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 Teaching and Learning Activities

Teaching and Learning Activities

The work you have done in mapping your curriculum, writing your outcomes and planning for what you will teach your students, and what they will need to master in your course, all comes to life in the classroom -  in lectures, tutorials and students’ own engagement with you, and with each other and with the knowledge. Designing engaging, relevant and stimulating teaching and learning activities that excite and motivate lecturers, students and tutors is thus a crucial part of a successful aligned and constructive curriculum.

A seminal paper by John Biggs argues that good teaching focuses on what students are doing (Biggs 2012 [1999]). The focus should not be on what the lecturer or tutor is saying or doing, or how much they know; it should not even be on what students are hearing. Rather, the focus of good teaching must be on what students are actually doing with the knowledge, skills and competencies they are acquiring, because learning doesn’t occur through just listening; action is also required.

The following resources are teaching and learning activities that can be adapted and used in a range of classroom situations, with large and small groups of students. They are all downloadable in PDF format. [Click on the blue hyperlinks to download.]

Concept mapping

This is not only a useful learning tool for academic lecturers. It can be used with undergraduate and postgraduate students as well, for both individual and collaborative work. Concept mapping helps students to clarify not only the concepts they are learning but, importantly, the links and relationships between concepts. As a learning tool it can show them where their knowledge is firm and where they need to put in further work and time. As an assessment tool it can give educators a sense of where students are clear on the course content and where there are gaps that need to be addressed through further engagement in lectures or tutorials.

Using concept maps in the classroom​

Participatory Learning in Action (PLA) Techniques

There is a wide range of PLA techniques that can be used in teaching and learning activities. However, the resource here highlights a few that have been used by educators at UWC in particular, and that have been very useful. The main strength of PLA techniques is that they encourage links between students’ own lifeworlds and the more formal spaces of higher education and disciplinary learning; they encourage the sharing of information; and they have the ability to deepen students’ own sense-making of their learning processes. These activities work best when facilitators have some skill in using them, as they need to be mediated carefully.

Using PLA techniques in teaching and learning


Asking questions is one of the most basic, and potentially effective, ways of engaging students in their own learning process. However, simply asking students if they understand, and then taking their silence to mean either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and then moving on is probably not a very useful way of finding out how they are making sense of what they are learning. One effective method of questioning is the ‘Socratic Method’ which uses certain kinds of questions for certain kinds of tasks or situations to scaffold and guide the students in answering, so that they can see more clearly what they do and do not yet understand or know, and so that the educator also has a better idea of where there may be gaps that need to be covered with further activities or assessments.

Using Socratic questioning in the classroom​

Formative quizzes

Formative quizzes are a very good way of doing continuous assessment with your students, and finding out from them whether they are understanding the course content - their levels of understanding and where their gaps are. The idea behind formative quizzes is that they are low-stakes (meaning that if they do not do well, there is not much to lose in terms of CAM marks), and they are aimed at developing and deepening engagement with the knowledge and understanding of it. These quizzes can be designed for large and small class groups, and can be done in lectures or in tutorials. They can be a very useful way of revising for tests and exams, or preparing for written assignments, and they create a more interactive way of working through the course content, rather than simply 'lecturing' it.

Using formative quizzes for continuous learning​


Problem-solving does not necessarily work for every discipline, and it is a tool that is used in different ways in different disciplines, depending on the way knowledge is constructed and what kinds of things would count as 'problems' and 'solutions'. However, this is a useful tool for encouraging critical thinking, and inquiry-based learning, and it encourages students to be more proactive about using the knowledge and skills they have been learning to solve problems that they may encounter in the world of work or in further levels of study.

Problem-solving in the classroom


Debates are a very useful teaching tool when there are interesting and divided issues that need to be thought about critically and from different angles, and where students need to do this thinking and talking actively. Teams of students can be set two sides of an issue, and given time to discuss these before presenting their arguments and engaging in the debate. Fellow students could be asked to adjudicate, with the lecturer as facilitator, stepping in to manage time, and to guide the discussion following the debate. These can also be fun, and can give more creative and verbally strong students a different outlet for making sense of their learning, as well as encouraging less outgoing and well-spoken students to develop their capacity to reason verbally and speak in public.

Using debates to enhance classroom learning


Role-plays can be a creative and expressive tool for getting students to engage with what they are learning in a different way. These can be used in large and small classes, and different students can be chosen or can volunteer to take on the roles. Role-plays are best used when there is a problem or an issue under discussion, for example between a lawyer and a client, or a nurse and a patient, and having the students discuss and explore the problem actively and creatively would lead to deeper understanding of how to solve the problem. Also, they are fun for the whole class and students tend to respond well to being asked to undertake more enjoyable tasks.

Using role-playing for active learning


Freewriting is a very useful tool for getting students to think and write, and be a little critical, at the same time. Freewriting can be used in a range of ways, but generally freewrites are short and focused on a single question or mini-topic. Students can be encouraged to write during class – at the beginning or the end, or at different points during a discussion. These freewrites can be just for them, or educators can collect them at certain points during the term or semester and read a representative selection to get a snapshot of how the class is coping with the tasks that are being set.

Freewriting: writing to learn​

Small group activities

 ​Some of these activities can be adapted and used in lectures to encourage students to participate, to think, to speak and to interact with you and with one another about aspects of the lecture topic or theme. Using small group work requires some organisation and forward planning and often the creative use of space when in cramped or tiered lecture rooms, but can be very rewarding and enjoyable for lecturers and students.

Ideas for group work in lectures​


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