5 Active Learning Strategies

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1. Reciprocal questioning

Use reciprocal questioning to encourage an open dialogue in which students take on the role of the teacher and create their own questions about a topic, reading section, or lesson.

After covering a topic of your choice in class — or after assigning a reading selection — divide the class into pairs or small groups and have students come up with a few questions for discussion with the rest of the class.

2. Three-step interviews

The three-step interview encourages students to develop active listening skills by quizzing one another, sharing their thoughts, and taking notes.

To use the three-step interview process, divide students into groups of three, and assign three roles: interviewer, interviewee, and notetaker.

After also assigning a theme or topic of discussion, have students participate in a five to 10-minute interview to discuss what they found to be

the key information relating to the topic.

After each interview, students rotate roles. Depending on factors including the grade level of your students and their experience with the strategy, you may adjust the length of the time for each interview.

One interpretation of the three-step interview process. Feel free to experiment with the duration and number of students involved in these steps.

Image courtesy: Kagan Publishing

The three-step interview confers benefits including:

  • Helping students learn and apply different questioning strategies.
  • Strengthening students’ connection with course material in a creative and engaging way.
  • Producing a sense of accountability, with students working together to complete a task and grasp a lesson.

3. The pause procedure

Use the pause procedure to intersperse strategic pauses into your class lectures and enhance student understanding of teaching materials.

To use the pause procedure, arrange for pauses of two to three minutes between every 10 to 15 minutes of lecture time.

The pause procedure, the study determined, is “a good active learning strategy which helps students review their notes, reflect on them, discuss and explain the key ideas with their partners.”

The use of the pause procedure involves a minimal amount of extra time but can confer significant benefits in comparison to lectures that continue without breaks.

4. The muddiest point technique

The muddiest point technique involves asking students to write notes on the most unclear or most confusing element of a given homework assignment, lecture, or class discussion.

The Muddiest Point: Sample Phrasing

What have you found to be the muddiest point so far in this assignment? What topic do you find to be the least clear?

Asking students to write down what they find to be the least clear is a powerful exercise because it compels them to grade or rate their own knowledge of a topic.

In short, the exercise helps students reflect on the lesson and identify concepts needing further examination or study.

For example, if more than a quarter of the class mentions the same “muddiest point,” you may wish to schedule a further time to discuss that topic or create a new lesson plan or assignment to tackle it.

5. The devil’s advocate approach

The devil’s advocate approach asks one or more students to take the opposing side of a predominant argument or point of view being discussed during a lesson.

Once you have completed an assignment or lesson plan, select a topic that is suitable for discussion and debate. The topic should serve as an appropriate subject for providing arguments from both sides.

The activity is flexible and should be tailored to suit your students’ grade level. In its simplest form, divide the class into two sections and coordinate a class-wide debate based on a selected topic.

Alternatively,  you may have students annotate reading texts and respond to contentions by creating counterarguments. Then, have students debate the proposals discussed during a mock town hall meeting.

This approach can help cultivate active learning in the classroom by encouraging students to:

  • Think more critically, challenging participants to expand their understanding of the perspectives surrounding an issue and to view it through a different lens.
  • Become more engaged, fostering involvement by drawing out opinions to explore the complexity of an issue being studied.
  • Produce a deeper understanding of topics or issues, using the rigorous analysis to collectively clarify, probe, and pose alternatives to problems being discussed.

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