Traditional Classrooms :: Engaging Students in a Traditional Classroom
Active Learning approaches for traditional classrooms

Active Learning in a Traditional Classroom

These resources present guidance on ways of facilitating active learning in the classroom. These resources are organized around four types of learning activities that support:

  • Prior Knowledge activities assess students' learning of facts and principles. They measure how well students are learning the content they are studying and reveal how they are managing the accumulation of knowledge into their already established structures. Using these approaches, instructors can gauge how well the content is being or has been learned. 
  • Analysis and Critical Thinking activities assess students' skills at breaking down information, questions, or problems to understand and solve them more fully. Using these approaches, instructors can measure how well students interpret or analyze information and arrive at an informed decision or judgment.
  • Problem-Solving activities assess how well students can analyze, evaluate, and apply information to solve a problem or draw a conclusion based on available evidence or information. Using these approaches, instructors can evaluate how well students can work within a given framework to come to a solution individually or collaboratively.
  • Discussion activities assess how well students can formulate their ideas and communicate them. Unlike large classroom discussions, these approaches place students in smaller groups to provide a structure for participation and opportunities to formulate and gather their thoughts, share and develop ideas with others, and rehearse their thoughts in a safer environment. Instructors can use these approaches to evaluate how well students recall, synthesize, and apply information in responding to a discussion prompt.
Activity Categories
Critical Thinking
Discussions
Prior Knowledge
Problem-Solving
Analytic Memo Buzz Group Background Knowledge Probe Analytic Team
Categorizing Grid Round Robin Empty Outlines Case Studies
Content, Form, & Function Talking Chips Focused Listing Send-A-Problem
Defining Features Think/Pair/Share Memory Matrix Structured Problem-Solving
Pro and Con Grid Three-Step Interview Minute Paper | Muddiest Point Think-Aloud Pair Problem-Solving
Fishbowl Discussion

Basic Approaches

The following is a selection of commonly used active learning approaches that should meet the majority of instructional needs in the classroom.

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Fishbowl Discussions

The Fishbowl Discussions approach is one that encourages full student participation, reflection, and depth of knowledge. Students are broken up into groups or teams. Each team takes turns being engaged in a discussion on a topic (inside the bowl) and observing others' discussions (out of the bowl). Students "in the bowl" respond to an instructor prompt. Students outside of the bowl listen and reflect on the alternative viewpoints.

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Minute Paper/Muddiest Point

The Minute Paper/Muddiest Point approaches have students write quick responses to questions to help instructors gain insight or understanding of content. Questions could include: “What was the most important thing you learned today?“; “What important question remains unanswered?”; or “What was the muddiest point in _______ ?

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Small-Group Discussions

The Small-Group Discussions approach allows students to share ideas or opinions without addressing the class. A simple small-group discussion asks students to divide into groups and democratically discuss a prompt provided by the instructor. A member is selected to report the highlights of their discussion to the class. Small-group discussion structures include group member roles (note-taker, devil's advocate, expert, spokesperson), turn-taking rules for speaking, and team or individual discussion question worksheets.

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Student-Defined Questions

The Student-Defined Questions approach has students individually reflect on a reading assignment, lecture, or presentation. Before class, students write a question based on that content and write a model answer for it. In class, student pairs exchange questions and write a response to the partner’s question. They trade, read, and compare answers.

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Think/Pair/Share

The Think/Pair/Share approach poses a question, asks students to reflect on the question, and has them share their ideas with others. Think has students reflect before speaking to organize their thoughts. Pair and Share asks students to compare and contrast their thoughts with others and rehearse their responses before sharing them with the whole class.

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Sources/Citations

These activities are taken from the books Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook For College Teachers by Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross, and Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook For College Faculty by Elizabeth F. Barkley, Claire Howell Major, and K. Patricia Cross — present activities you can use to address specific learning outcomes. Each approach includes a basic description, an overview of its outcomes, and steps to guide its use in your course. Each technique in this resource was selected based on three criteria: ease of design, implementation, and time needed to respond to the activity.

  • Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp. 159-180.
  • Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 152.

Sources/Citations

These activities are taken from the books Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook For College Teachers by Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross, and Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook For College Faculty by Elizabeth F. Barkley, Claire Howell Major, and K. Patricia Cross — which presents activities you can use to address specific learning outcomes. Each approach includes a basic description, an overview of its outcomes, and steps to guide its use in your course. Each technique in this resource was selected based on three criteria: ease of design, implementation, and time needed to respond to the activity.

  • Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp. 159-180.
  • Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 152.

Results: 1-20 of 23

No.Document TitleIDUpdatedViews
1Engaging Students in a Traditional Classroom1041182024-04-185859
2Send-a-Problem1041452024-04-165916
3Three-Step Interview1041552024-04-1612844
4Pro and Con Grid1040892024-04-166530
5Round Robin1041532024-04-1617658
6Think/Pair/Share1038702024-04-167272
7Talking Chips1041542024-04-1610666
8Structured Problem-Solving1041462024-04-165988
9Memory Matrix1041722024-04-167178
10Fishbowl Discussion (classroom)1040852024-04-166554
11Think-Aloud Pair Problem-Solving1041482024-04-164337
12Minute Paper / Muddiest Point1040872024-04-166686
13Defining Features Matrix1041132024-04-166417
14Focused Listing1041712024-04-165497
15Content, Form, and Function Outlines1041122024-04-165503
16Case Studies1041432024-04-164014
17Empty Outlines1041702024-04-165542
18Categorizing Grid1041072024-04-165531
19Analytic Teams1041412024-04-164050
20Background Knowledge Probe1041692024-04-166804
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