Interactive Lecture

The interactive lecture that lives up to its name simply involves students in the lecture. In some representations, it reflects the Socratic questioning method where instructors sprinkle questions into the lecture to keep students engaged and assess their understanding of the reading or content throughout the lecture. Downsides with the Socratic approach include the illusion of active learning as a result of high involvement from dominant students only and silence or passivity on behalf of the majority. Some nice supplements to the Socratic-style lecture include activities in this site, such as the One-Minute Paper, Think-Pair-Share and Instant Expert. In addition to the above-mentioned resources from the CTL at the U of Minnesota they have a great resource page devoted to promoting active learning through active lecturing when using PowerPoint.

Case Study Approach

Using case studies in class provides a robust opportunity to tie theory to real-world applications through the discussion, analysis and processing of actual cases from a given discipline. The case study approach is flexible and can be adapted for various disciplines and various levels of topic exploration. A case study can be a simple question posed to the class to generate a discussion about how the students would approach a given scenario. It can also be quite extensive, requiring background information and perhaps additional resources in order for the students to effectively dive in and approach the scenario. Case study methodology relies on realistic examples that are relevant to the course and future applications of the theory. 

  • Additional Resources: A very exciting new page has been launched by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. This page is a collection of over 689 peer-reviewed cases for use in science teaching from countless fields ranging from Aerospace Engineering and Aquaculture to Dental Medicine and Toxicology. They also provide up-to-date information about trainings and workshops on case study use for science teaching. Please explore their site if you teach in the sciences.

Problem-Based Learning

What is Problem-Based Learning (PBL)?

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is another approach to learner-centered instruction. The instructor (or tutor in PBL-speak) is a facilitator for the learning process, but the entire execution of the PBL experience is student-led. PBL engages students because the real-world problems are determined by student interest and explored in ways the students suggest.

The situations they are dealing with are complicated and target student's analytical, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.They are deliberately ambiguous so students have to work hard to arrive at solutions and often they are so multifaceted, that arriving at a solution can present yet another problem to be addressed.

The experiential nature of PBL is underscored by the fact that the students have to think and act like real professionals in their respective fields as they work to solve realistic problems. They go through the problems as if they are the actual pathologists, environmental scientists, social workers, field linguists, etc. The University of Delaware has a nice site devoted to PBL on which you can view sample syllabi and example problems from various disciplines including Physics, Criminal Justice and Biology/Chemistry. The U of Delaware site lists the following student benefits of the PBL approach:

    • Improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills
    • Enhanced writing and communication skills
    • Increased motivation to learn
    • Provided a model for lifelong learning
    • Improved capacity for workplace collaboration
    • Enhanced retention of information

Instant Expert

Like Jigsaw, Instant Expert encourages students to take responsibility for both the teaching and learning of the content. Unlike Jigsaw, phase 2 of the Instant Expert activity involves some level of presentation or teaching to the entire group. Instant Expert works in any class with at least five students. If you are implementing this strategy in a large class, you might choose to have only 2-3 groups present per meeting or implement a poster session so that all groups can present in the same class period. The overall implementation of the activity will vary depending on whether you choose to do it as a one-shot in-class activity (e.g., within the time frame of a 50-80 minute class) or as an in-class/outside-class blended activity (e.g., student groups or pairs prepare for their presentation by becoming 'experts' on their topic by next class, next week, the end of the semester, etc.). In either case, however, student pairs or groups are assigned a topic to become an expert on and are given guidelines and a rubric for how to present their material to their peers (i.e., presentation using PowerPoint, poster session, performance, role-play, etc.). Here are the steps to follow when having students divide one single text among groups: 

  1. Divide students into groups (expert teams).
  2. Give each group a section of text that they are responsible for ‘becoming the expert’ on.
  3. In groups (or pairs), students read the information, take notes and synthesize the information so they can present back clearly to the class.
  4. Students might be asked to draw an outline on chart paper or on the board.
  5. Then they teach the information (as the ‘experts’ on this section) to the whole class using their outline or other visuals.
  6. By the end of the activity, the class has covered the entire text. 
  • Accountability: One caveat of successful peer teaching is that the students are held accountable not only for the information they are presenting, but also that which their peers are presenting. This ensures that they remain engaged when their peers are presenting. Ideas for accountability are listed on our page of the same name; but in brief, you can have them complete a grid, set of questions or other type of handout while listening to peers. You can also implement an assessment (e.g., quiz, exam, summary paper) on the respective topics.

