Topics Map > Instructional Technology > Google Doc
Topics Map > Instructional Technology > Zoom
Topics Map > Active Learning > Traditional Classrooms
Topics Map > Active Learning > Problem-Solving

Structured Problem-Solving

Using Structured Problem-Solving activity for facilitate problem-solving in a classroom
Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Medium
Student Activity Time Medium
Instructor Response Time Medium
Complexity of Activity Medium
Room Considerations Movable tables and chairs


Structured Problem-Solving gives students a process for solving a complex, content-based problem within a specific time limit. All students must agree to a solution and be able to explain the answer and strategy used to solve the problem. The activity will help identify where students need to develop and/or improve their problem-solving skills.


Use it when you want...

  • To break a problem-solving process into specific steps,
  • To have students identify, analyze, and solve problems in an organized manner,
  • To give students a structured format — preventing them from being overwhelmed by the magnitude of a problem or from engaging in irrelevant steps by providing manageable steps.

What students will need

  • There are no special requirements for this approach.


The following workflow is meant to guide you on how you can facilitate a Structured Problem-Solving learning activity within a classroom.


  • Create a problem that is complex enough to require students to use sophisticated problem-solving skills. Use research and current questions in the field as a resource.
  • Choose an identification and solving procedure appropriate to the selected problem type.
  • Solve the problem using the identified problem-solving procedure to uncover any difficulties or errors.
  • Create a handout that includes both the problem and the problem-solving steps.
  • Determine how groups will be formed.


  • Organize students into teams and assign them a complex problem to solve. 
  • Ask students to use the specific steps you have identified as a problem-solving technique: (a) identify the problem; (b) generate possible solutions; (c) evaluate and test the various solutions; (d) decide on a mutually acceptable solution; (e) implement a plan, and (f) evaluate the results.
  • Teams report the steps they took and the solutions they developed.


  • Review reports.
  • Provide feedback/grades to group participants.
  • Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation

  • None


Example 1

An Environmental Sciences professor wanted to use Structured Problem-Solving to consider the issue of air quality and air pollution. He divided students into teams and asked them to evaluate the air quality directly near the college. He asked them to consider, "What do you know?" and "Where can you go to find out?". He then asked them to assess the air quality (recommending the environmental pollution scorecard) and to identify major and minor local and regional polluters. He also asked students to develop a presentation for community stakeholders that explained the problem and recommended specific actions (Barkley 245).

Example 2

In General Chemistry, the professor developed a series of online modules to introduce concepts for the week. As an introductory course, she knew that few students would see how chemistry could be helpful in their everyday lives. She decided to use a Structured Problem-Solving activity in class to help them recognize where and how they interact with chemistry. She broke students into groups and asked them, "Select the best antacid from the list on the screen." To help them get started, she gave them a problem-solving strategy in which they would respond to various questions that would help them identify the effectiveness of the antacid. The questions guided them to review the list of active ingredients. The questions also guided them to apply information on acids and bases found in the online modules. From the answers to these questions, groups designed an experiment to test the antacid. Each group presented their ideas to the class, the procedure they would follow, and the data they would collect. At the next class session, the professor had the materials to conduct their experiment to solve the problem and identify the best antacid available over the counter (Barkley 245-246).


Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 244-248.

Keywordsstructured problem-solving, problem-solving, active learning, classroom psDoc ID104146
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-07-20 10:12:24Updated2024-04-16 15:33:18
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Feedback  2   0