Active Learning Activities: Talking Chips & Real Time Case Study Discussion

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: Talking Chips

Who: Groups of 3-5

Time: 10-20 minutes

Process: As students enter the class, give each one a stack of colored chips (such as poker chips) or colored note cards (heretofore referred to simply as chips, regardless of the item). Have as many colors of chips as you want people in each group. For example, for groups of 4, have red, white, blue, and green chips. Form groups by having students find others with differently colored chips, so each group has each color of chip and no duplicates. Each chip serves as permission to make a contribution to the discussion. In answering the question, each student’s goal is to get rid of their chips by making that many meaningful contributions to the discussion. Each time they comment, they surrender a chip. This helps ensure that each student participates equally. Once all of the chips have been surrendered, students can redistribute them for the next discussion round or end the discussion, depending on your goals for the class period.

Purpose: This activity encourages participation from reticent students, and will limit students who tend to dominate such activities. This can be particularly useful for discussing controversial activities.

Adapted from Barkley, Cross, and Major, (2005).

Name: Real Time Case Study Discussion

Who: Whole class

Time: Varies, length of case study

Process: Have students discuss a movie or role play they watch as they are watching using a social media site, such as Facebook. Dr. Stephen Baldridge (Social Work) did this for one of his classes. First, he set up a Facebook group* and invited his students to the group before the class session. Students logged on to the group before they started watching the movie as a case study. As they watched, anyone in the group could make comments on how the case study related to the material they were covering. Students were able to see each others’ comments in real time as they watched the movie, and by the end, they had a collective page of notes.

Purpose: This collaborative activity allows students to not only apply their learning to a particular case, but also for them to benefit from each others’ observations.


*There are various ways to organize this via social media tools. Twitter hashtags, a Google Doc, an OpenClass Share feed, and others.