Two New York Locations

ROCKLAND: 845.358.1710
MANHATTAN: 212.625.0500





Active Learning Email Series

1.  Get ‘em Up Out of Their Seats  (Feb 19, 2014)

(Good for classes up to 40)

We don’t have “clickers” yet or the technology for students to text their responses to be immediately shown via the data projectors.  But we do have white boards, and you could bring a dozen or two dry-erase markers to class. (You may order the latter through your School Admin Assistant).

You or your students have identified three-seven key points discussed in the last 15 minutes.

If they are numbered, and there are three, put three columns on the white board individually labeled (1,2,3)   If they are not numbered, head the columns with a descriptive word, such as “race”  “class”  “gender”.

All students now come to the front together, take a marker, and place an x on the item that they think is most important (or that they most resonate with, etc)

You can have them sit down and reflect on the “results” now obvious on the board, or you can have them stay standing and you sit down in one of the student seats.  Ask them questions, such as “Those of you who thought gender was important…explain your reasons to the rest of us.”

2.  Let’s Have a Fight, Shall We?  (March 4, 2014)

Critical thinking can be enhanced if we can understand another’s point of view, and even articulate it.   Suppose you are teaching about different components of “life’s economic outcomes.”

1.  Arbitrarily divide the class.  

2.  Look to half the class, “In the next 10-15 minutes, no matter what you think, you believe that RACE is the most salient feature of one’s life’s outcomes…economically.”  You look to the other half of the class and say the same thing, but instead of race, give them GENDER.

3.  If the class is small, under ten in each half give them a few minutes to marshal their arguments in favor of their assigned position.    If the class is large, let them work in pairs or triads, then give them a little more time to have the pairs or triads contribute to the group’s reasons for the superiority of their position.

4.  Call their attention back to you.  “I understand there is real disagreement in our class about which is the more important aspect of one’s eventual economic circumstances…race or gender.  Ok, you gender people, get us started, explain to the other side why you think the way you do.

5.  (If they look at you while they are talking, tell them to look at the opposing side, NOT you.

6.  After a minute or two, look to the other side “Wow, that’s pretty persuasive, are you convinced it really is gender that is most salient?

7.  I let this go back and forth for up to 6-8 minutes.   I like to stop the conversation just before it is about to peak…leaving them wishing for more discussion.

8.  “Ok, time-out, great job at getting this issue on the table.   Let’s take a look now at a the data from a recent study out of Penn State which says  (show slide)….”

Submitted by Len Kageler


3. Think-Pair-Share.  (Feb. 25, 2014)

Think-Pair-Share was developed by Lyman (1981) and it involves three steps. First, the class is presented with a question. Students are given a minute or so to answer the question individually [This is the “Think” part]. Next, students are asked to pair up with a neighbor and discuss their answers with each other [The “Pair” part]. Finally, after a minute or so of cooperative discussion, a volunteer from select pairs are asked to share their collective answer with the rest of the class [The “Share” part].

Variations on Think-Pair-Share (adapted from Think-Pair-Share, n.d.):

a) Write-Pair-Share (also called Think-Write-Pair-Share)  

1. Instructor presents a question

2. Students write out their answer individually

3. Students then pair with a partner and discuss their answers with each other. (max. 5 min)

4. Students share their answer (or their partner’s answer) as directed by instructor.

b) Formulate-Share-Listen-Create

1. Instructor presents a question

2. Students formulate their answer individually.

3. Students share with a partner and discuss their answers with each other.

4. Students listen carefully to their partner’s answer, noting any similarities and differences in the answers.

5. Students then create a new collective answer that incorporates the best of their ideas. Students should be prepared to present their collective answer if called upon by instructor.

c) Timed-Pair-Share

1. Instructor presents a question

2. Students think (or write) about their answer individually.

3. Students pair with a partner and share for a specified, strictly-enforced amount of time (e.g., 60 sec). The time limit prevents one partner from monopolizing the discussion.

4. Students share their answer (or their partner’s answer) when called upon by instructor.

Useful Website:

Submitted by Peter Park.


4. Finger Signals.

This technique can be used after a multiple choice question is presented to the class (i.e., “Do you use Bloom’s Taxonomy of Understanding in your teaching?”). Students are asked to respond by using their finger(s) laid against their torso. The class is instructed that if one’s response was “A”, he/she is to use one finger, “B” to use two fingers, “C” to use three fingers, and “D” to use four fingers. This technique allows the instructor to receive immediate responses by students – responses that are not influenced by the answers of classmates. It is an alternative to asking students to respond via raising of hands and is also an alternative to clickers. 

Formal description of this technique by Faust and Paulson (1998):

Finger Signals. This method provides instructors with a means of testing student comprehension without the waiting period or grading time required for written quizzes. The instructor asks students questions and instructs them to signal their answers by holding up an appropriate number of fingers immediately in front of their torsos where their peers cannot see them (this makes it impossible for students to “copy” from each other, thus committing them to answer each question on their own). For example, the instructor might say, “one finger for ‘yes,’ two for ‘no,’” and then ask an appropriate question. Or the instructor might prepare multiple-choice questions for the overhead projector and number the answers 1 through 5, asking students to respond with finger signals. In very large classes, students can respond by using large cardboard signs with numbers written on them or different-colored cards (Meltzer & Manivannan, 1996). This method allows instructors to assess students’ knowledge literally at a glance."

