise?”


  1. The instructor can spoof the subject matter with a creation of his or her own making.
  2. Create a multiple-choice pretest on the subject you are about to teach.  Add humor to the choices given for each item.  For each question, ask students to select the answer that they think could not possibly be the right one.

8. What’s My Line?


This actually offers a fresh approach to helping students learn cognitive material.  By adapting an old television game show, students have an opportunity to review material that has just been taught and test one another as a reinforcement to your lesson.


  1. Divide your class into two or more teams.
  2. Write on separate slips of paper any of the following:
  • I am:  (supply a person)                                                 e.g., I am Karl Marx
  • I am:  (supply an event)                                                                e.g., I am a “solar eclipse.”
  • I am:  (supply a theory)                                                 e.g., I am “Darwinism.”
  • I am:  (supply a concept)                                               e.g., I am “inflation.”
  • I am:  (supply a skill)                                                        e.g., I am “the Heimlich maneuver.”
  • I am:  (supply a quotation)                                           e.g., I am “to be or not to be.”
  • I am:  (supply a formula)                                               e.g., I am e=mc 2.
  1.  Put these slips of paper in a box, and ask each team member to choose one slip.  The slip chosen reveals the identity of the mystery guest.
  2. Give the teams five minutes to do the following tasks:
  • Choose a team member to be the “mystery guest.”
  • Anticipate questions he or she will be asked and think how to respond.
  1.  Select the team that will present the first mystery guest.
  2. Create a panel of students from other teams (by whatever method you choose).
  3. Begin the game.  Ask the mystery guest to reveal his or her category (person, event, etc.).  The panelists take turns asking yes-or-no questions of the mystery guest until one of the panelists is able to identify the guest.
  4. Invite the remaining teams to present their mystery guests.  Create a new panel for each guest.


  1. Allow each mystery guest to consult with his or her teammates if he or she is unsure how to answer the questions posed by the panelists.
  2. The teacher may specify how he or she wants the mystery guest to act.  For example, a guest might actually try to impersonate the famous person being portrayed.

Adapted from Active Learning, 101 Strategies by Mel Silberman

9.  Acrostic

An acrostic is an arrangement of words in which certain letters in each line, when taken in order, spell out a word or motto.  An acrostic is a good way to re-enforce learning of a key person, place, term, or concept.  It can also be used to build relationships within the class.

To use Acrostic to reinforce a key person, place, term, or concept, divide your class into groups of three or four. Assign them a key person (place, concept, etc) and have them create an acrostic to present to the class.  Have each group work to come up with the appropriate acrostic.

For example, in sociology one might want them to know Karl Marx and Max Weber.    An acrostic for Marx might be: “Mighty Angry Regarding Xtreme-exploitation-of-workers.”  An acrostic for Weber might be “Wondered (if) Everyone  Became Energized (in) Relationships”.

For relationship building in class, students develop an acrostic for their first name that is descriptive, and shares that with the small group or whole class.  For example   Len:  “Likes everyone now.”  If a sentence is too hard, then just find key descriptive words.  For example, Andrew:  “Ace, Nice, Dynamic, Reliable, Energetic, Wonderful.”


One can also use acrostic sentences to remember themes or long lists.  For example, Barry Huddleston in The Acrostic Bible (Thomas Nelson, 1972…out of print but still available on Amazon) has an acrostic sentence for each book of the Bible…each first letter of each word in the sentence give the theme of the chapter (first word’s first letter=first chapter, second word’s first letter=second chapter, etc.)    II Timothy is a short book so it doesn’t need a sentence, only a word “HOLD”:  chapter 1, “Hold onto true faith”; chapter 2 “Obey and teach the Word, ”Chapter 3 “Last days bring apostasy”, and chapter 4 “Diligently preach God’s word.”

Have your students come up with these sentences or words and they’ll find them helpful at test time.

