Active Learning Activities and Assessments

The following guide is designed to explain and give examples of how in-class activities and assessments can enhance student learning in an Active Learning Classroom or any type of classroom. These techniques are based on the work of Angelo and Cross (1993).

Activities and Assessments PDF

Selected Activities and Assessments

Minute Paper

Minute Paper

Commonly administered at the end of class, the minute paper typically asks “What was the most important concept you learned in class today?” or, “What do you see at 1 or 2  main points of today’s activities/lecture/discussion?” to gain a sense of student comprehension related to the day’s specific focus. Prompts can also pose reflection-oriented questions.

What to do with the data

Review responses and note any useful comments.  During the next class period emphasize the issues illuminated by your students’ comments.  For a helpful inventory of comprehension and reflection questions, see the OnCourse Minute Paper resource.

This writing often provides the foundation for the “Think * Pair * Share” strategy: students write, then talk in pairs or trios about ideas, with some sharing with the entire class.

Effort needed

Prep: Low
In class: Low
Analysis: Low

Chain Notes

Chain Notes

Students pass around an envelope on which the teacher has written one question related to the class session.  When the envelope reaches a student they write a brief response to the question, returns the response sheet to the envelope, and passes it to a next student.

What to do with the data

Go through the student responses and determine the best criteria for categorizing the data with the goal of detecting response patterns. Discuss the patterns of responses with your students.

Effort needed

Prep: Low
In class: Low
Analysis: Low

Focused Listing

Focused Listing

In a given time period, students write down as many ideas that are closely related to a single important term, name, or concept. Useful in large & small courses in which a large amount of new information is regularly introduced.

What to do with the data

The simplest way is to sort the responses into “related” or “unrelated.” Then you can classify the responses according to the type or degree of relation to the focus topic (e.g., examples, definitions, illustrations; primary, secondary, tertiary relations).

Effort needed

Prep: Low
In class: Low
Analysis: Low

Application Cards

Application Cards

After teaching about an important theory, principle, or procedure, ask students to write down at least one context-specified application for what they have just learned.

What to do with the data

Quickly read once through the application and categorize them according to their quality. Pick out a broad range of examples and present them to the class.

Effort needed

Prep: Low
In class: Low
Analysis: Medium

Approximate Analogies

Approximate Analogies

To find out whether students understand the relationship between two concepts, the complete the second half of an analogy – A is to B as X is to Y – for which their instructor has supplied the first half (A is to B).

What to do with the data

Quickly sort the responses into three piles, “good,” “poor/wrong,” and “in doubt.” Go over the “in doubt” pile several times to exhaust it. Select examples from each group to bring to the class and discuss what makes the analogy a good/poor choice.

Effort needed

Prep: Low
In class: Low
Analysis: Medium

Muddy Point

Muddy Point

Ask students to write an informal response to one question: “What was the muddiest point in _____?” The focus could be a lecture, a discussion, homework, a play, or a film.

What to do with the data

Quickly read through at least half of the responses, looking for common types of muddy points. Sort them by affinity. Use a principle (number, concepts, skills) to decide which to deal with in class.

Effort needed

Prep: Low
In class: Low
Analysis: Low

Clear Skies

Clear Skies

As with the Muddy Point prompt, ask students to write a response to a single question: “What was the clearest point for you in ___? The focus here could be a reading, presentation, in class discussion/activity, or class prep task.

What to do with the data

Quickly read through at least half of the responses, looking for a pattern in what students identify as points of understanding/connection related to course materials/concepts. Sort them by affinity to begin determining what to address and/or how to build on these in class.

Effort needed

Prep: Low
In class: Low
Analysis: Low

Directed paraphrasing

Directed paraphrasing

Students write a “translation” of something they have just learned for a specified individual, audience, or purpose audience to demonstrate comprehension and engage retrieval.

What to do with the data

Categorize student responses according to characteristics you feel are most important. Analyze those responses both within and across categories, noting ways you could address student needs.

Effort needed

Prep: Low
In class: Med
Analysis: Med

3 – 2 – 1 response

3 – 2 – 1 response

As preparation for class: Students read/annotate assigned readings, review in order to respond to the following:

  • 3 things learned – ideas, issues, insights.
  • 2 examples of how to apply the ideas, issues, insights to case challenge.
  • 1 unresolved “something,” which you can express as a question, name as an area of confusion, or point to as a difficulty.