Useful Website:

Submitted by Peter Park and Jacqueline Washington













5. The Essential Question: A Significant Element in Active Learning

Wiggins and McTighe define essential questions as “questions that are not answerable with finality in a brief sentence… Their aim is to stimulate thought, to provoke inquiry, and to spark more questions — including thoughtful student questions — not just pat answer. EQ’s are also defined as the “Big Topic”. They are ultimately what we want our college students to learn and apply beyond the text, our class and graduation.

EQ’s can literally transform a passive learning experience into an exciting, focused, active critical thinking lesson. I suggest you try these applications, which have literally transformed lessons for me and my teacher candidates.

Write your essential question on the whiteboard or Smart Board before students enter class. Leave it on the board and/or have them copy it.. An example that worked well for me in a lesson on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire using a video was. “Does significant social change require major conflicts or tragedies?

  • Here are several suggestions for active student learning with EQ’s.
  • Get students focused by having them do a “Quickwrite” in a journal or notebook
  • Have students discuss the EQ in pairs or small groups.
  • Have the students view a video or listen to your lecture developing or modifying       their answer to the EQ.
  • Use as a pre-post formative assessment.
  •  Follow up with a full class discussion or essay.

These active learning activities take little preparation on your part and take perhaps three 3-5 minutes and will significantly improve your lessons.

A quick Google search will provide examples you can apply in class. Here are a few samples:

What differentiates one nation’s identity from another?

  • Is "historical fiction" a contradiction?
  • What is power?
  • Can everything be quantified?
  • What is the relationship between popularity and greatness in literature?
  • What does it mean to "make a living"?
  • What is our place in the universe?
  • Does literature reflect culture or shape it?

Submitted by James Nichols.


6.  Team Based Learning  

(Apr 1, 2014)



7. Wait Time.  

(April 8, 2014)

Wait time is straight-forward. After the presentation of a question to the class, the instructor waits (15-30 seconds) before selecting a student to respond. The instructor would announce, immediately after the question is posed, that students should not raise hands until they are told to do so. This “extra” time allows students to reflect and process a question longer, which may encourage more of the class to contribute responses.

Formal description of this technique by Faust and Paulson (1998):

Wait Time. Rather than immediately choosing a student to answer a question that he or she has presented, the instructor waits a short time (15 seconds or so) before calling on someone (Rowe, 1980; Schaible & Rhodes, 1992). It is important for the instructor to insist that students not raise their hands or shout out the answer before he or she gives the okay. This discourages the typical scenario in which the students in the front row all immediately volunteer to answer the question and everyone else sighs in relief. The wait time gets all students thinking actively about the question rather than allowing them to rely passively on those students who are fastest out of the gate. When the wait time is up, the instructor asks for volunteers or randomly picks a student to answer the question. When students get into the habit of waiting after questions are asked, more of them will get involved in the process.”

Useful Website:

Submitted by Peter Park and Jacqueline Washington


8. Concept Mapping. 

(April 15, 2014)

This technique involves students synthesizing concepts and organizing a conceptual framework upon which to “hang” concepts. For example, at the end of Dr. Washington and Dr. Park’s active learning presentation (January Faculty Day), a concept map summarizing key content was shown (see below). Time did not allow for the modelling of the concept mapping technique during the presentation, but it could have been implemented as follows: 

- Distribute post-its written with key terms (e.g., diversity, active learning, think-pair-share, student-centered learning…). One key term per post-it.

- Distribute markers and a poster board.

- Quickly assign groups of 3-4 attendees.

- Ask each group to create a concept map, linking the provided terms.

- Announce that the nodes connecting links should have a verb or short phrase to describe the nature of the conceptual connection.

- After 5 minutes, ask some or all groups to present and share their maps with the entire audience.

Below is the concept map that was shown at the end of the presentation. This map was created using free software downloaded from



Formal description of this technique by Faust and Paulson (1998):

 “Concept Mapping. A concept map is a way of illustrating the connections that exist between terms or concepts covered in class (Novak, 1990; Novak & Gowin, 1984). Students brainstorm to generate a list of facts, ideas, or concepts for a particular topic and then draw lines connecting related items. Above each line students write the nature of the relationship between the items. Because most of the terms in a concept map have multiple connections, students must identify and organize information to establish meaningful relationships between the pieces of information. A concept map is an effective means to show students how the many concepts covered in a typical course are connected. Although individuals as well as groups of students can do concept mapping, the maps produced in groups are usually much more detailed than those produced by individual students. ”

Useful Website:

 Submitted by Peter Park and Jacqueline Washington


9.  Active Learning for Large Classes (12 Minute video)

(April 23, 2014)

Suggested by Joshua Perez.