 Len Kageler

10.  Jeopardy in the Classroom

Seven or eight years ago I found a class exercise using Jeopardy online for the Sensation and Perception chapter of General Psych.  Another psychologist had already developed the game content and I decided to use it in my class.  I only do this once in the semester.  But the students loved it.  It even has the jeopardy theme synthesized.  I use it as follows.

I encourage the class on an earlier date to study this chapter well and bring their text to class without telling them why.  In class I divide the students into groups of not more than 6. They choose one person to be a judge.  The judges are in front of the room and they decide which group raises their hand first when answering during the game. Low tech I know.  I break any tie or misunderstanding with my vote if necessary.  I tell them the judge’s decision is final which is another way of saying what I say goes.

I allow them to use their textbook to find answers but limit the time to a reasonable amount.

I pick the first answer to start and after that the last group to correctly answer picks the next answer from the Jeopardy board.  Unlike real Jeopardy I only allow one attempt to give the correct question. If one group  answers incorrectly, then no other group else gets a chance.  It is too confusing to keep track of which group was second or third etc.

There is only one board with no double Jeopardy.  For final Jeopardy, each group chooses a champion who will answer the final jeopardy question in writing chosen by me within thirty seconds. The final wager is written down by each group. They have 30 seconds to write down the answer.

Group scores are kept and summarized numerous times during the game.  Motivation is ensured by giving the winning group 1 point added to their final course grade.  In my syllabus this is about equal to one quiz out of ten. Second place gets ½ a point added and third ¼.

Sometimes the competition gets fierce. One student neglected to write his final Jeopardy answer in the form of a question and so was incorrect and his group lost everything and received no points at all.  I had never before seen a student on his knees begging me to accept his answer.  I threw him to the lions aka his other group members.  He did live however.

The students seem to like this break in the usual routine and I then use it to highlight the areas where the most errors were made and review it with the class after the game.

The link I use is

There are many templates for Jeopardy online with each suited better for one class or another.  There also are archives of Jeopardy games that other professors have developed.  Why reinvent the wheel, right? This is one link as an example.

The link is from so if it doesn’t work search from there.

Submitted by Jack Wiltshire


1.  Get ‘em Up Out of Their Seats  (Feb 19, 2014)

(Good for classes up to 40)

We don’t have “clickers” yet or the technology for students to text their responses to be immediately shown via the data projectors.  But we do have white boards, and you could bring a dozen or two dry-erase markers to class. (You may order the latter through your School Admin Assistant).

You or your students have identified three-seven key points discussed in the last 15 minutes.

If they are numbered, and there are three, put three columns on the white board individually labeled (1,2,3)   If they are not numbered, head the columns with a descriptive word, such as “race”  “class”  “gender”.

All students now come to the front together, take a marker, and place an x on the item that they think is most important (or that they most resonate with, etc)

You can have them sit down and reflect on the “results” now obvious on the board, or you can have them stay standing and you sit down in one of the student seats.  Ask them questions, such as “Those of you who thought gender was important…explain your reasons to the rest of us.”

2.  Let’s Have a Fight, Shall We?  (March 4, 2014)

Critical thinking can be enhanced if we can understand another’s point of view, and even articulate it.   Suppose you are teaching about different components of “life’s economic outcomes.”

1.  Arbitrarily divide the class.  

2.  Look to half the class, “In the next 10-15 minutes, no matter what you think, you believe that RACE is the most salient feature of one’s life’s outcomes…economically.”  You look to the other half of the class and say the same thing, but instead of race, give them GENDER.

3.  If the class is small, under ten in each half give them a few minutes to marshal their arguments in favor of their assigned position.    If the class is large, let them work in pairs or triads, then give them a little more time to have the pairs or triads contribute to the group’s reasons for the superiority of their position.

4.  Call their attention back to you.  “I understand there is real disagreement in our class about which is the more important aspect of one’s eventual economic circumstances…race or gender.  Ok, you gender people, get us started, explain to the other side why you think the way you do.

5.  (If they look at you while they are talking, tell them to look at the opposing side, NOT you.

6.  After a minute or two, look to the other side “Wow, that’s pretty persuasive, are you convinced it really is gender that is most salient?

