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Encouraging Independent and Active Learning and Thought

Beth Kemp | Monday August 01, 2011

Categories: Hot Entries, Teaching Ideas & Skills Development


We are constantly hearing that students need to be more active in their learning; that they need to do more thinking; that more of the work needs to be done by them.  While this is clearly desirable, it’s one of the many things in teaching that is easier to say than to do: even pausing long enough after asking a question rarely comes naturally.

So this guide focuses on ways to build in thinking time and how to develop students’ ability to think and learn for themselves in lessons, rather than simply showing up and expecting knowledge to be bestowed upon them.  As this is such a constant concern, several of these ideas appear elsewhere in these guides, in more specific form, or form part of other activities.  This guide explores some themes which emerge in this kind of working, and will also direct you to these more specific ideas in other guides.  It might be worth following up even those more specific ideas which don’t directly relate to your teaching, as most, if not all, are adaptable to different contexts.

The idea in the ‘ideas needing more preparation’ section of this guide (slide show timers with prompts) is a particularly useful and flexible one, which I use extensively in my own teaching.  It does take a little time to get used to, if you haven’t previously used timed transitions in this way, but it allows incredible flexibility and the scope for little-to-no-fuss differentiation is also great.  There is a 10 minute skeleton PowerPoint file available for download and adaptation as well.  This particular idea does not appear in any of the other teaching ideas collections.

Simple Ideas

Building in Thinking Time

A simple notion that works with any q & a or group discussion session, or as a precursor to a paired or group activity.

  • Students spend a short time thinking before responding to a question or task.  This is best done in silence or at least without talking (background music is sometimes helpful).
    • Students can...

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