Active Learning Email Series

Weekly Active Learning Emails, 2017-2018

1.  Illustrating What We Want by Demonstrating What We Don’t Want

At Nyack/ATS we are all about many things…including modeling certain dispositions (like care for the hurting) and helping our students gain certain skills (like critical thinking or public speaking).  

            One way to involve students in either case to use examples of the opposite

I enjoy having my students come up with these bad examples.   For example, “In this class we are, as the course title suggests, concerned about good teaching.   In your already assigned small groups I’d like you to come to class next week with at least three youtube examples of teaching done poorly.    Choose your best one to show…have the others handy if another group shows one of the ones you had picked.  We will discuss why it is such a great example of terrible teaching.”    A classic is example is “Ferris Bueler’s Day Off”

Submitted by Len Kageler

2.  “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

3. Teaching Concepts Via Student Professional Seminars

This idea works well with any topic that has a variety of aspects or components.  Instead of lecturing on these key topics, I like to have “seminar groups” in the class.  Each student is part of a group with 3 or 4 others.   The group is assigned (or picks from a supplied list) one topic about which they will become experts.  They are to prepare a professional seminar in which the goal is to make their classmates experts as well.    The imagined setting is this: people have paid $200 each to attend this seminar, they want to leave really “getting” the concept and how it is relevant to a larger topic.  Seminars are expected to last 25-30 minutes.

            Aspects of a “professional” seminar include:  attire and demeanor of presenters, : quality of media and handouts,  demonstrating their knowledge of all four learning styles

by tailoring some aspect of the seminar to “speak to”  each individual’s preferred style of learning,  and, if posibible, a pre-test/post test,.   At the conclusion of the seminar class members offer peer feedback.     Each seminar group also contributes one or two questions that will be including in a coming exam.

Submitted by Len Kageler

4.Rotating Trio Exchange


This is an in-depth way for students to discuss issues with some (but usually not all) of their fellow classmates.  The exchanges can be easily geared to the subject matter of any class.


  1. Compose a variety of questions that help students begin discussion of the course content.  Use questions with no right or wrong answers.

For example, an English teacher might ask:

  • What do you like about Shakespearean plays?  What don’t you like?
  • Why is Shakespeare considered one of the greatest playwrights of all time?
  • Pick any nineteenth- or twentieth-century playwright or filmwriter.  How would you compare this person to Shakespeare?
  1. Divide students into trios.  Arrange the trios in the room so that each trio can clearly see a trio to its right and one to its left.  The overall configuration of the trios would be a circle or a square.
  2. Give each trio an opening question (the same question for each trio) to discuss.  Select the least challenging question you have devised to begin the trio exchange.  Suggest that each person in the trio take a turn answering the question.
  3. After a suitable period of discussion, ask the trios to assign a 0, 1, or 2 to each of its members.  Direct the students with the number 1 to rotate one trio clockwise.  Ask the students with the number 0 to remain seated since they are permanent members of a trio site.  Have them raise their hands high so that rotating students can find them.  The result will be entirely new trios.
  4. Start a new exchange with a new question.  Increase the difficulty or “threat level” of the questions as you proceed to new rounds.
  5. You can rotate trios as many times as you have questions to pose and discussion time to allot.  Each time, use the same rotation procedure.  For example, in a trio exchange of three rotations, each student will get to meet, in depth, six other students.


  1. After each round of questions, quickly poll the full group about their responses before rotating students to new trios.

Adapted from Active Learning, 101 Strategies by Mel Silberman


5.  Review via the Tweetosphere 

At the end of your class session, give time for students to reflect on what was learned that session and/or review their notes. 

1.  Each one writes a summary of the main or most important concept or subject presented in class that day…but do that in tweet form.  No more than 140 characters.

2.  Students gather in small groups. Each share’s their own tweet.  Group discusses and agrees on the best tweet.

3. Have a representative from each group write their tweet on the whiteboard.  (affirm they are all great, if indeed they are)

4.  Now the whole class votes on which is the best, one is not allowed to vote for the one their group selected.  (Offer a prize for the winning tweet?)