7.  I let this go back and forth for up to 6-8 minutes.   I like to stop the conversation just before it is about to peak…leaving them wishing for more discussion.

8.  “Ok, time-out, great job at getting this issue on the table.   Let’s take a look now at a the data from a recent study out of Penn State which says  (show slide)….”

Submitted by Len Kageler


3. Think-Pair-Share.  (Feb. 25, 2014)

Think-Pair-Share was developed by Lyman (1981) and it involves three steps. First, the class is presented with a question. Students are given a minute or so to answer the question individually [This is the “Think” part]. Next, students are asked to pair up with a neighbor and discuss their answers with each other [The “Pair” part]. Finally, after a minute or so of cooperative discussion, a volunteer from select pairs are asked to share their collective answer with the rest of the class [The “Share” part].

Variations on Think-Pair-Share (adapted from Think-Pair-Share, n.d.):

a) Write-Pair-Share (also called Think-Write-Pair-Share)  

1. Instructor presents a question

2. Students write out their answer individually

3. Students then pair with a partner and discuss their answers with each other. (max. 5 min)

4. Students share their answer (or their partner’s answer) as directed by instructor.

b) Formulate-Share-Listen-Create

1. Instructor presents a question

2. Students formulate their answer individually.

3. Students share with a partner and discuss their answers with each other.

4. Students listen carefully to their partner’s answer, noting any similarities and differences in the answers.

5. Students then create a new collective answer that incorporates the best of their ideas. Students should be prepared to present their collective answer if called upon by instructor.

c) Timed-Pair-Share

1. Instructor presents a question

2. Students think (or write) about their answer individually.

3. Students pair with a partner and share for a specified, strictly-enforced amount of time (e.g., 60 sec). The time limit prevents one partner from monopolizing the discussion.

4. Students share their answer (or their partner’s answer) when called upon by instructor.

Useful Website:

Submitted by Peter Park.


4. Finger Signals.

This technique can be used after a multiple choice question is presented to the class (i.e., “Do you use Bloom’s Taxonomy of Understanding in your teaching?”). Students are asked to respond by using their finger(s) laid against their torso. The class is instructed that if one’s response was “A”, he/she is to use one finger, “B” to use two fingers, “C” to use three fingers, and “D” to use four fingers. This technique allows the instructor to receive immediate responses by students – responses that are not influenced by the answers of classmates. It is an alternative to asking students to respond via raising of hands and is also an alternative to clickers. 

Formal description of this technique by Faust and Paulson (1998):

Finger Signals. This method provides instructors with a means of testing student comprehension without the waiting period or grading time required for written quizzes. The instructor asks students questions and instructs them to signal their answers by holding up an appropriate number of fingers immediately in front of their torsos where their peers cannot see them (this makes it impossible for students to “copy” from each other, thus committing them to answer each question on their own). For example, the instructor might say, “one finger for ‘yes,’ two for ‘no,’” and then ask an appropriate question. Or the instructor might prepare multiple-choice questions for the overhead projector and number the answers 1 through 5, asking students to respond with finger signals. In very large classes, students can respond by using large cardboard signs with numbers written on them or different-colored cards (Meltzer & Manivannan, 1996). This method allows instructors to assess students’ knowledge literally at a glance."

Useful Website:

Submitted by Peter Park and Jacqueline Washington













5. The Essential Question: A Significant Element in Active Learning

Wiggins and McTighe define essential questions as “questions that are not answerable with finality in a brief sentence… Their aim is to stimulate thought, to provoke inquiry, and to spark more questions — including thoughtful student questions — not just pat answer. EQ’s are also defined as the “Big Topic”. They are ultimately what we want our college students to learn and apply beyond the text, our class and graduation.

EQ’s can literally transform a passive learning experience into an exciting, focused, active critical thinking lesson. I suggest you try these applications, which have literally transformed lessons for me and my teacher candidates.

