It’s October (already?!), and perhaps students’ attention is starting to wane. Rather than allow them to slip into passivity, you want to keep students motivated and engaged in the learning process throughout the term. To this end, adding more active-learning strategies into your class sessions may increase their energy, enthusiasm, and involvement.

In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, authors Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie share a number of active learning techniques that can support your goal of building engagement in your classes. Even if you teach a course in a large lecture hall, these ideas can help you put some active-learning principles into action. Perhaps you’re already using many of these techniques, but consider how else you could apply them within your class sessions, or share them with colleagues who are hoping to increase student engagement and participation.

Ways to Support Active Learning in Your Courses

1. In-class questions and discussions. Foster a classroom environment that encourages students to get, and stay, engaged. Ask students questions, and allow them to ask questions of you and each other. These conversations can spark great ideas and also have the benefit of keeping students alert. (Teaching online? Gather great ideas from our recent article, “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About! … How About What REALLY Works in Online Course Discussions” by Bridgett McGowen-Hawkins.)

2. Small-group discussions. During class, you can break students into teams of two or three, and direct them to talk through that day’s topics. You might also assign study groups that meet to review class topics and assignments, or create a space in your course’s LMS or website where students can continue a conversation even after that class session is over.

3. Classroom response systems. In a large classroom, students may be reluctant to raise their hands or vocalize their thoughts, opinions, and questions. However, classroom response systems (often called “clickers”)  and apps for mobile devices allow even reticent students to participate in discussions. No clickers? Svinicki and McKeachie suggest that you can still run polls through a show of hands or a system of colored cards; though you won’t be able to show students the exact results of the poll, at the very least you’ve prompted them to consider and share their own viewpoint on the material you’re covering in class that day. (McKeachie and Svinicki, 268-269)

Reference: Svinicki, Marilla, and Wilbert J. McKeachie. 2014. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers,14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


What active learning techniques do you use in your classroom? Any tips for promoting active learning in the online environment? Share them in the comments.