Submitted by Len Kageler


6. Go to Your Post


This is a well-known way to incorporate physical movement at the beginning of a class.  This strategy is flexible enough to use for a variety of activities that are designed to stimulate initial interest in your subject matter.


Post signs around the classroom. You can use two signs to create a dichotomous choice or several signs to provide more options.

  1. These signs can indicate a variety of preferences:
  • Topics or skills of interest to the students (e.g., “Word processing, databasing)
  • Questions about course content (e.g., “How does a turbo engine work?”)
  • Different solutions to the same problem (e.g., capital punishment versus life sentence)
  • Different values (e.g., money, fame, family)
  • Different personal characteristics or styles (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic)
  • Different authors or well-known people in a field (e.g., Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy)
  • Different quotations, proverbs, or verses in a text (e.g., “Honor Your Father and Mother” versus “Question Authority”)
  1. Ask students to look at the signs and choose one.  For example, some students might be more interested in word processing than databasing.  Have them “sign up” for their preference by moving to the place in the classroom where their choice is posted.
  2. Have the subgroups that have been created discuss among themselves why they have placed themselves by their sign.  Ask a representative of each group to summarize their reasons.


  1. Pair up students with different preferences and ask them to compare their views.  Or create a discussion panel with representatives from each preference group.
  2. Ask each preference group to make a presentation, create an advertisement, or prepare a skit advocating their preference.

Adapted from Active Learning, 101 Strategies by Mel Silberman


7. What’s My Line?


This actually offers a fresh approach to helping students learn cognitive material.  By adapting an old television game show, students have an opportunity to review material that has just been taught and test one another as a reinforcement to your lesson.


  1. Divide your class into two or more teams.
  2. Write on separate slips of paper any of the following:
  • I am:  (supply a person)                                e.g., I am Karl Marx
  • I am:  (supply an event)                                e.g., I am a “solar eclipse.”
  • I am:  (supply a theory)                                 e.g., I am “Darwinism.”
  • I am:  (supply a concept)                               e.g., I am “inflation.”
  • I am:  (supply a skill)                                     e.g., I am “the Heimlich maneuver.”
  • I am:  (supply a quotation)                              e.g., I am “to be or not to be.”
  • I am:  (supply a formula)                                e.g., I am e=mc 2.
  1.  Put these slips of paper in a box, and ask each team member to choose one slip.  The slip chosen reveals the identity of the mystery guest.
  2. Give the teams five minutes to do the following tasks:
  • Choose a team member to be the “mystery guest.”
  • Anticipate questions he or she will be asked and think how to respond.
  1.  Select the team that will present the first mystery guest.
  2. Create a panel of students from other teams (by whatever method you choose).
  3. Begin the game.  Ask the mystery guest to reveal his or her category (person, event, etc.).  The panelists take turns asking yes-or-no questions of the mystery guest until one of the panelists is able to identify the guest.
  4. Invite the remaining teams to present their mystery guests.  Create a new panel for each guest.


  1. Allow each mystery guest to consult with his or her teammates if he or she is unsure how to answer the questions posed by the panelists.
  2. The teacher may specify how he or she wants the mystery guest to act.  For example, a guest might actually try to impersonate the famous person being portrayed.

Adapted from Active Learning, 101 Strategies by Mel Silberman


8.  Acrostic

An acrostic is an arrangement of words in which certain letters in each line, when taken in order, spell out a word or motto.  An acrostic is a good way to re-enforce learning of a key person, place, term, or concept.  It can also be used to build relationships within the class.

To use Acrostic to reinforce a key person, place, term, or concept, divide your class into groups of three or four. Assign them a key person (place, concept, etc) and have them create an acrostic to present to the class.  Have each group work to come up with the appropriate acrostic.

For example, in sociology one might want them to know Karl Marx and Max Weber.    An acrostic for Marx might be: “Mighty Angry Regarding Xtreme-exploitation-of-workers.”  An acrostic for Weber might be “Wondered (if) Everyone  Became Energized (in) Relationships”.

For relationship building in class, students develop an acrostic for their first name that is descriptive, and shares that with the small group or whole class.  For example   Len:  “Likes everyone now.”  If a sentence is too hard, then just find key descriptive words.  For example, Andrew:  “Ace, Nice, Dynamic, Reliable, Energetic, Wonderful.”

Submitted by Len Kageler


9.  Jeopardy in the Classroom

Seven or eight years ago I found a class exercise using Jeopardy online for the Sensation and Perception chapter of General Psych.  Another psychologist had already developed the game content and I decided to use it in my class.  I only do this once in the semester.  But the students loved it.  It even has the jeopardy theme synthesized.  I use it as follows.

I encourage the class on an earlier date to study this chapter well and bring their text to class without telling them why.  In class I divide the students into groups of not more than 6. They choose one person to be a judge.  The judges are in front of the room and they decide which group raises their hand first when answering during the game. Low tech I know.  I break any tie or misunderstanding with my vote if necessary.  I tell them the judge’s decision is final which is another way of saying what I say goes.

I allow them to use their textbook to find answers but limit the time to a reasonable amount.

I pick the first answer to start and after that the last group to correctly answer picks the next answer from the Jeopardy board.  Unlike real Jeopardy I only allow one attempt to give the correct question. If one group  answers incorrectly, then no other group else gets a chance.  It is too confusing to keep track of which group was second or third etc.

There is only one board with no double Jeopardy.  For final Jeopardy, each group chooses a champion who will answer the final jeopardy question in writing chosen by me within thirty seconds. The final wager is written down by each group. They have 30 seconds to write down the answer.

Group scores are kept and summarized numerous times during the game.  Motivation is ensured by giving the winning group 1 point added to their final course grade.  In my syllabus this is about equal to one quiz out of ten. Second place gets ½ a point added and third ¼.

Sometimes the competition gets fierce. One student neglected to write his final Jeopardy answer in the form of a question and so was incorrect and his group lost everything and received no points at all.  I had never before seen a student on his knees begging me to accept his answer.  I threw him to the lions aka his other group members.  He did live however.

The students seem to like this break in the usual routine and I then use it to highlight the areas where the most errors were made and review it with the class after the game.

The link I use is

There are many templates for Jeopardy online with each suited better for one class or another.  There also are archives of Jeopardy games that other professors have developed.  Why reinvent the wheel, right? This is one link as an example.

The link is from so if it doesn’t work search from there.

Submitted by Jack Wiltshire

10. Guess the Person


This is a way to review and reinforce content, especially facts about historic persons. The example below was used to identify characters from the Old Testament book of Judges.


1. Write the names of the twelve Old Testament judges on twelve separate note cards.

2. Present the characteristics of each of the twelve judges, either in class, required reading, or a discovery exercise (exploring the biblical text).

3. Divide the class into teams of 5 or 6 students (or work with the class as a whole if the class is small).

4. Each team selects a leader to present the characteristics of the judge

5. Only the leader can see the name of the judge. There are then three rounds. Each team does round one, then each team does round two, etc. Each round is timed for a duration of one minute.

6. Round one: The leader uses sentences to describe the judge, while the team tries to guess the name of the judge. E.g. the left-handed judge who killed Eglon with a short sword that disappeared into Eglon's belly. In each round, the leader can skip judges that are too hard to define or that the group cannot guess (since the one minute time limit means the activity has to keep moving). In each round, the leader makes a pile of names that were successfully guessed. The number of cards in the pile is the score for that team in that round.

7. Round two: All of the judges' names go back into the game for the second round (and likewise for the third). In round two, the leader uses only one word to describe the judge. E.g. lefty.

8. Round three: The leader uses no words, but only motions to describe the judge. E.g. makes a motion of stabbing someone with imaginary sword in left hand.


This activity could be used with any category of persons, e.g. theologians, philosophers, historical figures, Bible characters.It could also be adapted to review characteristics of objects or concepts.

(This activity comes from the website at

Submitted by Stephen Ware.


11.   Jig Saw

This method, first developed by Ellio Aronson begins by dividing the class into groups.  Assign each group a relevant topic to the class (for example Blooms Taxonomy  for Education,  Maslow’s Hierarchy levels for Psychology,  Principles of Cultural Understand for InterCultural Studies or Sociology.)   The mission of each group is to prepare a presentation (you as professor determine the length) on their assigned topic that will be interesting and engaging for the class.

BUT…instead of having each group make a presentation to the whole class, form new groups with one rep from each of the original groupings.   Have each person present his/her material to this group (keeping to the time-limit parameters).    It will likely take more than one class session for each person in the new groups to make their presentation.

If a test would normally follow this unit of class content, keep track of which group resulted in the best test scores among the other class members.

Adapted from McKeachie’s Teaching Tips,  (Wadsworth, 2011, p.195).


12. Lecture Bingo


A lecture can be less boring and students will be more alert if you make it into a game.  Here, key points are discussed while students play bingo.


1.Create a lecture-based lesson with up to 9 key points.

2.Develop a Bingo card that contains these key points in a 3x3 grid.  Place a different point in each of the boxes.  If you have fewer than 9 key points, leave some boxes empty.

3.Create several additional Bingo cards with the same key points, but place the points in different boxes.  The result should be that few, if any, Bingo cards are alike.

Distribute the Bingo cards to students.  Also provide students with a strip of 9 self-sticking colored dots (approximately one-half or three-quarters inch in diameter).  4.Instruct students that as your presentation proceeds from point to point, they should place a dot on their cards for each point that you discuss.  (Note: Empty boxes cannot be covered with a dot.)

5.As students collet three vertical, horizontal, or diagonal dots in a row, they yell “Bingo!”

Complete the lecture-based lesson.  Allow students to obtain Bingo as many times as they can.

Adapted from  Mel  Silverman   Active Learning, 101 Strategies (Simon  & Schuster, 1996)


13. Three-Stage Fishbowl Discussion


A fishbowl is a discussion format in which a portion of the class forms a discussion circle and the remaining students form a listening circle around the discussion group (see “Ten Methods to Obtain Participation at Any Time,” page 00).  Following is one of the more interesting ways to set up a fishbowl discussion.


  1. Devise three questions for discussion relevant to your subject matter.  In a class on ecology, for example, the question might be:
  • How is the environment being endangered?
  • What steps can the government and private industry take to deal with the problem?
  • What can we do personally?

Ideally, the questions should be interrelated, but that is not required.  Decide in what order you would like the questions discussed.

  1. Set up chairs in a fishbowl configuration (two concentric circles).  Have the students count off by 1, 2, and 3.  Ask the members of group 1 to occupy the discussion-circle seats and ask the members of groups 2 and 3 to sit in the outer-circle seats.  Pose your first question for discussion.  Allow up to 10 minutes for discussion.  Invite one student to facilitate the discussion or act as the facilitator yourself.
  2. Next, invite the members of group 2 to sit in the inner circle, replacing group 1 who now sit in the outer circle.  Ask the members of group 2 if they would like to make any brief comments about the first discussion, and then segue into the second discussion topic.
  3. Follow the same procedure with members of group 3.
  4. When all three questions have been discussed, reconvene the class as one discussion group.  Ask them for their reflections about the entire discussion.

Adapted from  Mel  Silverman   Active Learning, 101 Strategies (Simon  & Schuster, 1996)


14. Tweets or Slogans For Deeper Learning

It is one thing to understand a great deal about famous person or concept, it is quite another to capture it all in a tweet or brief marketing slogan.   Use this active learning idea to review the essence of what you want students to remember about a person or concept.  Have the students work in pairs or trios and assign them the person or concept.   You can direct them two different ways from here.  

            1.  Have them come up with a tweet that could have come from the famous person, or from true believers of a certain concept.

            2.  Have them come up with a brief marketing slogan that would promote the person or concept.

             I did a teaching on the Old Testament religious milieu which existed in Canaan as the people of Israel entered the promise land.  “Come up with a marketing slogan that could come from one of the four Canaanite religions we have discussed:  Baal, Dagon, Molek, and Ms Asherah.  For example the public relations firm handling the account for  Molek, the god who loves child sacrifice, could  suggest the slogan::   “Your children ALWAYS welcome here!!”

            Or, how about tweets from cognitive theorist Jean Piaget?    “Say, I’m in Geneva this weekend, anyone want to hang out, smoke cigars, and compare stories of immaturity from our younger days?”

Submitted by Len Kageler


15.  The Live Use of in the Classroom

In the absence of “clickers” or expensive text/survey apps, one can use’s free version.   The idea is this:  you, at some point in the class, email or text the class a link to the survey you have created.  They take the survey on their phones/tablets, or notebook computer right then and there.   When they are done, go to your suverymonkey account and show them the results. Use this as a basis for discussion.

1.  Go to   

            Set up your account.

2.  “create survey”  (upper right corner)

3.  Left side, default setting is “create a new survey”

            Title your survey

            Select a category  (I usually choose other)

            Click “continue” at bottom

4.   You are now on the New Survey   Edit Survey Page.

            Chose a color scheme   (drop down menu)

            Title & Logo…I don’t usually change the title once I have done so.  I’ve never inserted a                           logo.    Page 1.  This is where I put a welcome, and an “informed consent”                                    statement.

                        To do so, click “edit page options”  then “edit page information.”

                        One can enter content directly in the box or “cut/paste” from something else.

5.    Now you’re ready to add questions.  Click “Add Questions” (center of page)

            And now the real work begins.  “Choose Question Type” drop down menu.

            You are faced with 16 choices.

            We will demonstrate some of these choices in the sessions.

            Be sure and then click, lower right, “Save & Add Next Question”

6.  When you are done with the questions you can Preview Survey (lower right)

            You can also click “send survey” which brings you to…

7.  Collect Responses.

            This instantly gives you the link that you give to others whom you want to fill out the        survey.   There are several choices, click at the bottom to see more.

Submitted by Len Kageler


16.  Reflective Response from Reading

Most of us assign chapters of text(s) for class discussion.   One way to focus the attention prior to the discussion is to have students do the following in class:

1.   Give 5 minutes for them to write a one paragraph reflection (not summary) of what their reaction is to something in the assigned reading.

2.   Ask them to circle the most important sentence in what they have written.

3.   Ask them to circle the most important word in that sentence.

Depending on class size, one could then ask different persons to share the sentence/word, which may then trigger some additional discussion.  Or, if the class is larger, have students get in groups of 3 or 4 to compare their reflections.  Have each group choose the most thought provoking reflective sentence that came from their group.

Submitted by Len Kageler


17.  Speed Dating

Speed dating has been adopted by educators as an activity to get students to talk, interact and share ideas.  It’s a great way to review an assigned reading or topic in class.

Beforehand prepare questions for students to discuss in pairs and write each question individually on notecards.  For example, to review an assigned reading, write questions to cover different aspects of the reading so that the entire assignment is reviewed after students discuss answers to all the questions.

Students sit in pairs facing each other and each pair is given a notecard with a question which they discuss for 3-5 minutes.  The instructor needs to keep time and at the end of the allotted time period, students are notified and they switch partners as well as question.  The process is repeated until all students have “dated” each other and have answered or discussed all the questions.

Speed dating is also an excellent method for students to review for an exam.

Murphy, Berni. “Need to Get Your Students Talking? Try Speed Dating.”  The Teaching Professor 19.7 (2005)

Submitted by J. Washington.


