Focused Listing

Active learning

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Using Focused Listing activities to measure prior knowledge in a classroom
Time and Effort
Student Activity Time Low
Instructor Prep Time Low
Instructor Response Time Low
Complexity of Activity Low


Focused Listing directs students’ attention to a single relevant term, name, or concept from a particular lesson or class session and asks them to list several ideas that are closely related to that focal point. It is useful to quickly determine what learners recall as the essential points of a particular topic.


Use it when you want...

  • To assess how well students can describe central points in a lesson,
  • To illuminate the connections students make between topics, or
  • To help students learn to focus attention and improve recall, mainly when you introduce a large amount of new information.

What students will need

  • No special requirements for this approach


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Focused Listing learning activity within a classroom.


  • Decide when the activity will take place (before, during, or after a relevant lesson). Use the results to gauge the best starting point, make midpoint corrections, or measure the class’s progress in learning one specific element of the course content.
  • Select a topic or concept that the class has just studied or will study and describe it in a word or phrase.
  • Write that word or phrase at the top of a sheet of paper as a heading of related terms critical to understanding that topic.
  • Determine a time and item limit.
  • Based on the time and item limit set, test it out by making a list of words and phrases you can recall that are related to and subsumed by your heading.
  • Review your list, looking for any items you may have left out.


  • Present the topic to students and ask them to create their list.
  • Give students a time limit for their responses.
  • Ask students to share their lists with the class.
  • Review and synthesize results. Use results to guide another activity in response.


  • Review the outcomes of the activity.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation

  • None


Example 1

An Investments: Finance / Management professor wants to use Focused Listing after an introductory lecture on stocks. He asks his fifty students to list and quickly define five to seven fundamental concepts related to stocks. Since they are writing brief definitions in addition to listing ideas they recall, he allows the class ten minutes. Reading quickly through the student responses after class, he found that more than half of the students had listed and adequately defined at least three of the six concepts; some of the students had included other important and valid concepts that were not on his list. At the following class meeting, the professor gives out a printed list of some of the best definitions and reviews the three fundamental concepts from his list that had not been included by most students. The experience leads him to begin each session by writing on the whiteboard several key concepts and terms that students should focus on throughout the lecture (Angelo 127).

Example 2

Over the years, the professor in Introductory Physics for Non-science Majors found that many first-year students had problems with the specialized vocabulary used in the course. To respond to this challenge, she developed a Focused Listing activity to assess her students' knowledge of critical terminology and to raise their awareness of the important information and concepts represented by those terms. On the first day of class, she handed out a half-sheet of paper and asked students to create a list of five words or phrases that define work in physics. She collected the responses. After class, she reviewed the responses and sorted them into three piles: 1) those that do at least a reasonably good job of defining work in physics; 2) those that confuse work in physics with work in everyday life; and 3) all other responses. She pulls out some examples to quote in her next lecture. She explains and differentiates the two distinct but easily confusable meanings of work: the every day and the scientific. Throughout the semester, she uses Focused Listing to assess and help students learn other key concepts, such as mass, velocity, energy, impulse, and momentum (Angelo 127).


Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp. 126-131.

Keywordsfocused listing, active learning, classroom, prior knowledge pkDoc ID104171
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-07-20 14:34 CSTUpdated2023-07-19 08:14 CST
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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