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Cornell University

Active Learning Workshop (ETD’22)

This was a session at ETD’22.

Active Learning is any form of teaching where students are doing something with content besides listening and taking notes.​

Active learning helps students with the following:active learning retrieval

  • Focus attention​
  • Process information​
  • Increase retention of content​
  • Connect to other ideas​
  • Increase ability to transfer information​

Incrementally Integrating Active Learning into Your Class

Try incrementally adding active learning to your class.​

  1. ​Identify where your students have trouble with the content.​
    • What idea or concept are they not getting?​
    • What specifically about this content are they missing?​
  2. Select an active learning method.​
  3. Write the question/prompt.​
  4. Flag your lesson plan where to use it!

Common Active Learning Methods

There are many methods to promote active learning. We recommend trying the following methods when learning to integrate active learning methods into your course:

Think, Pair, Share (TPS)

Try think, pair, share when you would have asked a regular question.​

  1. Ask a question.
    Note: The question should not be a calculation.
  2. Students think individually for ~ 30 sec.​
  3. Pair with someone sitting nearby.​
  4. Discuss the answer with partner.​
  5. Call on one or more students to share.​
    Note: Not everyone needs to share​.
    Hint: Initially call on partner of a strong student​.

You may use TPS any time, but try and aim for every 15 – 20 minutes.


Try brainstorming when you’ve set up a class example, but before solving it.​

  1. Students list (brainstorm) assumptions, approximations, and ideas (1 minutes).​
  2. Discuss with a peer for 2 minutes.​
  3. (optional) Report out ideas, one per group​.
    • Quick Reporting – compare your list with a neighbor​
    • Standard Reporting – each group adds 1 item to list instructor puts on board or slide​
    • Light “reporting” – Check off your list as we go through the example. Add any you missed. Keep the list – it will help you write up one of the HW problems.​
    • Full Reporting – Share all the brainstorming with the class; have students use a shared Google Doc for brainstorming/reporting.
  4. After brainstorm, solve the example. ​
  5. Ask students to reflect on how well their brainstorming tied to the solution.​

​Other places to try brainstorming:​

  • Starting a new unit​.
  • Possible applications of a topic​.
  • “Think of at least three ways to…”

Minute Paper​: The Muddiest Point

Try asking the students to spend a minute writing, when you feel your students are lost.​

  1. ​Ask students to write down the most confusing point from lecture and turn it in. ​
  2. You read a sample of the papers after class.​
  3. Provide a response to the most common issues students bring up​.
    • Email or post clarification​.
    • Clarify in the next class​.
    • Ask recitation instructors to address​.

​Good places to try a minute paper:​

  • Transitioning topics​
  • End of lecture​
  • End of unit


Try using polling when you need a check or sense of how well the class is understanding the material.


  • Everyone answers → answers valued​
  • Quick to gather answers ​
  • Easy for faculty to learn (training offered)​
  • Easy to re-engage class by showing results​

Polling solutions:​