UMass Boston

Active Learning Ideas

Listed are some active learning ideas to try in your classroom. All activities can be applied to live online meetings with minor adjustments.

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Turn to a Partner

Have each student work with a partner on an assignment or discussion topic; walk around the room and listen to conversations. Then, begin a class discussion and encourage participation by sharing quotes you heard around the room during partnered discussion.

Think Aloud

Model the thought processes that take place when reading difficult material, or problem solving. Verbalize your thoughts while you read aloud or work out a problem. Then have students try the think aloud process in pairs or teams while doing an in-class reading, or problem-solving.

One Minute Paper

Ask the students to write on a topic for one minute. Have each student share their response with the group and encourage conversation regarding similarities and differences between students' ideas. Possible paper topics include:

  • What was the most important idea/insight today?
  • A question I have that still needs addressing is…?
  • What was the most challenging aspect of today's activity?
  • Give an example that relates to the topic of the day.
  • What was the most surprising and/or unexpected idea expressed in today’s discussion?
  • Was there a position taken in today’s class that you strongly disagreed with? Why?

Grab Bag

Place problems, topics for discussion, positions/arguments, word problems, vocabulary words, course concepts, etc. on slips of paper into a hat or bag. Students or teams must grab a slip of paper and solve, define, or discuss the problem/topic.


This process requires three stages. 1. The students should be given a question, concept, or problem and given time to think about it on their own. 2. Two students pair and discuss what they found. 3. The pairs join the large group and discuss their conclusions as a whole.

Circle of Voices

Pose a question to the class and allow students to silently write down their thoughts/response. Participants go around and share their response. Each person has one minute of uninterrupted air time.


Set out various "exhibits" around the room (e.g., quotes, multimedia presentations, charts, photos, cultural artifacts, specimens). Provide an accompanying worksheet giving directions and questions for each “exhibit”. Have student groups rotate among stations completing worksheets.

Affinity Grouping

Identify, then write each concept on a sticky note (or card). Sort and organize the slips of paper into categories to identify common themes. Create a heading for each grouping. If using small groups, have each group review the other’s or explain their categories.

Concept Mapping

Start with a circle in the middle of the board and include the main idea, central word, concept, or question within. Have students extend branches (subtopics or related topics) from the main idea and circle groups of branches that are linked. This mapping encourages big picture thinking.

Informal Quiz

5-7 questions are read aloud by the instructor requiring short words/phrases focusing on particulars of major points. The quiz should be followed by a debriefing where the short answers to the questions are expanded upon through discussion.

Spider Map

This visual organizer can be used to describe a central idea: a thing, process, concept, or proposition with support.

Fishbone Map

This can be used to show the interaction of a complex event or complex phenomenon.

Series of Event Chains

This can be used to describe the stages of something; the steps in a linear procedure; a sequence of events; or the goals, actions, and outcomes of a historical figure or character in a novel.


This visual organizer can be used to show how a series of events interact to produce a set of results again and again.

Bridging Snapshots

This visual organizer can be used to see (or map) changes over time, reveal the sequence of step-by-step methods, illustrate complex processes, and/or show cause and effect.

Hearing the Subject

Students "listen" to a text passage, film clip, or audio clip, paying close attention to its forms of expression but refrain from evaluating the work. Then in small groups, they paraphrase what they “heard” to their team members as a warm up to a larger group discussion.

Moveable Elements

Give each group a set of cards with concepts or terms. Ask student groups to organize, sort, classify, categorize the items. Conclude the session by having each group debrief the answers, conversations, and discussions of their group for the class.


Begin with a horizontal line; inserted important events creating points on the line, as they relative to each other. Each point/event should be marked with the date, a brief description of the event, and significant person(s) involved. Then define or give an example of terms.


Form hierarchies to organize information using levels. The levels are based on whether a piece of information fits into a specific group; higher level groups are more inclusive and lower level groups are more exclusive.


A matrix helps students organize information by showing relationships to similar categories of information. It is a helpful tool for students to compare and contrast information. Students will need to develop categories, and levels, then organize information appropriately.

Boardwork Model

Organize your board into four sections: 1. prerequisite knowledge, 2. problem-solving steps, 3. narrative of steps, and 4. additional sample problem. Have one student fill out section 1, two students simultaneously complete sections 2 and 3, then a fourth student complete section 4.

Double Timeline

Construct a very general timeline of events to provide to students. Have student teams construct a duplicate timeline with additional details related to lecture material, readings, etc.

Divide and Conquer

Provide pairs or teams with concepts/readings from the course. Have each team teach/ summarize the concept/reading to the class, including an example or demonstration, and answer other students’ questions.

Group Survey

Each group member is surveyed to discover their position on an issue, problem or topic. This process ensures that each member of the group is allowed to offer or state their point of view.

Peer Lessons

Divide the students into 4-5 groups. Give each group a related problem to solve. Then have each group come up and explain the problem showing their thought processes and methods used in finding the solution. The instructor adds or corrects anything (s)he feels is necessary.

Assigned Discussion Leader

One person in the group is asked to present on a topic or review material for the group and then lead the discussion for the group. This group representative should rotate each discussion.

Send a Problem

Generate a list of problems/processes and assign each pair/team a different one. Have students complete Step 1 of the problem on paper. After a minute, have them pass their problem to the right so that another pair/team can complete Step 2. Continue the process to completion.

Skeletal Notes

Create a set of incomplete lecture notes by making an outline with some of the parts missing. This helps students focus on main points and frees them from writing complicated formulas or wordy definitions as these should be provided in the skeletal notes.


Have students complete a KWL chart. The headers are: What I Know, What I Want to Know, What I Learned. At the end of class have students correct the K column, clarify questions remaining in the W column, and complete the L column.

Venn Diagram

Draw two overlapping circles on the board. Label each circle with a concept. Have students write the similarities in the overlapping portion and then differences in the outer portion of the circles.

Frayer Model

Starting with a single term familiar to students, have each group complete one of the four quadrants. Debrief the term. Then give each group a new term. The group will complete one quadrant before passing it along to the next group. Once all four quadrants have been filled in, each group in turn will debrief the concept with the whole group using the information collectively assembled by the class.


Divide students into groups, based on the number of segments in your topic. Have each student learn one segment. Form secondary “expert groups” by segment topic. Expert groups discuss and clarify their segment, then rejoin their original group. Each “expert” will present/teach their segment to the original group.

Problem-Solution Outline

Pose a problem to the class. Then in small groups, identify the Who, What, and Why of the problem and write the details on the board. Groups will formulate a proposed solution, swap solutions, attempt other group’s solutions, detail the results, and discuss the proposed solution. Eventually a workable solution is identified and the class comes together to debrief.

Chalk Talk

Write a question on the board. Ask half of the class to write their responses on the board. Then have the other half draw lines to show connections/differences. Discuss as a class the clusters of responses, outliers, what’s missing, important questions and what’s next.

Newsprint Dialogue

Pose a question/topic to the class. Smaller discussion groups will summarize their answers/conversation on the board. Students should wander around the room and read all responses adding comments/questions to other group postings. Conclude by debriefing.

Class Backchannel

Create and project the class backchannel during class so that students can see real-time comments. Also, be sure to refer to the backchannel periodically to answer questions, clarify terms, etc. throughout the class time.

Thank you to SteelCase for sharing some of these activity strategies with us.