Active learning Strategies and Examples - Group Discussion and Brainstorming

8 Active Learning Strategies to Aid Your Classroom

Let’s dive into active learning strategies.

If you need information on what is active learning, why it works so well, some examples of the technique then we recommend you check out our Complete Guide to Active Learning in 2019.

We’ve listed below 8 strategies our research has highlighted can maximize your success in using Active Learning.

Goal Orientation for Accuracy and Effectiveness

To ensure that your active learning is successful, start by asking yourself what students should learn that day? What are the salient concepts, words, and topics the student should walk away with? Once your objectives are clear, then consider where students might falter.

What are some common mistakes a student might make or ideas they may struggle with most? Is there a certain type of math problem that is particularly difficult?  Is there a technique in the laboratory that might cause issues?

Is there a way to practice these difficult ideas before the class, test or quiz? Is there an even more engaging way to carry out these ideas? Planning for and foreseeing complications is crucial to a successful active learning classroom. If you are jumping too soon into a game, students may be drilling in incorrect techniques.

Be excited about the concepts as much as the activity. If this happens, it is easier to get carried away. When you ask yourself these questions, it becomes easier to pick the activity. If you want students to learn about medical ethics (e.g. physician assisted suicide), a trivia style game may not be ideal. If you are drilling derivatives, a debate-style discussion may not be appropriate. Keeping in mind the goals and difficulties of the topic can highlight a choice of activity. This is the foremost of our Active Learning Strategies.

Communicate Objectives to the Students

Students want to know where class is headed and how they can stay on track. This doesn’t have to be long or drawn out. It can be as simple as saying “Today we are practicing derivatives. It’s simply a review day so you can be familiar with all the material. If you are still struggling with the derivatives covered in class today, you can come talk to me after.” This tells the students where they should be at at the beginning of class (familiar with all the material).  Then you tell them that by the end of class this is where you should be and if you’re not, what should they do.

For example, ‘Today we are covering photosynthesis in class. You may have never seen this before, so let me know if you have any questions or tell me if I’m going too fast. By the end of class, you should be able to complete the worksheet for homework. If not, you can work with each other or use your textbook or the internet to help you.’

Ensure your students are on task

Especially today, students think and juggle 700 things at once. They may watch TV, eat dinner, do their homework and scroll through their phone. It all seems to happen at the same time and it is no surprise that students have a hard time focusing.

If you make the student accountable for their own work, they are more likely to do it. This doesn’t mean you have to grade everything they put their pencil on. If they are discussing in small groups, one student can share with the class what their group discussed.  Think about a reading quiz: you have to write, use class time to give, and then grade. Instead, ask a random student to summarize the reading from last night. This is much easier and less time consuming for you. It also encourages the students to actually invest thought into the reading. Students receive quizzes (and bad grades) almost everyday. Most students do not articulate their thoughts in front of their peers daily. It also becomes much harder for the student who didn’t do the reading to fake their way through it. Students tend to stay on task when the activity is short and the object clear. Something as simple as ‘discuss your thoughts’ can allow students to process the information they have been given. But when you give them a specific task or goal and even a period to do so, the effect is dramatic.

For example, consider the following instructions.

  1. Discuss photosynthesis with your partner.
  2. Walk through the important steps of photosynthesis (including both inputs and outputs of each) in 5 minutes.

The first discussion is somewhat lost on the student. It’s possible that they could just list the steps, out of order and then talk about whatever they want. The second has clear goals and a time. If the students need more time, feel free to give it to them. Keeping your students accountable and making sure they feel valued is critical to active learning models. Also be sure to include specific instructions to keep students on task.

Image from Pixabay

Concluding and Summarizing

Concluding the activity is vital to every classroom. Students may get excited  and forget the actual information they learned. A simple review for 5 minutes ensures that students process the information. Coming back to your objectives from the beginning of the activity is a great way to end the class well. For example: ‘I hope you all are comfortable with the derivatives we practiced today’. Telling students how they will use these skills practiced will help them understand why they are important. For example, you may finish a lab by saying the following. ‘Today, we used various techniques to mix solutions. We then observed what happened when we mixed them. Next week, you have a lab practical with the same solutions. You will need to identify them without being told what they are’. This makes the practice more real. It also allows the students to better review the material in preparation.

Consistency is Key

It is important to practice these ideas throughout the course. Students and teachers fall into a rhythm in the classroom. If you begin the semester with engaging thoughtful activities, students are likely to keep the energy up through the semester. If you try to introduce these techniques after week 5, students may not respond as well.

Be open to discussions and criticisms

Keep up a dialog with the students about the activity. You may hear that some students didn’t like the discussion questions. Or the material was not understood. They can tell you which concepts were confusing, or which activities were too long and too short. This feedback will let you know how to adjust the activities for a specific class and improve for next time.

Staging and Timing of Active Learning

There are two outlines to consider when adding active learning into your class. These can change as a result of the material, activities or students in the class. The first is when activities or discussion questions are mixed throughout the lecture. The other is when the teacher finishes the lecture first. Then active learning tasks take place.  e.g.: note taking, activities and discussion questions. An easily distracted class may benefit from engagement throughout the lecture. Another class may stray off topic and the teacher must lecture first to finish material on time. Some active learning activities need a lot of classroom time to finish. Both outlines have strong and weak points. It is up to the discretion of the teacher to weigh both against their lesson plan. But don’t be afraid to stretch your comfort zone because great things may await.


Drafted by: Mackenzie Brandt ; Edited by Earl D’Souza

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *