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4 Active Learning Strategies to Try Today

Time to breathe easy. We’ve reached that point in the semester where everyone knows the routine and hopefully has a good sense of student and faculty expectations.

But you know what else? We’ve also hit a lull. Do your students have that glazed over look? Are you glancing around the classroom and thinking they look awfully similar to bumps on a log?

Time to boost student engagement in your class.

I’m not talking about anything radical, like redesigning your course midway through the semester. I’m just talking about trying a few active learning strategies to help add some life back into your classroom.

In Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie’s book “Teaching Tips,” they talk about a few benefits of active learning in the classroom. They state that students are:

  • More likely to store information in long-term memory if they have done something with it (beyond just taking notes).
  • Less likely to have the misconception that they understand a concept when they really don’t.
  • Motivated because it’s encouraging to do something and get it right.

So hopefully now you’re motivated to try one of these instructional strategies in your class. Let’s get into it.

Variations with Think-Pair-Share

You may have heard about Think-Pair-Share, a popular active learning strategy that promotes student-to-student interaction. It’s a great way to get students thinking about content and organizing their ideas. The Berkeley Center for Teaching & Learning offers these instructions:

  1. Ask students to think individually about the idea or question(s) presented.
  2. Instruct students to pair up to discuss their ideas.
  3. Encourage students to share their ideas, either with a table group or the whole class.

While Think-Pair-Share is the overall strategy, you can use some of these other techniques to help direct the conversations once students have paired up. The Prodigy website offered these ideas, and I thought they fit well with the Think-Pair-Share strategy:

Reciprocal Questioning

This is a great technique to try out after you’ve introduced a new topic or lesson in class. When students are paired up, they work to summarize what they know about the topic. Then they develop questions about other aspects of the topic that have not yet been covered.

Muddiest Point

This is a great option for Think-Pair-Share, or it can be done individually on paper and passed in at the end of class. Students are asked to think about a lecture just covered in class and identify what part of the lecture was most confusing or didn’t make sense for them.


Once in pairs, one student is the interviewer and the other is the interviewee. The interviewer asks questions to help their partner gauge their understanding of the subject. Halfway through they reverse roles.


While this is a popular option for faculty who use Top Hat, polling can be added to any class. You can use a free tool like Poll Everywhere or you can just throw some questions in a PowerPoint and ask for a show of hands.

The key is in the questions you ask.

The Berkeley Center for Teaching & Learning recommends asking students to vote on the best or most accurate explanation for a topic. Then have them discuss why the other options aren’t a good fit.

The polling results and conversation can also help you determine which items need more attention or better explanations during lecture.


This is a fun method, but it definitely requires some advanced planning before trying it out in class. The Jigsaw Classroom website lists 10 steps for this, but I think I can condense it for you without losing any meaning. Let’s see:

  1. Divide the class into groups with an equal number of students.
  2. Give each student a role or a topic within the group. Individuals each have a different task depending on that segment they are fulfilling.
  3. After studying their material, form temporary “expert groups” with all the students who are working on the same segment for their respective groups. Those groups can discuss their topic for deeper understanding and significance.
  4. The students return to their original groups and present their segment content to the group.
  5. After the exercise, instructors quiz students on the material.

This method works best if you have a topic or a process with several pieces that you can easily assign to individual students.

Chat Stations

The Cult of Pedagogy blog suggests trying chat stations as a way to engage students who might typically be more quiet. You’re basically creating discussion stations in your class and allowing students to move through each. This is another idea that re quires some prep work, though. Watch this video for a more detailed explanation:

Other Ideas?

These are obviously just a few active learning strategies you can try in your classes. Do you have others that work well for you? I’d love to hear about what works (and doesn’t work) for you!

Jayna Phinney
Jayna Phinney

Jayna Phinney is the Instructional Technology Specialist for the ASU College of Science and Engineering. Contact her at or 325-486-6264.



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