Basics of the SAIL class

In a SAIL class students actively engage with course content through structured activities during class time. However, what students are asked to do, both in and out of class, and how these classes are structured can vary dramatically depending on the instructor’s learning goals.


Determining your learning goals before designing course activities helps to ensure that the activities are purposeful and makes it easier to communicate to your students what you want them to get out of the course and the individual assignments. In thinking through your course’s learning goals, you may want to consider what content, disciplinary skills, and more generalized skills (e.g., writing or computer skills) you want your students to learn and why they are important to you.


The activities that you choose and the way that you structure those activities will depend heavily on your learning goals. However, no matter which activity and structure you choose, ensuring that students understand the purpose of what they are doing and are guided through the activity in a structured way. Many instructors will accomplish this by regularly debriefing the answers with the class, drawing on student answers to give students feedback on their work, clear up common misconceptions, and connect the work to larger concepts. For more ideas, see our sample in-class activities and planning in-class activities. You can read about one instructors reflections on working to find a successful in-class activity in this Chronicle of Higher Education piece.


The work students do outside of class time is often crucial in a SAIL class. In many cases, prior to class, students need to prepare for the activities, perhaps by reading course materials, watching a video or interacting with a simulation. After the class, instructors often require students to practice or hone the skills that they learned through their in-class activities. Preparing out-of-class work takes deciding how students will be held accountable for the work and considering how to give feedback on that work, both of which can affect student motivation. For material that will be challenging for most of the students – particularly for pre-class work, which likely introduces students to new materials – it is often valuable to provide guidance on how to approach it. For example, if students are asked to read a very dense text, you may want to provide them with guiding questions or note-taking strategies so that they understand what they are reading for.

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