Written by David Christianson

Active learning isn’t about fun. It’s about engagement. It’s about doing something with information beyond intake and producing output. It’s about producing output right now, in the moment, and not waiting for a paper due in two weeks or a test on Thursday. Students are great at active learning, but they need instructors to provide the opportunity and a direction for it. Here are two activities to produce active learning in your class.

Name: Give Me Three Steps

Who: Partners or groups of 3-4

Time: 4-6 minutes

Process: Give learners 1 step instructions. “Everyone please stand up and wait for directions.” After they have stood, direct the learners to take a set number of steps, depending on the size and mobility of the room, in any direction. For example, “Everyone please take seven steps in any direction, then wait for more information. Once they have stepped, have learners partner up (or get in a group of three to four) and give them a question to discuss or something to review. For example, “Now, find the person that is nearest you and partner up. Once you do that, discuss this question. How did the Sykes-Picot Agreement at the end of the First World War contribute to the current conditions in the Middle East today?”

Purpose: One of the problems with not doing active learning activities is simple inactivity. Comfort is not compatible with engagement, so breaking that cycle of comfort and inviting movement can transition students from a state of comfort to one of attention.

Adapted from Jensen (2003).


 Name: Think-Draw-Pair

Who: Pairs

Time: 5-10 minutes

Process: Instruct learners to draw a visual representation of an important concept you are addressing. This drawing can take the form of a cartoon, a diagram, or whatever they think of to represent the concept. Give them at least 5 minutes, but no more than 10, to complete the drawing. Then, have them partner with someone else and explain the drawing to that student.

Purpose: Vision trumps all of the other senses (Medina, 2009). When learners create their own interpretation of a concept in a visual form, they create a better understanding than they would otherwise (Schwamborn, et al, 2010). In this version of the old Think-Pair-Share activity, learners don’t just discuss – they visualize. As they share it with someone else, they then verbalize their conceptualization and may identify holes in their thinking, allowing them to wrestle with the concept even more. And, of course, they may learn something new from their learning partner that they hadn’t realized about the concept.

Adapted from Jensen (2003).