Background knowledge probe
Have students write anonymous answers to two or three open-ended questions about their background knowledge related to course material. This information can be used to determine the most effective starting point for a lesson or lecture.
Ask students to respond to an open-ended prompt in 2 sentences or less. Prompts might include questions like “What was the muddiest point in this week’s readings?”, “What connections do you see between these two authors’ concepts?” or “What are some examples of this author’s concept in your everyday life?” The information gathered enables you to see what students are most unclear about and can form the basis for further discussion or activities.
When assigning a text, especially a complex one, to be read outside of class, provide a high-level outline of the text containing the major headings and a few subheadings. Students should complete the outline (supplying subheadings and supporting information) as they read.
Summarizing an assigned text
These three techniques ask students to summarize a text, which helps you check their understanding and ensures that they have done the reading.
- One-sentence summary: Have students generate a sentence that addresses the questions: Who? Did what? To whom or to what? When? Where? How? and Why? about a process, event, the plot of a story, or other declarative knowledge.
- Directed paraphrase: Have students paraphrase a concept, theory, or argument that they have read about. In the requirements, it is essential to specify a length (e.g., number of sentences) and an audience who will receive the paraphrase (how much background knowledge the audience has, what the students’ purpose is in summarizing this information for them).
- Word journal: To help students focus on a particular aspect of a text, have them choose a single word to summarize that aspect. Then, have them write a paragraph explaining why they chose that word.
Student-generated test questions
To prepare for an exam, have students generate test questions that they think might appear on the exam. Scanning over the questions (and answers, if available), you can see whether students have appropriate expectations regarding the types of questions on the exam and material to be learned. Taking it a step further, if students enter these questions on a Google Doc, they’ll have the start of a study guide, which you could comment on or otherwise guide.
Many types of reflection activities can be done individually online. Students might reflect on what they learned from a class discussion, a video they were required to view, or an out-of-class experience. They might reflect on their study habits in preparing for an exam in a course or on their effort and what they perceive as the strengths and weaknesses of a larger project. Reflections are frequently low-stakes or graded on participation; therefore, a key to making reflections more meaningful is for the reflection to inform or lead into a bigger assignment, project, or exam.
Buzz groups are groups of students formed to respond to questions or brainstorm solutions to a problem. They can be used to prepare students for in-class discussion or to enable students to work more deeply with assigned material.
Assign students to pairs and have them take notes individually on an assigned reading. Students then share their notes in their pairs to check for completeness and accuracy. This technique enables students to confirm their understanding of an assigned text and helps them become better note-takers. Pairs can be asked to consolidate their notes into a single document for an assignment.
Ask students to individually develop thoughtful questions about an assigned reading. Then divide them into pairs and have each pair take turns asking and answering each other’s questions. This technique allows students to check their understanding of a text and encourages them to think more deeply about a text than they might by only taking notes on it. It can also help students prepare for an exam, and student-generated questions can be posted on a discussion forum for others to see.
Divide students into two groups. One group will actively participate in an online discussion (the inner circle); the rest will spectate (lurk). Create a discussion and assign a prompt to the inner circle. The inner-circle students can respond to the prompt and then comment on each other’s responses. Instruct the lurkers to monitor the conversation among the inner circle students. After the inner circle students have finished, invite the lurkers to comment on the postings. Assignment as a lurker or an inner circle member can be rotated so that all students have a chance to participate in an online discussion actively.
Send a problem
Divide students into groups, and assign each group one problem to analyze or solve. Provide a collaboration space for each group where they can post their ideas and arrive at a solution. Then each problem is assigned (or “sent”) to another group, which solves it without reading the first group’s solution. The last group to see a problem reads all the previous groups’ solutions, evaluates and synthesizes them, and reports out to the entire class.
Divide students into groups. Create a real-world scenario that includes the description of a situation and a dilemma to be resolved. Set up a collaboration space for each group where they can post ideas and an analysis of the case study. When each group has written up their analysis and proposed resolution, allow the entire class to read and comment on the analyses of the other groups.