What to do with the data

In small discussion groups, individuals can draw on what they’ve written to set out the group’s multiple and/or shared perspectives, and then collaborate to create a 3-2-1 that can be shared with the entire class for follow up discussion. Teachers might collect each group-generated 3-2-1 response to review and draw on as the basis for follow up full group discussion. Evaluate the individual and/or group writings to assess students’ critical reading acumen.

Effort needed

Prep: Low
In class: Medium
Analysis: Medium

One-sentence summary

One-sentence summary

Students summarize knowledge of a topic by constructing a single sentence that answers the questions, “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” The purpose is for students to define features of an idea.

What to do with the data

Evaluate the quality of each summary quickly and holistically. Note whether students have identified the essential concepts of the class topic and their interrelationships. Share observations with your students.

Effort needed

Prep: Low
In class: Medium
Analysis: Medium

Background knowledge probe

Background knowledge probe

Before introducing an important new concept, subject, or topic, students respond to questions that will probe their existing knowledge of that concept, subject or topic.

What to do with the data

Classify responses into groups (e.g., prepared/non-prepared; no knowledge/erroneous knowledge/OK knowledge). Use the information to revise your plans for teaching this topic.

Effort needed

Prep: Medium
In class: Low
Analysis: Medium

Goal ranking/ matching

Goal ranking/ matching

Used in the first week of class; students list the learning goals they hope to achieve through the course and rank the relative importance of those goals.

What to do with the data

Look for patterns in students’ goals and categorize them accordingly. Contrast the list and rankings with your own ranked goals. Report back indicating how and why you will include (or not) the goals mentioned by the students.

Effort needed

Prep: Medium
In class: Low
Analysis: Low/ Medium

Misconception check

Misconception check

Students respond to a questionnaire that elicits information about ideas and beliefs that may hinder or block further learning.

What to do with the data

Organize the information to answer these questions: What misperceptions or preconceptions do students have that may interfere with learning? How many students have them? How deeply embedded are these?

Effort needed

Prep: Medium
In class: Low
Analysis: Medium

Memory matrix

Memory matrix

Students fill in cells of a two-dimensional diagram for which the instructor has provided labels. For example, in a music course labels might consist of periods (Baroque, Classical) by countries (Germany, France); students enter composers in cells to demonstrate their ability to remember and classify key concepts.

What to do with the data

Tally the numbers of correct and incorrect responses in each cell. Analyze differences both between and among the cells. Look for patterns among the incorrect responses and try to determine what the cause might be.

Effort needed

Prep: Medium
In class: Medium
Analysis: Medium

Student generated test questions

Student generated test questions

Ask students to write test questions and model answers for specified topics. This will engage students in evaluating course topics, reflecting on what they understand, and in learning to develop good questions.

What to do with the data

Make a rough tally of the questions your students propose and the topics that they cover. Evaluate the questions and use the good ones as prompts for discussion. You may also want to revise the questions and use them on the upcoming exam.

Effort needed

Prep: Medium
In class: High
Analysis: High

RSQC2

RSQC2

This 5-step protocol – Recall, Summarize, Question, Comment, and Connect – can be used to engage students in focusing on a previous class/lab session, a section/unit at its mid-point or closing stages, or even to focus on single reading/lecture or set of either.
Teachers develop one question/prompt for each of the five steps, aiming to engage students in gathering and synthesizing data, expressing new questions, and connecting the pieces to express new understandings and/or insights.

What to do with the data

The five steps can be woven into a class session, providing a framework for actively engaging students throughout a lecture or activity; the Recall and Summarize steps can be embedded in students’ assigned preparing for class work, serving as the “ticket in” for a class session. The development of questions provides opportunities for students to engage in peer learning and to ask authentic questions during class. By using note cards or student response systems allowing for paragraph answers, instructors can collect Comment and Connect responses, for review, reviewing for levels of understanding as part of planning a next presentation, an upcoming review session, follow up homework, and/or a general report to students.

Effort needed

Prep: Medium
In class: High
Analysis: High