18. Remember the Main Point via 

We know that pictures can be powerful tools in memory.   Happily, just about any word or concept or event can be pictured.    By “pictured” think of just entering the concept, event, or word into   (No entry is too obscure.  For example, try any of these: 1812, betrayal, monetize, participle, poverty.)

      There are at least two ways we can use this in teaching.

      First, of course, we can use it ourselves to enhance our Prezi or Power Pt presentations. 

      Second, and here is what makes this Active Learning,  we can have our students do the google image searching.  Assign students key words or points and have them come to the next class with their image ready to present and explain.  Suppose there were 15 key ideas that will be on the final.  Have students (in small groups or individually) find an image for each.  Produce a “review booklet” with simply the pictures.

Submitted by Len Kageler


19Using  Captions (  to Help Students Think About an Idea/Term/Event  

This website allows your students to search for concepts, persons, characters, animals, scenes, almost anything.  A picture comes up and the student can add a caption.  For example, suppose your students have an amazing point in a group presentation…have them use this website to underscore the point.    They can enter the word “surprise” and there are dozens of pictures…babies, cats, dogs, famous people, to which your students may now add a caption, such as “Max Webers’ reaction to Marx’s view on religion.”

            Using this as an in-class activity, best done in groups of two or three where at least one has a computer or other mobile device.

Submitted by Len Kageler


20.  Active Learning Via the New York Times

You’ve mapped out your course for the semester, at least the broad flow of things, and you have a list of subjects you’re going to cover.   There is a good chance that every subject or sub-subject in your course may be directly or indirectly touched on in the New York Times, every week, if not every day.

            So, have an assignment something like this:    “You will be assigned, a topic from the list of general topics of the course. Read the New York Times newspaper for two consecutive days.  Find an article that touches directly or indirectly on your assigned topic.  You will be scheduled to share this (summary and your opinion about it) with the class, and conclude by asking one question/topic for class discussion.   The NYT is available in the college library.  The Daily News, or any other daily newspaper is NOT acceptable for this assignment, only the NYT.”

When I do this I have students sit in a particular way…if they are already in a circle I ask them to get in a tighter circle. If they are in rows, I ask them to get in a circle.  If the class is very large, I may ask them to get in 3 circles, each with a presenter.

            I allow 5-10 minutes for this before going back to what we were doing.  

            This active learning assignment can help reinforce or nuance the point(s) we are expecting students to internalize.

Submitted by Len Kageler


21.  One-Minute Paper

 In this technique, blank index cards or pieces of paper are distributed out to the class, and students are asked to respond to a question. Students are given about one minute to answer. Questions that are introspective in nature are particularly effective (e.g., What was the main purpose of today’s lesson? What did you learn? What are you still confused about?). Responses are collected afterwards by the instructor.

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

One-Minute Paper. Originally reported by Angelo and Cross (1993), this technique has been adapted for use in virtually every discipline (see, for example, Dorroh, 1993; Fishman, 1997; Kloss, 1993; Ludwig, 1995; Morrissey, 1982). It is a highly effective method for checking student progress and for providing a consistent means of communicating with students. To implement this method, the instructor simply stops class a few minutes early (or pauses at some point during a lecture), poses a specific question (for example, “What was the main point presented in today’s class material?”), and gives students one (or perhaps two—but not many more) minute to respond. Students’ responses tell the instructor whether or not they view the material in the way he or she envisioned. Depending on an instructor’s objectives, students may submit their responses anonymously or with their names on them. Anonymity may encourage otherwise reticent students to voice concerns or raise questions, but it will not foster direct communication between students and the instructor. Further, it has been argued that allowing anonymous submissions actually detracts from active engagement in the exercise because students may perceive that they have little to gain by applying themselves to the task (Harwood, 1996). ”

Useful Website:

Submitted by Peter Park and Jacqueline Washington


22.  Get ‘em Up Out of Their Seats 

(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.”

Submitted by Len Kageler