Quick group activities for lectures
These strategies are easy to design and implement and can be used in large lectures to increase student engagement, motivation, cooperation and collaboration, and to achieve learning outcomes. These activities are designed to engage students in large group lectures, but they also work well in seminars and workshops.
Time: 5 to 10 minutes.
Use: Ask the group a question or pose a problem, or get students to brainstorm. (Cooperative learning.)
Method: Students work individually for a couple of minutes to work through the designated task. Under direction they then discuss the task with another student. Then call on the group as a whole to ‘share’ answers or ideas.
1. Extended think–pair–share. As before, students work individually and then in pairs, but for sharing they join in groups of four and then groups of eight. In smaller groups this can become a whole class debate.
Notes: Think–pair–share is a useful strategy to encourage every member of the class, even shy students, to participate. It also fosters a community of learners and can help students get to know their peers.
Time: 5 to 10 minutes
Use: Critical thinking, synthesising information and developing an academic argument. (Cooperative learning.)
Method: This is based on a ‘debate’ style of arguing. A debatable statement or problem with two opposed solutions is posed to the group. This issue can be linked to seminar readings. Students work in pairs where one person has been assigned the affirmative and the other the negative side of the statement.
Each person must develop a logical argument that follows the following structure:
1. Assertion, for example: ‘I believe that’/ ‘it is evident that’/ ‘it is necessary that’
2. Reason: ‘this is because’/ ‘this is due to’
3. Evidence: ‘recent research suggests that’/ ‘it was stated in X that’/ ‘Y argues that’
The affirmative speaker presents their argument first and then the negative speaker presents their point. Each person must then try to refute the other speaker:
4. Response: ‘I understand that’/ ‘I can see your point, but’ / ‘I know what you mean, but’
The pair can then discuss and reflect on how they really feel about the issue. Back in the large group, points for the affirmative and negative can be discussed.
1. This activity also works well in groups of four.
2. Support a statement. The lecturer poses a statement and asks students working in
pairs to respond to the statement using evidence from readings, lecture notes etc. In this activity, the whole group can alternate between affirmative and negative.
Notes: Students get into the habit of supporting their arguments with academic evidence. Because students are assigned a role, they can be more critical about that stance.
Time: 1 to 5 minutes
Use: At the end of a lecture or to check comprehension. (Cooperative learning.)
Method: Ask students to note down for one minute what they understand the main point of the lecture to have been. They also write down areas of uncertainty. The students then discuss their notes with a person near them. Questions or areas of uncertainty can be posted on a discussion board.
1. Main points: Students try to list three to five main points raised in the lecture. They then compare their list with others, working in small groups of no more than five students.
2. Muddiest points: Students write down the points that have confused them the most.
3. Collaborative review: Students work together to summarise the lecture in three to five points.
Notes: This is a useful strategy for students to be able to reflect on the lecture. It is also useful as a method of peer support and guidance. Linking this activity to a discussion board means students can raise their questions in a peer-led discussion moderated by a lecturer.
Time: 10 to 15 minutes
Use: To get students thinking critically about a problem or issue. (Collaborative learning.)
Method: A problem or issue is posed. Working in small groups of two to four, students think about a problem using Edward de Bono’s Six Hats of critical thinking. The Six Hats are:
- The White Hat calls for information known or needed; that is, what are the facts, or what is known about the issue?
- The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition; that is, how do students feel about the issue?
- The Black Hat is judgement, the devil's advocate, or why something may not work; that is, what is wrong or flawed or open to challenges?
- The Yellow Hat symbolises brightness and optimism; that is, what is good, what are the benefits or what works?
- The Green Hat focuses on creativity: possibilities, alternatives and new ideas; that is, what new or innovative ideas can students come up with?
- The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. This is self-regulated learning.
Students spend several minutes discussing a problem. Wearing a particular Hat, groups can then discuss their outcomes with other groups, or groups can be called on to present their ideas for a particular coloured Hat. Students can also be asked to develop a written solution to the problem that can be collected and then summarised in the following lecture.
1. Each person can take turns at wearing a Hat or the whole group can progress through the Hats together.
Notes: According to de Bono (http://www.debonothinkingsystems.com/tools/6hats.htm) the benefits of this approach are several: students can discuss an issue without emotions or egos; avoid making easy decisions by learning how to dig deeper; practise making creative solutions the norm; organise their ideas; and create a shared vision. Please consult de Bono’s website for more information on his critical thinking strategies.
For the lecturer, this activity offers a chance to hear from different groups. This can also be used as the starting point for a group assessment.
Time: 5 minutes
Use: To allow students to reflect on what they have learnt and to clarify gaps in knowledge. (Cooperative learning.)
Method: At the end of a lecture or a topic, provide students with a graphic organiser that has missing information. The graphic organiser can be a flow chart (processes), a branch diagram (hierarchies and categories), a mind map (ideas) or a table (relationships). Students are required to complete the graphic organisers. Working with the person next to them, they compare their organisers. Back in the large group, the lecturer can fill in the table with the students or show them the completed table.
Notes: Graphic organisers are a great way to simplify complex topics: students can see categories and sub-categories, the flow of a process or the relationships between ideas.
Students can also identify gaps in their knowledge.
Time: 5 to 10 minutes
Use: To check discrete knowledge and to clarify gaps in knowledge. (Cooperative learning.)
Method: At the start of the lecture, present students with several multiple choice questions (no more than five) on the content you are going to cover, and have students discuss the answers. The use of electronic voting systems (EVS) works well here (see Large groups - more activities).
At the end of the lecture, post the same multiple choice questions so that students can monitor their understanding of the lecture content.
Notes: If you are using an EVS, you will be able to quickly see if there are areas of confusion amongst the group.
Time: 10 to 15 minutes
Use: For engagement, to play the Devil’s Advocate, kinaesthetic learning. Revision of ideas and concepts. (Collaborative learning.)
Method: Students are broken up into small groups. Each group is given a scenario where group members are assigned parts to play. (Have these written up on laminated cards so that you can re-use them.)
Notes: Have a couple of different versions of the role play – that is, give different groups different scenarios and characters to play and then get them to swap cards after five minutes. Let the students use the space in the lecture room and move around.
Time: 10 to 15 minutes
Use: Revision of key term or concepts. (Cooperative learning.)
Method: Write concepts, key words, people, and theories on cards. You will need multiple copies for each group.
Divide students up into small groups of five to six students. The students sit in a circle (or the closest approximation). Each person ‘sticks’ or holds their card so that they cannot see it, but the rest of their group can.
One student asks ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions to their group members, and can keep asking questions until they get a ‘no’ answer. Then the person next to them has a turn at asking questions. The aim is to guess the term or concept on the card.
Notes: This is an engaging activity that can be used with a range of terms. It helps students to clarify key ideas and concepts.