Write your essential question on the whiteboard or Smart Board before students enter class. Leave it on the board and/or have them copy it.. An example that worked well for me in a lesson on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire using a video was. “Does significant social change require major conflicts or tragedies?

  • Here are several suggestions for active student learning with EQ’s.
  • Get students focused by having them do a “Quickwrite” in a journal or notebook
  • Have students discuss the EQ in pairs or small groups.
  • Have the students view a video or listen to your lecture developing or modifying       their answer to the EQ.
  • Use as a pre-post formative assessment.
  •  Follow up with a full class discussion or essay.

These active learning activities take little preparation on your part and take perhaps three 3-5 minutes and will significantly improve your lessons.

A quick Google search will provide examples you can apply in class. Here are a few samples:

What differentiates one nation’s identity from another?

  • Is "historical fiction" a contradiction?
  • What is power?
  • Can everything be quantified?
  • What is the relationship between popularity and greatness in literature?
  • What does it mean to "make a living"?
  • What is our place in the universe?
  • Does literature reflect culture or shape it?

Submitted by James Nichols.


6.  Team Based Learning  

(Apr 1, 2014)



7. Wait Time.  

(April 8, 2014)

Wait time is straight-forward. After the presentation of a question to the class, the instructor waits (15-30 seconds) before selecting a student to respond. The instructor would announce, immediately after the question is posed, that students should not raise hands until they are told to do so. This “extra” time allows students to reflect and process a question longer, which may encourage more of the class to contribute responses.

Formal description of this technique by Faust and Paulson (1998):

Wait Time. Rather than immediately choosing a student to answer a question that he or she has presented, the instructor waits a short time (15 seconds or so) before calling on someone (Rowe, 1980; Schaible & Rhodes, 1992). It is important for the instructor to insist that students not raise their hands or shout out the answer before he or she gives the okay. This discourages the typical scenario in which the students in the front row all immediately volunteer to answer the question and everyone else sighs in relief. The wait time gets all students thinking actively about the question rather than allowing them to rely passively on those students who are fastest out of the gate. When the wait time is up, the instructor asks for volunteers or randomly picks a student to answer the question. When students get into the habit of waiting after questions are asked, more of them will get involved in the process.”

Useful Website:

Submitted by Peter Park and Jacqueline Washington


8. Concept Mapping. 

(April 15, 2014)

This technique involves students synthesizing concepts and organizing a conceptual framework upon which to “hang” concepts. For example, at the end of Dr. Washington and Dr. Park’s active learning presentation (January Faculty Day), a concept map summarizing key content was shown (see below). Time did not allow for the modelling of the concept mapping technique during the presentation, but it could have been implemented as follows: 

- Distribute post-its written with key terms (e.g., diversity, active learning, think-pair-share, student-centered learning…). One key term per post-it.

- Distribute markers and a poster board.

- Quickly assign groups of 3-4 attendees.

- Ask each group to create a concept map, linking the provided terms.

- Announce that the nodes connecting links should have a verb or short phrase to describe the nature of the conceptual connection.

- After 5 minutes, ask some or all groups to present and share their maps with the entire audience.

Below is the concept map that was shown at the end of the presentation. This map was created using free software downloaded from



Formal description of this technique by Faust and Paulson (1998):

 “Concept Mapping. A concept map is a way of illustrating the connections that exist between terms or concepts covered in class (Novak, 1990; Novak & Gowin, 1984). Students brainstorm to generate a list of facts, ideas, or concepts for a particular topic and then draw lines connecting related items. Above each line students write the nature of the relationship between the items. Because most of the terms in a concept map have multiple connections, students must identify and organize information to establish meaningful relationships between the pieces of information. A concept map is an effective means to show students how the many concepts covered in a typical course are connected. Although individuals as well as groups of students can do concept mapping, the maps produced in groups are usually much more detailed than those produced by individual students. ”

Useful Website:

 Submitted by Peter Park and Jacqueline Washington


9.  Active Learning for Large Classes (12 Minute video)

(April 23, 2014)

Suggested by Joshua Perez.