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

  • There are no special requirements for this approach.


The following workflow is meant as guidance for facilitating a Send-a-Problem learning activity within a classroom.


  • Determine the number of problems you 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, add any missed points, and reinforce correct processes and solutions.


  • Review the outcomes of the activity.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation

  • None


Example 1

In the Advanced Pathophysiology and Patient Management course, students review a series of lectures, podcasts, and essays to guide them through assessing and treating patients with respiratory disease. The professor used Send-A-Problem to reinforce and test their understanding of care options. He divided the class into three groups. Each group received an envelope with a patient's specific symptoms. They had fifteen minutes to review the symptoms and recommend a course of treatment. They wrote their recommendation on a piece of paper in the envelope. Groups passed their envelope to the next group and repeated the process until all groups had seen all cases. Next, each group reviewed the three solutions they found in the envelope, selected the best course of treatment, and presented the reasons for their selection to the class (Barkley 234).

Example 2

In English Literature, students in this online course were asked to think about cultural and social conditions surrounding the development of the novel Pride and Prejudice. The professor used Send-A-Problem to help them apply their knowledge to specific conditions found in the novel. He broke the class into three groups and created an online forum in Canvas for each group. He developed three questions relating the text to the historical context of the nineteenth century. He posted one question in each forum. Students had one week to respond to the first question. They moved to the following forum and answered that question the following week. They moved to the final forum in the third week and answered that question. In the fourth week, students reviewed the posts and formulated 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 10:02:13Updated2024-04-16 15:46:17
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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