Short Takes For Active Student Participation
While models of group investigation like those by Sharan and
Sharan (1992) and others provide students with opportunities to
work in-depth and at-length on a topic or theme of their own
choosing, there will be times when the teacher will draw on a
different repertoire of shorter interactive segments within a
class period. Sometimes called "activators" or
"energizers," these tools provide learners with an
opportunity to process information that has just been presented,
read, viewed, or encountered through direct, hands-on experience.
Here is a list of short activities you can build into your own
- Turn To Your Neighbor And... (3-5 minutes) "Turn to
your neighbor and see if he or she agrees with the
statement I have written on the board. If there is a
disagreement, how can you use last night's reading
assignment to prove the point?"
- 3-2-1 (3-5 minutes) At the end of an explanation or
demonstration, pass out index cards and have each person
write down three important terms or ideas to remember,
two ideas or facts they would like to know more about,
and one concept, process, or skill they think they have
mastered. This activity can help make a transition to the
next task and lets you check in quickly on their
- Ticket to Leave (3-5 minutes) This is especially good
when an activity concludes just before lunch. Pass out a
printed "ticket" about the size of a half sheet
of notebook paper. Ask each student to jot down two
additional questions about the topic that was just
explained or investigated in some way. This reinforces
the assumption that you are never finished learning and
should continue to ask questions.
- A Note to a Friend (5-10 minutes) At the end of an
explanation or demonstration, pass out a sheet of paper
and ask each student to write a note to a friend
explaining the process, rule, or concept they have just
- Sort The Items (5-10 minutes) The teacher asks students
to place ideas, concepts, or statements in categories
defined by the teacher. For example, the teacher might
ask "Which statements were based on fact? " and
"Which statements were based on inference?"
- Jumbled Summary (5-10 minutes) The teacher writes key
words or phrases from an explanation or introduction in a
random order on an acetate sheet or on a page to be
photocopied. Following the presentation, the teacher asks
pairs to "unscramble" the terms and reorder
them in correct sequence.
- Prediction Pairs (5-10 minutes) The teacher asks students
to work in pairs as they listen to a short story read by
the teacher. The teacher reads a short passage, then
pauses to ask the prediction pairs to state "What
will happen next?" and "Reasons based on the
story so far?"
- Alphabet Summary (5-10 minutes) At the end of an
explanation or demonstration, give each student a
different letter of the alphabet and ask then to think of
one word or idea beginning with that letter that is
connected to the topic just concluded
- Think, Pair, Share 5-10 minutes) "Think about what
you have just heard. Write down three statements about it
on an index card." (Pause) "Now exchange your
responses with a partner." (Pause) "What were
the most frequently mentioned ideas or terms?"
(whole group debrief).
- Draw A Picture (5-10 minutes) At the end of a segment of
teacher directed instruction, ask participants to work in
pairs to create a graphic summary of how they would
organize information, reach a conclusion, or interact
differently based on the demonstration you just provided.
- Three Person Jigsaw (15 minutes) Each person reads a
separate page or a portion of a longer selection. Then he
or she teaches the main points to the two other members
of their study group. Each then quizzes the other members
to make sure everyone knows all parts thoroughly.
- K-W-L Trio (15 minutes) Before a film, lecture, or
reading, have students work in threes to write down what
they already know about the subject, and what they want
to know about the subject. Then show the film, deliver
the lecture, or engage the group in the reading. Then
have each trio circle the "known" information
that was covered, put asterisks next to the questions
that were answered, and add other things they learned as
a result of the film, lecture, or reading.
- Drill Partners (15 minutes) Have students drill each
other on facts they need to recall until they are certain
both partners know and can remember them all. This works
effectively with vocabulary terms, sight recognition of
birds, leaves, mathematical symbols and shapes, and
- Writing Response Groups (20 minutes) Students read and
respond to each other's written work by marking passages
that they think are effective with a star, and
underlining what they don't understand or think is weak.
Errors in grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, or
format are circled. Then they discuss their observations
with the writer.
