We want our students to be engaged. Active participation in the classroom is important for student learning. Research shows that the more often a student is able to interact with both course content and with peers, the higher probability there is for an increased classroom community. In turn, this can lead to a more successful student learning experience where students are more engaged and retain information longer. With this in mind, the methods below may help to diversify the classroom experience for your students outside a general discussion. Each of these examples is for a standard F2F (face-to-face) active learning exercise, but can easily be translated to the asynchronous or blended classroom.


In the F2F (face-to-face) classroom, this cooperative learning strategy assigns each student a “home” group that is tasked with focusing on one difficult/lengthy resource. After working with group members to read/view, interpret, and discuss this resource, groups are then broken up into distributed groups with one representative of each “home” group. Students then assemble their partial expertise to form a complete picture of a difficult resource. 

In the online classroom, a partial Jigsaw exercise can be constructed by placing students in home groups at the start of the class or for shorter-term exercises, at the beginning of the module. Students can collaborate in a Canvas Group Discussion to discuss their assigned resources or can work individually on assigned resources before coming together in an assigned group discussion that holds representatives from each assigned resource. This exercise requires some planning and knowledge of group(s) setup in Canvas.

4 Corners

This cooperative learning strategy can be used to explore various aspects of a discussion topic by using areas of the classroom. This exercise can be used to dig for deeper nuance on a topic. Students pide into groups and discuss a prompt or inpidual resource in their starting corner, recording their thoughts or opinions. They then rotate to another corner, adding to the information left behind by the previous groups. By the end of the exercise, students will have added to each discussion, digging down to more and more nuanced discussion as they do so.

In the online classroom, discussions can be used to mimic the 4 corners exercise. Using the twice-weekly submission model of online discussions, students can be asked to rotate between the various discussions in a timed manner until they have responded to all four prompts. This method encourages students to build on previous conversations rather than formulate agree/disagree statements.

Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a tool for getting a student to discuss a topic succinctly and directly. This concept evolves from the networking technique of introducing oneself, communicating 1-2 key points, and making a connection in 30 seconds or less (the length of an elevator ride in a tallish building). For classroom purposes, this exercise can be reconceptualized as communicating one’s area of interest, research topic, or a call to action. Students can deliver elevator speeches in small groups or in front of the class as a whole.

In the online classroom, the Kaltura video function within the discussion tool can be used for students to formulate, rehearse, and post their elevator speeches. You may choose to make use of the threading option to allow peers to respond or reflect on inpidual submissions. Be sure to set a strict time limit for this exercise to be effective!


Think/Pair/Share is an active learning technique designed to give students opportunities to engage in active discussion with their peers about their understanding of a topic. 

Step 1: Students Think Inpidually

Start the process by posing a higher-order thinking question for your students to “think” about and answer inpidually within a fixed period of time.

Step 2: Students Pair up with Each Other

  • Ask students to partner with one or more students in close proximity to discuss their answers to the original question posed. For an online space, this may happen in a discussion in which students are “grouped” into pairs. This might be the initial response for a weekly discussion.
  • Provide time for each “pair” or group of students to provide rationale for which answer they believe is correct. 

Step 3: Students Share their Response to the Class

Ask students to verbally express their answer and rationale to the entire class. For an online space, students will need to respond in a separate, “non-grouped” discussion tool. The logistics of facilitating this online may be tricky, so ask ATD to help you in set-up for this exercise!

    Muddiest Point

    Muddiest point is a classroom assessment technique (C.A.T.) that gives students opportunities to point out what they are most confused about and clearly explain what is muddy. 

    • Create a prompt starting with “What is the muddiest point in [...]?” and fill in the blank for the specific topic or idea you want students to explain. 
    • Decide how you want to collect the data. Options include but are not limited to:
    • Having students write down their answer on a blank sheet of their own paper
    • Providing students with a piece of paper that already has a prompt on it
    • Asking students to respond to a prompt 

     Processing the Responses

    • First, quickly read through at least half of the responses, looking for common themes.
    • Next, sort them into piles containing groups of related muddy points and a one “catchall” pile made up of “one-of-a-kind-responses.” 

    Following Up

    Have an exercise you’d like to see on this list? Want to make an appointment for discussing changes to your course? Reach out to the CCAPS-ATD Team to schedule a consultation with a designer through the CCAPS-ATD Service Request form!