5 Active Learning Strategies

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Alice England

Studying for a PhD in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sheffield, Alice became heavily involved in the university outreach program. As a result of these experiences, she completed a PGCE in Secondary Science at the University of Nottingham and began teaching in 2012. Since...
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Do you need some ideas for promoting active learning?

In a previous post, How To Improve A-level Attainment, this highlighted the importance of active learning in the classroom.

These techniques are not about pupils being physically active in the classroom (although sometimes that can help), but instead more about getting the learner to actively engage with the material being covered in class, so there is a better chance of something sticking!

Get Active

I’ve explained a few of my favourite active learning strategies here, in the hope that it saves someone a bit of planning time and gains a lot of pupil engagement!

1. Numbered listening
  • This involves dividing the class into groups of 4, and numbering each one (1, 2, 3 and 4).
  • The teacher then reads out a chunk of information, starting each sentence or small piece of information with a number. The corresponding pupil is responsible for making notes about that piece of information only.
  • At the end, pupils collaborate in their groups to bring together all the information and use it to answer quiz or examination questions.

This technique means that all pupils have to actively listen and then make quick notes, and by making each pupil an integral part of a team, they can be spurred on by mild peer pressure!

2. Relay races

Great for learning a sequence of events or something that can be represented diagrammatically.

  • Outside the classroom set up A3 paper and pens ready – have enough for the number of groups you are going to split your class into (it works best in groups of 3).
  • Display the information to the whole class on an interactive whiteboard or projector and give them 30 seconds to memorise as much as possible.
  • The first person then runs outside and draws/writes down as much as they can remember. They then return and the next person in the relay runs out to add to the piece of paper. This continues until each team thinks they have completed it.
  • Teams can then check and correct their sheets if necessary using the information on the board.
  • For an added challenge, try doing it in silence so pupils can’t confer or tell each other which bits are missing.
3. Spot the deliberate mistakes
  • We all make mistakes and use the classic “I was just checking you were all paying attention!” excuse when we do. So how about making those mistakes deliberately and getting pupils to spot them.
  • You can either warn them at the start of the lesson that there will be X number of mistakes throughout the lesson (prize for whoever spots them all!) or just wait and see if they pick them out.
4. Points mean prizes

A bit of independent work coupled with an Apprentice-style challenge.

  • Pupils (either individually or in teams) are given a set of tasks – these could be a series of recall or examination questions, or pieces of information to research. Each task is worth a certain number of points (you can differentiate them so harder tasks are worth more).
  • Pupils then have a set amount of time to amass as many points as possible by completing the tasks.
  • At the end, provide model answers or information and have pupils peer assess each other’s work and award the points.
5. Reduce and remember

This can take a variety of forms and stops pupils from trying to highlight every word in their notes.

  • Get pupils to condense their notes on to a single side of A4 paper (a good homework option as well), or if you want to challenge them, have them design a poster where they can only write 10 words, but use unlimited symbols, diagrams or pictures (Emojis are brilliant for this type of activity!).
  • Or get pupils to “tweet’ their ideas limiting them to 140 characters as a plenary. Using Padlet you can set up a board and a QR code, so pupils can see their “tweets” appear on-screen for added excitement.
  • They could also put what they think is the key information from a topic on to a flash card or Post-it note, and then swap with another pupil and use their information to answer an examination question.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas to try – go forth and be active!

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