Active Learning

Active learning describes “types of instruction and pedagogy that calls for students to participate more fully with the course content” using evidence-based strategies into the delivery of the curriculum (SALTISE). Active learning approaches require students to engage with the course content and become participants in their learning process.

Below are eleven learning techniques that promote active learning:

Learning Jigsaw

Learning Jigsaws are used to help students become actively engaged in their learning. Student's learn a piece of content and then teach it to their fellow students. This activity takes about an hour of class time. Learning jigsaws work best when the content can be chunked into smaller pieces.

How to implement a Learning Jigsaw

  1. Divide the class into home groups
  2. Have students number off in their home groups
  3. Have groups of liked numbered students gather in a specific location called corner groups
    • Have handouts (enough for every student in class) at each corner group as well as instruction on what the students are to complete at the location
  4. Students gather enough handouts and return to their home groups
  5. Students then teach their newly learned material to their home groups
  6. Conduct a class debrief at the end of class to ensure students have no questions regarding the content from the jigsaw
Learning Jigsaw Video


Think-Pair-Share is best used for questioning throughout class.

How to implement Think-Pair-Share

Present the question. Invite students to silently prepare an answer for 1-2 minutes, then turn to one or several people nearby to compare answers for 1-2 minutes. Then, seek answers from various groupings, invite groups to vote on the answer etc.
Think, Pair and Share Video


Diagnostics are low-risk activities that are great for introducing a new topic.

How to implement Diagnostics

Prior to beginning a new topic present a case to the students that can only be solved with information from the new topic. Upon completion of the topic, review the case and see if the students can successfully solve the case.
Diagnostics Video


The bookends learning technique is best used for organizing activity; helping students connect to a topic; assessing pre-existing knowledge

How to implement bookends

Prior to beginning a new topic, have each student or group of students call out questions they would like answered about this topic; record on chart paper in full view. Just before ending the topic, review the questions—which have been answered? If some have not, assign students to seek out the answers and report back (or provide them yourself)
Bookends Video

Traveling Files

The Traveling Files learning technique is best used for skill application practice, building analytical skills and building critique and feedback skills.

How to implement the Traveling Files learning technique

Put the students into small groups. Each group receives a different case study or a problem requiring a solution, which they complete using guided questions. When signaled, each group passes its file to another group, moving in one direction. Each group then critiques the previous group’s answer or solution, recording their analysis. Rotate files once more, with the third group assessing both the first group’s answer and the second group’s analysis and adding their comments. Rotate files back to original groups for debriefing.
Traveling File Video

Minute Paper

The Minute Paper learning technique is best used as a summary activity.

How to implement a minute paper

Ask students to spend one minute at the end of class summarizing a key idea from the lesson. It could be answering a key question, defining a key term, or expressing what they found most surprising, most significant about the lesson, or how they will apply the lesson in their lives—whatever best suits the content. Students can also articulate what points they are still finding “muddy” or unclear. Minute papers can be handed in or kept as entries in an ongoing learning journal.
Minute Paper and Team Paper Video

Team Paper

The Team Paper learning technique is best used to support small group discussion; scaffolding to large group discussion.

How to implement a Team Paper activity

Provide chart paper and markers. Students sit in small groups surrounding their paper. Pose the issue to be discussed. In silence, students write point form responses all over their paper for a set time period (5 minutes). Once time is up, small groups discuss their results and add more as they talk. After the discussion is over, post the papers for a “poster walk” for groups to see others’ results. Debrief as large class if needed to expose underlying principles.
Minute Paper and Team Paper Video

Numbered Heads Together

The Numbered Heads Together learning technique is best used for content review prior to an assessment, or to liven up a lecture session.

How to implement Numbered Heads Together

Put the students into small groups (4-5) and number off within each group. Post a multiple choice (review or application) question on PowerPoint or overhead. Give 1 minute for groups to choose an answer, then call out one of the numbers (1-5). All students with that number in the group stand and call out the answer. If there are dissenting answers, investigate the reasons for the choice and use the opportunity to briefly explain the right answer. Repeat as desired.
Numbered Heads Together Video

Prairie Fire

The Prairie Fire learning technique is a great way to review content, or application exercises. This technique will help students develop a study sheet.

How to implement the Prairie Fire learning technique

Develop a number of review or application questions and prepare handouts with all questions and room to write answers. Divide the class into small groups; assign one or more questions per group. When ready, sweep across the room, having a reporter from each group stand and present the group’s answers. Allow time for everyone to record, question, clarify the answers.
Prairie Fire Video

Take a Stand

The Take a Stand learning technique encourages students to express an opinion and provide their rationale.

