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With Super Bowl XLIX in recently memory, it is easy to see how being a student is like being part of a sports team.  You work hard for years and finally, you make the team (get into college).  You’re excited, because this will develop you into the player you always knew you could be.  But let’s say that once you get there, you’re benched and you don’t even get the chance to practice your skills.  Then, one day, your coach throws you in the game and you struggle.  Now, any good coach knows that players need to practice their skills in order to improve and to perform better during the big game.  Why would learning in the classroom be any different?  If our goal is for students to learn concepts and skills for use outside of the classroom and on our exams, why would we not give them ample opportunities to practice these skills in the classroom first?  The best teachers carefully design their assignments and activities to help students practice their skills throughout the semester and incorporate active learning.  A classroom without active learning is like being an athlete without practice.

Active learning gives students the chance to apply what they’re learning and to achieve deeper understanding.  Therefore, as instructors, we need to give our students time to practice in the classroom to be better prepared for “the big game.”  Here are some active learning strategies to get your students practicing:

  • Debate.  Have students debate two sides of an issue.  If they work in teams to form their cases (and to anticipate the other side’s arguments), they will learn a great deal about the topic. [Also, check out the Kaneb Center’s upcoming workshop about using debate in the classroom]
  • Practice Teaching a Topic.  Have students select a topic on which they will have to teach the rest of the class.  After researching their topics, have students figure out creative ways to teach the material to their classmates.  This will give them experience explaining tough topics to others, as well as increase their own understanding of the topic.
  • One-Minute Paper.  After teaching a particularly difficult topic, give students one minute to write down their understanding of the topic and formulate any questions they may have.  By giving students time to think about the subject in class, they may be able to see the gaps in their understanding.  Students can even discuss what they wrote with other students to see if they can explain their understanding of the topic and work through those gaps together.  The gaps or questions that remain, then, can be addressed by the instructor.

For more active learning strategies, check out these blog posts:

And for books with more active learning activities, check out these selections from the Kaneb Center Library:

Do you have a great active learning activity to share?

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