Active Learning Activities

Engaging students in individual or small group activities is a great way to get students actively involved in the class. Many students feel more comfortable in small groups (four or less) rather than in large ones. Below you will find several activities that can be used in any classroom to engage students. Many of the activities below can also serve as formative assessments, a way to monitor student learning / understanding.

3 - 2 - 1 Format

In 3-2-1, the instructor asks students to jot down and share with a partner or small group:

  • 3 ideas/issues etc. presented
  • 2 examples or uses of the idea/information covered
  • 1 unresolved/remaining question/area of possible confusion

Corners Activity I

Prior to the start of class, the instructor places a question in each corner of the room as well as a place for students to write (flipchart, whiteboard, construction paper, etc.). During the activity, groups of 3-6 people move from corner to corner and answer to each question. The groups develop a consensus and write their answer directly on each flipchart / whiteboard / paper. When the flipchart has an answer already written by a previous group, the next group revises/expands/ illustrates that response with additional information. Different colored markers can be used for each group to see what each group wrote for each question.

Corners Activity II

Students move to different corners of the room, depending on their point of view. This activity helps students see that not everyone shares the same point of view, and it may stretch their own way of thinking.

  1. The instructor announces “corners.” Then she announces the choices for each corner of the room. “If you caught a student cheating on an exam, what do you think is an appropriate consequence: makeup exam, failure of the test, failure of the course, or other?”
  2. Students are then given a small amount of silent think time to make a choice. They will write the name of their corner on a piece of paper but should not discuss it with anyone else.
  3. The instructor tells students to go to their chosen corners. Once they are in their corner, they must find a partner to talk with someone not on their regular team.
  4. Pairs will then discuss the reason(s) for their choice. The instructor will then select a few students from each corner to share what his or her partner shared.

Numbered Heads Together

In this activity, student teammates work together to ensure all members understand some course concept; one student is randomly selected to be held accountable.

  1. Students count off numbers in their groups.
  2. The instructor poses a problem and gives wait time (Example: “According to Rebecca Moore Howard, what is patchwriting? Now make sure everyone on your team understands what patchwriting is.”)
  3. Students stand up to discuss and teach.
  4. Students sit down when everyone knows the answer or has something to share or when time is up.
  5. The instructor calls a number. The student with that number from each team answers the question individually, using: response cards , the whiteboard, electronic means (for example, Padlet)

Idea Wave

Each student lists 3-5 ideas about the assigned topic. For example, an instructor in an education course might post the question, “How can we prevent cheating in classes?” One student begins the “idea wave” by sharing his / her idea. The student to the right of the student shares one idea; the next student to the right shares one idea. The instructor directs the idea wave until several different ideas have been shared. At the end of the formal idea wave, a few volunteers who were not included may contribute.

Jigsaw Teamwork

A jigsaw is an active learning exercise in which a topic is related to smaller pieces (think: puzzle pieces). Each member of a team is asked to learn about, and become an expert on, their piece. This is important because after students master their piece, they are expected to teach other members on their team about it. After everyone is done teaching their piece, the puzzle has been reassembled.

Muddiest Point

This activity is a variation on the minute paper. After explaining a concept, or at the end of class, ask students, "What was the "muddiest point" in today's lecture? What are you unclear about?"

Note Check

In this activity, instructors ask students pair with a partner/small group to briefly (2-5 minutes) share notes. This is a chance for students to get clarification on a course concept.

One Minute Paper / Free Write

In this activity, ask students to write for 2-3 minutes on a topic or in response to a question that you've developed. This gives students a chance to explore their own ideas before discussion or to bring closure to a class or topic. The University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning has some great advice. They recommend asking students to do a minute paper "if a discussion takes a turn you didn't expect – when a particularly good question comes from the group, when discussion keeps circulating around a basic idea rather than inching its way into potential applications or deepening of ideas."

Ticket to Leave

The instructor asks students a specific question about the lesson. Students then respond on the ticket and gives to the instructor, either on their way out or on their way in the next day. This is a great formative assessment; an instructor can then evaluate the need to re-teach or questions that need to be answered.


This is great activity that works well in larger classrooms. The objective of this activity is to engage participants with the material on an individual level, then in pairs, and finally as a large group,

  1. First, ask students to individually summarize what they just learned, answer a question you posted, or consider how and why and when they might apply a concept to their own situations.
  2. Second, ask students to pair up and share their responses.
  3. Finally, choose a random pairs to share what they talked about.

Developed by College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, North Dakota State University. Reprinted with permission.

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