Teaching Resources

Ideas for Teaching in an Active Learning Classroom

Resource Overview

Specific activities and approaches to teaching in student-centered, technology-rich spaces designed for active, collaborative learning

The Center for Teaching and Learning designs, manages, and supports several active learning classrooms that enhances collaborative learning among students and instructors. Below, we provide several teaching strategies and activities that could enhance teaching in these student-centered classrooms.

Group photo of faculty working at CDI in January 110 in Winter of 2019

Classroom features: Leverage your “third teacher” – your classroom

ALCs are sometimes called a “third teacher” because the features of the classroom often direct students and instructors towards more collaborative and interactive ways of learning.

  1. (easy) Encourage discussion by seating students at tables or chairs that face one another. Engage students with each other and course content by providing a physical artifact for each student or group to work on together, such as a worksheet, sticky notes, simulations or models of a phenomenon, handout with a case study, etc. Alternatively, place questions or content along the walls or on whiteboards for students to gather around and work on together.
  2. (medium) Teach from a different part of the room. Stand or sit in a new location and observe the difference. You may get a new perspective and potentially interact with different students.
  3. (advanced) Go in early to change the furniture configuration of the classroom to fit your needs. Students will usually jump in and help out. Remember to reset the room for the next class!

Facilitation strategies: Promoting student-centered practices and policies

  1. (easy) Make use of writeable spaces and online documents to allow all students to work together and share ideas. This allows students to “speak up” without needing to stand up in front of others or be worried about how they speak, especially if they are non-native English speakers, underrepresented minorities, or have (invisible) disabilities.
  2. (easy) Give students time to work and listen as students talk. If you hear a good idea or question, privately ask them if they are willing to share with the whole class especially if they do not often speak up. This can be an easy way to make sure students speak up when you ask them to share out or a way to make sure student are raising concerns.
  3. (medium) Support community building and mutual accountability by designing activities that require students to gain information and depend on each other to complete the activity, such as the jigsaw approach or role-playing with different responsibilities.
  4. (advanced) Revise your assessments to align with the skills and knowledge that students are gaining in your class. If students are doing complex, higher-order tasks in class, are the assessments demonstrating the full range of skills that students are practicing in your class?

Out-of-class work: Prepare students for learning with pre- and post-class activities

Connect activities in and out of class to provide a continuous learning experience for students

  1. (easy) Collect feedback via a survey to learn where students may be struggling, whether it is with specific content, study strategies, or class dynamics. Consider survey questions that give students a chance to reflect on their progress and get help if needed.
  2. (easy-medium) Provide space for students to reach their classmates outside of class, or time to set up such a space from a discussion board, chat, forum, or social media. Discuss netiquette and goals for this space.
  3. (medium) Have students complete a pre-survey/quiz before each class to activate prior knowledge, test their understanding of targeted content, and give you a sense of their confusions, questions, or ideas that you can use to launch students into class activities.
  4. (advanced) Shift activities that are best suited for individual processing and practice to pre- or post-class assignments. Consider how you can help students maximize class time for more complex problem solving or critical thinking that benefit from collaboration, such as idea sharing, synthesis, and peer teaching.

Additional Activity Ideas

  • Table tents: help students reorganize/shuffle groups by placing table tents with a specific category or topic of interest
  • Snowball: share-out activity where students start by talking with one person, then the pair finds another pair to discuss as a small group, then continues building into larger groups to discuss ideas, build consensus, or synthesize information
  • One-minute paper: reflection activity that asks students to think and write about a prompt for one or more minutes
  • Conceptual organizers: use of slides, tables, Venn diagrams, or other visuals that help organize student thinking and discussion; make sure to have clear headers or titles to guide students in discussing specific facets of the targeted topic
  • Gallery walk: share-out activity after students write on the board or post materials around the room; provide students with post-its or markers to add peer feedback or additional ideas/questions
  • Small-group discussion: collaborative activity for students to discuss a topic of interest; make sure ideas are collected and shared out with the entire group
  • Jigsaw: collaborative activity where students first become experts about a topic in a group, then split up to teach other groups and share what they learned

Have suggestions?

If you have suggestions of resources we might add to these pages, please contact us:

ctl@wustl.edu(314) 935-6810Mon - Fri, 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.