Active Learning and Classroom Discussion

For many instructors, having a classroom full of eager and active students is a persistent goal and recurring challenge. Are you looking to improve student participation in your classes? Do you want to rethink what active participation can mean and find ways to invigorate your class discussions?

In this workshop we’ll explore how to deepen student engagement through the use of active learning strategies including collaborative learning, peer teaching, group work, inquiry-based learning, and low stakes writing assignments. In this workshop, we will address how to structure activities and assignments that invite students to engage purposefully and productively with each other and with course material. We will discuss which strategies work best in different teaching and learning contexts, and think through how these strategies can help faculty realize instructional goals. Participants will work together to integrate active learning opportunities into their courses, modify and enhance existing activities, while receiving constructive feedback from peers and workshop leaders.

This workshop was offered in Spring 2018 as an in-person workshop at the Graduate Center, CUNY. The workshop and materials were developed by Laurie Hurson and Avra Spector.


All materials on this page and in the linked google folder are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) 4.0 International Public License.

This folder contains outreach materials, workshop plans and slides.

Materials Folder: Active Learning Workshop

Workshop Plan


  1. Model active learning: engage workshop attendees in activity that can be remixed and reused for in their own classes
  2. Provide background information on active learning and activity resources for use after the workshop
  3. Engage attendees in discussion of pros/cons of active learning, allow time for development of their own activities to use in class


30 mins: Welcome and Introductions….

  •     Name
  •     Discipline
  •     Course(s) Taught
  •     Why are you here/what are you hoping to get from this workshop?

Framing/Situating Questions: the what, hows and why of active learning

  1. (What) is an obstacle or opportunity or using active learning in your class?
  2. (How) have you incorporated active learning into your class? (during class/outside of class, assignments, discussion, low/high stakes, projects etc)
  3. (Why) did you pick that moment or topic for active learning? (learning goals?)

HOW1 and What 1:

Use answers to raise questions about and discuss variables, scope, placement

(learning progression) of active learning activities/frameworks.

  1. (group) Working definition of active learning
  2. Before active learning. Things to consider:

Example Variables (external constraints):

  • Room setup
  • Class Size/group size
  • Activity type (content delivery vs. review)
  • Time (in/outside of class, multi-day, part of class, etc)
  • Aim

Examples of Limiting Scope (internal constraints)

  • where in the learning process students are
  • Defining range (of text, experience, outside sources, subjects, etc)
  • method/approach
  • Application (delivery): what do students do with the learning
  • Tools to active learning: scaffolding expectations, skills and methods

Example of Learning Progression (types of familiarity with material):

  • Bloom’s Taxonomy (knowledge–>understand–>apply–>analyze–>evaluate–>create)
  • other. models:  content, investigate, synthesize, application
    • Generate content, investigate, analyze, synthesize, relation, application

30 mins: WHAT & (develop) WHY of Active learning (drilling down on types of active learning)

  • Hand out WHAT cards (deck 1)
  • Read + put on learning progression chart
  • Groups discuss why put in that “category” and
  • Whole group why some ended up in multiple, and what presuppositions (what has to be in place for it to happen)

10 min Brainstorm

  • List how WHATS can happen
  • Examples: types of activities (deck 2)

35 mins: HOW2 Remix an AL Activity: Writing Active Learning Assignments

  • Based on type of activity chosen in during WHAT & WHY …
    • Read that activity and Remix it for your own class
    • Share remixed activity with a peer who chose diff activity, get feedback
    • Could you use activity chosen by peer? Why or why not?


  • Introduce AL site, browse through, show activities present during workshop