Want to get your students into action, but lack inspiration for activities? Here are some suggestions.
On June 8, 2022, Isabel Sauvé, a teacher in Civil Engineering Technology at Collège Montmorency, led a workshop at the Association québécoise de pédagogie collégiale (AQPC) symposium. Entitled “Discussion on active learning,” this meeting was an opportunity for the participants to share their practices related to active learning.
The workshop focused on relatively short activities that are easy to implement in both an active learning classroom and a traditional classroom.
Here are some of the ideas that Isabelle Sauvé and other participants shared during the workshop.
A different question is written on each of the 7 or 8 boards in an active learning classroom. Students stand in teams of 3 or 4 in front of a board, answer the question, and then go to subsequent boards to build on the answers given by the teams before them.
Expertise puzzle (expert puzzle)
This activity allows students to become experts in a part of the subject matter that they then explain to others.
The duration of the activity is about 1 hour but depends on the complexity of the tasks.
- Identify 4 or 5 tasks that the students will have to complete.
- Divide the students into teams. Each student must be part of 2 teams (that meet successively). Therefore, 2 sets of teams must be created. Each set has as many teams as there are tasks to be completed.
For example, let’s imagine that there are 4 tasks to accomplish. You would create teams A, B, C and D, as well as teams 1, 2, 3 and 4. You will give each student a card with a different combination of a letter and a number. (A1, A2, A3, A4, B1, B2, B3…) The student who receives the A1 card will first be in team A, then in team 1.
- Students meet with their 1st team and complete the assigned task together. They become the experts on the task.
- When all teams have completed their tasks, students regroup into their 2nd team. They review all the original tasks. The expert for each task explains the concepts and notions to the others. This way, in the end, each student knows how to complete all the tasks!
- Review the activity as a large group to answer any outstanding questions and to ensure that the essential learning has been covered.
This activity, known by various names, is a classic of active learning [in French].
Variant of the expertise puzzle
One workshop participant suggested a variation of the activity that allows the teacher to ensure that all students have access to the same quality of explanations for each task:
- These expert teams (e.g., teams A, B, C, and D), after analyzing and performing a task, take turns presenting their team’s answers to the rest of the group.
This allows the teacher to intervene when necessary and ensures that students are not “penalized” if they are on a team in which the expert who is supposed to present a task to them has done less work or understood less.
Paper cut-outs: table to reconstruct, steps to order…
Even before she was fully aware of what active learning was, Isabel Sauvé liked to put her students through short “active activities.”
- She handed out cards with a description of each step in a process and asked her students to put the steps in order as a team.
- She would cut out the different cells of a summary table and ask the students to reconstruct it. (Alternatively, she sometimes gives them an empty template of a summary table that they have to complete by searching in their lecture notes).
During the pandemic, Isabel Sauvé began using H5P in Moodle. In a distance learning context (or outside of class time), the “drag and drop” template, available in H5P, can be used instead of activities requiring physical cards.
Construction of a timeline
Isabel Sauvé mentioned the timeline creation activity implemented by a teacher at her college, Pierre Mondor, who has explained the activity on Eductive [in French]. Isabel made this activity her own by applying it to notions in her course: creating a timeline on the history of urban hydraulics.
A revision game
A workshop participant explained the rules of a game he organizes with his students:
- The students stand in 2 rows (2 teams). Each person has 2 coloured cubes: 1 to make a “call on all” and 1 “ricochet”.
- Ask a student a question. They can answer, use their ricochet to direct the question to their counterpart in the other row, or call out the correct answer. (The student who uses a ricochet or a “call on all” must give you the corresponding cube. A person can only use each cube once).
- If the person answers the question correctly, they stay in the game. If not, they are eliminated.
- If a person who has been eliminated responds correctly to a call on all, they reintegrate the game.
The teacher who presented the activity said that he uses it with quick-pace questions to review concepts already covered in class.
Kahoot is perfect for simple multiple-choice questions.
Wooclap allows students to ask questions in a variety of formats. Isabel Sauvé uses the “Find in the picture” template: she presents a picture to the students, and they have to click on the storm sewer pipe.
Getting students moving
Digital tools are not necessary to ask multiple-choice questions (although they often make our lives easier!).
One workshop participant explained that she asks her students to move to a corner of the classroom according to their answer (A, B, C or D). The teacher who testified said that she enjoyed moving students around but admitted that moving around takes more time than a show of hands or an electronic vote.
The teacher who uses the four corners of her classroom to have students “vote” also presented a variation on her activity.
Students are asked a “true or false” question and are asked to form 2 lines, facing each other, according to the answer they have given. The students in the two lines must then debate together to find the correct answer.
The debate between students in “true” and “false” clans is somewhat reminiscent of peer teaching. This active learning strategy was presented by Isabel Sauvé during the workshop:
- Ask the students a multiple-choice question. This question should require some thought or analysis.
- All students answer the question individually. You can, for example, use clickers, Wooclap, Mentimeter or any other digital tool, or simply have them vote by show of hands with coloured cards.
The distribution of results is revealed (how many people chose each possible answer), but the correct answer is not revealed.
- The students form teams (or discuss with their neighbours). They explain their reasoning to each other.
- Each person answers the question a 2nd time. They can repeat their initial answer or change it after discussion with their peers. Normally, if the question was well formulated and had the right level of difficulty, there would be a higher proportion of correct answers at the end.
This pedagogical strategy found its way into college classrooms a long time ago. Luc Tremblay, a physics teacher at Merici College, published an account of his use of this strategy in 2009. Meghan Springs, an art history teacher at Marianopolis College, did the same in 2010. The SALTISE community has even developed the myDALITE platform, which allows peer teaching to be implemented asynchronously outside of class time. The use of myDALITE is free.
The 1001 forms of active learning
In this article, I have presented only a few of the activities that were proposed by Isabel Sauvé or the workshop participants. You can read a more complete list in the annotated slide show that Isabel Sauvé has posted on EDUQ.info [in French].
The discussion really brought out the fact that active learning can take many forms and be adapted to the needs, preferences and skills of each teacher. A very stimulating and inspiring discussion!
If you are tempted to explore active learning strategies, here’s a tip from the workshop: always debrief with the entire group what students have learned in active learning activities. Without this, some students may feel that they “haven’t learned anything.” Some quick feedback after each activity can reassure students and make them realize the value of the activities they are doing together!
Do you have any suggestions for active learning activities to share? Do so in the comments area!