How to implement the Take a Stand learning technique

Students stand and form a line across the classroom, with one extreme opinion at one end, and the opposite opinion at the opposite end (neutral or undecided students stand near the middle). Walk along the line with a "microphone" (a chalk brush will do), interviewing students on their opinions and querying their reasons.
Take a Stand Video

Cocktail Party

The Cocktail Party learning technique is best used for helping students deduce underlying principles from multiple examples; topics that students are likely to have personal experience with.

How to implement a cocktail party

Students stand, and form into pairs. When directed, they exchange stories or experiences in relation to the given topic. On the signal, students mill around the room, re-forming into new pairs and exchanging stories again. Repeat 5-6 times. As a large group, debrief, asking about common threads in the stories exchanged. Develop principles from these threads.
Cocktail Party Video

Meet Your Match

The Meet Your Match learning technique is best used for reviewing terms and definitions prior to assessment.

How to implement meet your match

Prepare file cards, half with terms, half with matching definitions (only one card pair per term, do not repeat terms). Divide the class in half, and randomly distribute terms to one half, definitions to the other. Students must move about the room, matching terms and definitions. As students pair up, they stand close together. When everyone is paired, terms and definitions are read aloud.
Meet Your Match Video

Muddiest Point

The Muddiest Point learning technique is a simple yet effective technique you can use. This technique provides a high information return for a very low investment of time and energy.

How to implement the Muddiest Point technique

The technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to one question: "What was the muddiest point in ______?" The focus of the Muddiest Point assessment might be a lecture, a discussion, a homework assignment, a play, or a film.
  • Determine what you want feedback on: the entire class session or one self-contained segment? A lecture, a discussion, a presentation?
  • If you are using the technique in class, reserve a few minutes at the end of the class session. Leave enough time to ask the question, to allow students to respond, and to collect their responses by the usual ending time
  • Let students know beforehand how much time they will have to respond and what use you will make of their responses
  • Pass out slips of paper or index cards for students to write on
  • Collect the responses as or before students leave. Stationing yourself at the door and collecting "muddy points" as students file out is one way; leaving a "muddy point" collection box by the exit is another
  • Respond to the students' feedback during the next class meeting or as soon as possible afterward

Student Generated Test Questions

Student Generated Test Questions allow teachers to see what their students consider important or memorable, what they consider to be fair and useful test questions, and how well they can answer the questions other students have posed. Learner's responding to these questions helps them to assess how well they know the material. This can help focus their studying.


This particular technique should be used at the end of any of the following:
  • Presentation or lecture
  • Discussion
  • Reading assignment
  • Unit
The Student Generated Test Questions learning technique is best administered two or three weeks before a major test, this will allow students adequate time for feedback and studying adjustments.


It is extremely important to give students feedback on how their questions compare to the actual test questions.
  • Provide e-mail feedback to individual students
  • Provide additional resources/review materials if needed
  • students answer each other's questions

One Sentence Summary

The One Sentence Summary technique involves having students answer the questions "Who does what to whom, when, where, how and why?" (WDWWWWHW) about a given topic. The students must do this in one informative and grammatical sentence (usually a long one). This technique will help faculty find out how well students can concisely and appropriately summarize information on a selected topic.

How to implement a One Sentence Summary

  1. Select an important topic that you expect your students to be able to summarize
  2. Try to answer the WDWWWWHW question yourself, as quickly as you can
  3. Give students about twice as much time as it took you to come up with the sentence

Concept Maps

Concept Maps are drawings or diagrams showing the mental connections that students make between a major concept stressed in class and other concepts they have learned. This technique provides an observable and assessable record of the students' conceptual schemata (the patterns of associations they make in relation to a given focal concept). Concept maps allow you to discover the web of relationships that your students bring to the task at hand-their starting points-and compare their understanding of relevant conceptual relations to your own. By literally drawing the connections they make among concepts, students gain more control over their connection making.

How to implement Concept Maps

  1. Select a concept that is both important to understanding the course and relatively rich in conceptual connections to use as the stimulus or starting point for the Concept Map
  2. Before class, create your own concept map to determine if the topic lends itself to the mapping process
  3. Proceed to have your students draw their own maps, either individually or in groups. Give them the directions and show a simple example of a concept map
  4. Begin the process by brainstorming for a few minutes, writing down terms and short phrases closely related to the stimulus.
  5. Draw a concept map based on your brainstorming, placing the stimulus in the center and drawing lines to other concepts. It can look roughly like a wheel with spokes, or it might take other forms such as a geographical map, a hierarchical chart, a flowchart, etc...