- Inside-Outside Circles (10-20 minutes) Organize students
into groups of six, with three persons standing with
their backs touching and facing out, and three persons
forming a circle around them, facing inward toward the
person in the center. The teacher directs each pair to
exchange information related to previously taught
material. Then the teacher asks the persons in the center
to rotate, facing a new partner, and chooses a different
topic for exchange.
- Four Corners (15-20 minutes) This is especially effective
in social studies or English class, where students
encounter a controversial issue. The teacher states a
situation or dilemma, then asks students to go to one of
four corners of the room, marked Strongly Agree, Agree,
Strongly Disagree, Disagree. There the students exchange
their opinions or reasoning, and summarize their
reasoning for the rest of the class.
- Numbered Heads Together (10 minutes) Students are grouped
by teams. Each team member numbers off, so that each
member has a number. After working jointly together, the
teacher asks a question or presents a problem. The
students must jointly agree on the correct answer. The
teacher selects a team, and calls a number at random. The
student with that number must answer the question, and
briefly be able to explain why that answer is correct. If
the group has not been able to come up with an answer
that all agree to, the team must "pass" until
it is called upon again. Numbered Heads can be especially
useful when reviewing large "chunks" of
material or in helping students prepare for a test.
- Pairs Check (10-20 minutes) The teacher directs students
to work in teams. One person in the pair works on a task
while the other serves as coach. Then they exchange roles
for the second task. As this point, they ask another pair
to check their work. If the second pair agrees with their
response, the first pair continues. If not, the pair
tries to correct their work.
- Roundtable (10-20 minutes) The teacher asks a question
with many possible answers ("Name all of the items
in your home which where not invented 25 years
ago.") Using one sheet of paper, students make a
list, each person adding one item and then passing the
paper to the person on their left. The product is the
result of many minds (and hands) at work--hence
- Send-a-Problem (10-20 minutes) Each student on a team
makes up a question or review problem and writes it down
on a flashcard. The author of each problem/question asks
the question of his/her team members. If they do not have
consensus on the answer, the group works on the problem
or rewords it until everyone can explain/agree. Next, the
team passes their stack of review questions to another
team for review.
- Group Test Taking for Practice (20 minutes) The day
before a test, give student groups copies of earlier
versions of your test or questions similar to those that
will actually be on the test. Tell them that
"Tomorrow you will get a test like this as
individuals, and there will be no team to help you. You
can help each other all you want today. Make sure your
teammates can get a perfect score. Help everyone
Group activities do not have to take a long time. You can
organize people into pairs or threes and ask them to do the
following in five minutes, at the most!
- Describe what they have just heard about a topic.
- Explain important points or distinctions to each other.
- Compare responses to a hypothetical situation to provide.
- List the attributes of a condition or skill, or make up
rules for governing a situation.
- Predict what will happen if...
- Estimate the consequences of...
- Identify patterns in... These short assignments break up
a longer stretch of "input" on your part, serve
to energize learners, and give you a springboard for
further exposition that is more on target with student's,
interests, or abilities.
Bellanca, James and Fogarty, Robin BLUEPRINTS FOR THINKING IN
THE COOPERATIVE CLASSROOM Skylight Publishing, Inc. Palatine, IL:
Canady, Robert Lynn, and Rettig, Michael D., BLOCK SCHEDULING:
A Catalyst for Change in High School. Eye on Education,
Princeton, NJ: 1995.
Clarke, Doug, "Building Problem Solving, Interest, and
Relevance into Mathematics in the Middle School Years,"
(Part 1) Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia:
Harmin, Merrill, INSPIRING ACTIVE LEARNING: A Handbook for
Teachers. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,
Alexandria, VA: 1994.
Kagan, Spencer, COOPERATIVE LEARNING: RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS.
Resources for Teachers, San Juan Capistrano, CA: 1990.
Saphier, Jon, and Haley, Mary Ann, ACTIVATORS: Activity
Structures to Engage Students' Thinking Before Instruction.
Research For Better Teaching, Carlisle, MA: 1993.
Saphier, Jon, and Haley, Mary Ann, SUMMARIZERS: Activity
Structures to Support Integration and Retention of New Learning.
Research For Better Teaching, Carlisle, MA:1993.
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