Pedagogical Tools: In-Class Activities

Photo by velkr0, licensed under CC BY.


  1. You’re stuck in a rut and bored—you can’t think of any other way to present the material besides lecturing from your notes or a PowerPoint.
  2. Your students are getting into the mid-semester slump (often evident in their body language: present but sitting back, slightly distracted).
  3. The same students are talking in class
  4. You’re worried that students aren’t interested and/or are not digesting the material.


Any one or a combination of the problems above necessitates that you rethink the format of your class. You should think about changing up the style of your presentation and identify other ways for students to engage with the material. In this post, I present a list of activities to consider and try out in your class.

Activities: Discussion-Oriented


  • Pose a question to your class. Explain that you will give them one to two minutes to think about the answer silently, then a few minutes to discuss it with a partner or two, and finally to share their thoughts out loud with the class. You can go around the room asking each group to share out (one spokesperson per group). Or, you can allow students to voluntarily share out, or even call on specific students to share: consider calling on quieter students.
  • Why and how is this method effective? This technique often elicits more thoughtful responses to questions, because you have given students wait time to think about it. This technique also allows more people to share what they’re thinking in a large class, this is nice because it can be frustrating if you’re not getting called on and you think you have a great idea. When presenting, students can share their responses or share those of others. It can be very gratifying for students to hear that someone else thinks they had a good idea.
  • Potential pitfalls: Sometimes students can stray off topic. Don’t give them too much time to discuss. Monitor their conversations (that is, listen in) and pull the class back when most—not necessarily all—conversations have wrapped up. Walk around the room during discussions.

Homogeneous Grouping

  • Divide your class into small discussion groups (two to five people is ideal but could be bigger, if necessary). Give each group the same or different question(s) to discuss and present to the rest of class, either orally or by writing on a board or poster paper. Homogeneous, in this case, indicates that there’s some sort of similarity within or across groups. For example, students might be grouped by similar interest, age level, learning style (e.g. visual, auditory, kinesthetic), viewpoint on a debate, or reading that they were assigned for homework.
  • Note: This technique can be followed up with heterogeneous grouping (see below) For example, if you gave each homogeneous group a different question to discuss, then each person in that group becomes a "representative" of that question when they form another group with one person from each of the other homogeneous groups.
  • Why and how is this method effective? Small groups allow more students to voice their opinions. For some, it is also an environment that is less intimidating than a whole class, particularly one that fills a large lecture hall. These students get an opportunity to “try out” their opinions to see if others agree before they share it with the group as a whole.
  • Potential pitfalls: Some students may not participate because it doesn’t “count” (that is, the teacher is not listening and giving participation credit). Remind students that you will be listening into their conversations (or, if it’s a sensitive topic, tell them you won’t); also, walk around the room to make your presence felt. If a group has too many students in it, then quieter students often still don’t participate. Likewise, one talkative student can dominate a small group. To remedy either of these situations, set a requirement that everyone shares their opinion and intervene if you see that this is not taking place.