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Using Send-a-Problem activity to facilitate problem-solving in a classroom.
Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Medium
Student Activity Time Medium
Instructor Response Time Low
Complexity of Activity Medium
Room Considerations Movable tables and chairs


Send-A-Problem has each group receive a problem, try to solve it, and then pass the problem and solution to a nearby group. The next group works to solve the problem without looking at the previous group’s answer. After several passes, groups analyze, evaluate, and synthesize responses and report the best solution to the class.


Use it when you want...

  • To provide opportunities for students to solve problems and evaluate solutions,
  • To have students practice and learn from each other about the thinking skills required for successful problem-solving,
  • To help students compare and discriminate between multiple solutions, or
  • To get students to explain/defend their decisions.

What students will need

  • No special requirements for this approach.


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Send-a-Problem learning activity within a classroom.


  • Determine the number of problems you will need to have all groups working simultaneously.
  • Decide how to present the problem. Consider attaching each issue to a file folder or envelope into which groups can then insert their solutions.
  • Think carefully about time limits and the order in which students should pass the problem.
  • Determine how groups will be formed.


  • Form groups of 2-3 students, describe the activity, give instructions, and answer questions. 
  • Distribute a different problem to each group. Ask each group to discuss the issue, generate possible solutions, choose the best solution, and record their response in the folder or envelope.
  • Call time and instruct teams to pass the problem to the next group. Each group should receive a new question.
  • Upon receiving new problems, students again brainstorm responses and record results until time runs out. They pass the issue to a new group. Repeat the process as many times as it seems useful.
  • The final group reviews the responses, synthesizes the information, and adds any additional information.
  • The activity concludes as teams report on the responses contained in the folder they evaluated. As groups report out, add any points that groups missed, and reinforce correct processes and solutions.


  • Review the outcomes of the activity.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation

  • None


Example 1

In the course Advanced Pathophysiology and Patient Management, students have a series of lectures, podcasts, and essays to guide them through the process of assessing and treating patients with respiratory disease. The professor decides to use Send-A-Problem to reinforce and test their understanding of care options. He divides the class into three groups. Each group gets an envelope with a patient's specific symptoms. They have fifteen minutes to review the symptoms and recommend a course of treatment. They are to write down their recommendation on a paper found in the envelope. Groups pass their envelope to the next group and repeat the process until all groups have seen all cases. Next, each group reviews the three solutions they found in the envelope, selects the best course of treatment, and presents the reasons for their selection to the class (Barkley 234).

Example 2

In English Literature, students in this online course are asked to think about cultural and social conditions surrounding the development of the novel Pride and Prejudice. The professor decides to use Send-A-Problem to help them apply their knowledge to specific conditions found in the novel. He breaks the class into three groups and creates an online forum in Canvas for each group. He develops three questions relating the text to the historical context of the nineteenth century. He posts one question in each forum. Students get one week to respond to the first question. The next week, they go to the next forum and answer that question. In the third week, they move to the final forum and answer that question. In the fourth week, students review the posts and formulate the best answer (Barkley 234-235).


Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 232-237.

Keywordssend-a-problem, problem-solving, active learning psDoc ID104145
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-07-20 09:02 CSTUpdated2023-07-19 07:49 CST
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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