Collaborative Learning (Group Work)

Collaborative Learning is similar in its aim to that of the more general Active Learning. Collaborative Learning, for our purposes will specifically denote group work. A nice overview of Collaborative Learning is that written by Barbara Gross Davis in her quintessential text Tools for Teaching. You can review that chapter online and learn more about designing, organizing and evaluating group work as well as how to address student and faculty resistance to the use of groups in the classroom.

Team-Based Learning

Team-Based Learning is an instructional approach that promotes student interaction and engagement with each other and the content. It shifts the responsibility for learning to the student and adjusts the role of the teacher from 'sage on the stage' to 'guide on the side'. According to Michaelson and Sweet (2008), "the primary learning objective in TBL is to go beyond simply covering content and focus on ensuring that students have the opportunity to practice using course concepts to solve problems. Thus, TBL is designed to provide students with both conceptual and procedural knowledge" (p. 7). TBL is  grounded in active learning and the application of concepts to problem-solving, rather than passive learning through traditional lectures.

TBL embodies a structured approach to collaborative learning. Unlike TBL, general use of group work can take place randomly from one class to another with changing group make-ups, changing group sizes and varying tasks from session to session. TBL on the other hand is more systematic. There are certain features that must be in place for the approach to truly be designated as TBL. They are:

  1. Permanent Teams (Groups) - Students are placed into permanent groups for the duration of the course.
  2. Accountability - Students are held accountable to both individual and team work.
  3. Feedback - Students must receive frequent and timely feedback; ideally, feedback is provided in the moment of the learning activity.
  4. Critical Assignment Design - Students are pushed to be critical thinkers, effective problem-solvers and good collaborators. Assignments should create opportunities for students to link course concepts to the bigger picture (problems, case studies, etc.).

Team-Based Learning in Action

There are several excellent resources that provide additional information and details about implementing TBL in contexts ranging from small to large classes and spanning the levels of learners, from introductory classes to higher level courses in medical schools. The Team-Based Learning Collaborative, spearheaded by the founder of TBL, Larry Michaelson, is an obvious choice for up-to-date information on TBL with videos of actual classroom footage, interviews with professionals about implementing TBL, course design checklists, and more.



Michaelson, L. K. & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team-based learning. In L. Michaelson, M. Sweet & D. Parmelee (Eds.), Team-based learning: small group learning's next big step (pp. 7-27). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Role-Play or Simulation

This approach to promote active learning can be useful in promoting 'real-world' applications of theory in the absence of clinical or practicum opportunities. In addition, role-play offers three significant advantages for learning: 1) it promotes student interest in the topic; 2) it involves the students in the creation and negotiation of meaning, and; 3) it increases empathy as they see issues from multiple perspectives (Jarvis, Odell & Troiano, 2002). The four stages for implementation of role-play or simulation in a class are: preparation and explanation of the topic by the instructor, student preparation for involvement in activity, the actual role-play activity, and the discussion or debriefing on the role-play (process, information, shifted perspectives, etc.) (Cherif, Verma & Summervill, 1998).  

  • Example applications: students assume role of personalities in history to play out events; students assume role of patient and provider in healthcare settings; students role play individuals on several sides of a hot topic, such as community, corporation, laborers in controversy over use of public lands; students role-play everyday situations in an ESL class to develop language skills (e.g., restaurant scenes, shopping transactions, using public transportation); simulation of diplomatic summits in a Political Science course, such as a mock G8 summit.


Cherif, A., Verma, S. and Summervill, C. (1998) From the Los Angeles zoo to the classroom. The American Biology Teacher. 60 (8), 613-617.

Jarvis, L., Odell, K. & Troiano, M. (2002). Role-playing as a Teaching Strategy. California State University Sacramento. Staff Development Presentation.

Reacting to the Past

An exciting instructional approach similar to role-play is a 'game' approach to learning. This synopsis is from the Reacting to the Past Website: Reacting to the Past (RTTP) consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Class sessions are run entirely by students; instructors advise and guide students and grade their oral and written work. It seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills. In one game, students assume the roles of Palestinians and Israelis and interact within the realm of Palestine prior to 1948. Click here for more resources and information about this approach to teaching and learning. In July 2012, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article about a History class implementing RTTP to play a game entitled "Charles Darwin, the Copley Medal, and the Rise of Naturalism, 1862-64". Read more about this experience here, including insights from both students and facilitating faculty.

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