Planning for your in-class activities needs to start with thinking about your end-goals: What do you want your students to be able to do? From there you can figure out what activities would best help students to learn the skills and content that you would like them to learn. One of the biggest challenges of designing an activity is to make it the right level of difficulty: you want to challenge students without overwhelming them. A good strategy is to break a challenging question into smaller questions that lead the students to the larger answer. Questions that force students to logic through common misconceptions often are very effective for student learning. We have compiled some sample activities to help you begin to think about possibilities. For each activity you want to think about how you are going to structure the class time and manage student dynamics. For example:
- When do you want students to work in groups and when do you think they should work as individuals? Asking students to work as individuals tends to work best for tasks that are not very challenging or that require individual reflection. Small group work tends to work best for the most challenging tasks. For medium difficulty tasks pair work or whole class discussion might work best. You may choose to use a single method to structure an entire class session or you may want to transition to different formats. For more information on these techniques and more see the additional resources below.
- How are you going to create a sense of accountability for the work that they do in class? If students feel as though they will not be held accountable for the work they are doing in class, they will have little motivation to take it seriously. Accountability can simply mean reminding them that the work they are doing is good practice for the exam. However, the added incentive of asking students to hand in work can further boost motivation, even if you are just giving them a participation grade for that work. No matter what, a quick glance through their in-class work is great feedback for you on how the activity went and where students had difficulty.
- When and how are you going to give the students feedback on the work that they do in class? Active learning is all about learning by doing, but if the students don’t know whether or not what they are doing is right, then those experiences do not produce learning. Feedback can come in many different forms. You can reserve some time at the end of class to discuss the range of answers that the students came up with and discuss their merits. You can ask different groups of students to give feedback to each other, based on standards that you have discussed with them. After class you can post sample solutions to have students check their own work.
Finally, being explicit with your students about your learning goals for them can help them to understand what they are doing and to attain those goals.