How to design a powerful and activating learning experience in practice?

This tool gives you a process description for designing a one-off lesson or a sequence of lessons. The model can be used when designing a class or when starting a new course and meeting the students for the first time in a classroom or in an online class. The model can be adapted when designing a one-off lecture or learning session.

Step 1. Starter activity

The purpose of this activity is that it is quite short as the idea is to retrieve students’ previous knowledge of or experience with the topic covered. This activity focuses the students’ attention and provides a context for the main body of the lesson, the second step.
When pairing or teaming up students, consider forming pairs or groups that are either heterogeneous or homogeneous depending on the pedagogical approach employed. Often multinational teams work better than student groups composed of only one nationality.
The core idea of this lesson design model is to have the students communicate and learn from each other by speaking about the covered topic(s).
Examples of starter activities:
  • Based on pre-reading the students answer a set of multiple-choice questions in pairs and decide together which answer is the correct one.
  • The students can be handed out a questionnaire in advance or in the first class of the course that has them ponder their previous experience with and knowledge of the topics studied in that particular class or during the entire course as well as their expectations for the course.
  • The students can be asked to list as many lessons as they learnt in a previous class of the course. This will have them tune in on the topic at hand that day.
  • Short revision questions for groups to discuss. For example, they can be asked to define new terms or produce a list of five key points on the basis of the answers they produce to the revision questions.
  • If the previous lesson has had students study multiple new terms, they can be seated in groups of 3-4 students where they define key terms shown on the board taking turns. Other students guess which term the student is explaining. The student to guess the right term carries on explaining the next term of her/his choice and the game goes on as long as required.
  • Students can also be grouped in groups of 3-4 students and given a list of some key terms from a previous class(es). The teams explain the terms in an online learning collaboration tool, such as Padlet or Miro. Once all the teams have defined their terms, other teams study the definitions and try to identify which terms have been explained. The teams that explained the terms can then give the correct term next to each term once they have been named correctly by other students. The link to the online tool can be saved in the virtual learning environment of the study unit for all students, who can go back to the terms and definitions even later on to refresh their memory or when studying for an exam for instance.

Step 2. Main body

During this step students need to rationalize, analyze, evaluate or use their problem solving skills in order to gain a more extensive understanding of the given topic. These activities form the main body of the class.

  • Students are given a real work-life-based challenge or case. They are required to analyze and apply knowledge gained by reading or from short lectures given in class. The idea is to have the students communicate with people from a real organization, simultaneously applying knowledge in practice.
  • Problem-solving exercises in small groups or pairs.
  • Simulation or role-play activities, such as students have the responsibility of giving mini lessons on an allocated topic or on a topic of their choosing.
  • Discussions on the studied topic and theory.
  • Final reports and presentations of the project carried out during the course, peer feedback given on the presentation.
  • Brainstorming the lessons learnt by giving ideas on a Padlet wall or in writing on post-it stickers.

Step 3. Plenary or feedback

This final step of the lesson should not take long. It should rather be a 5-10-minute activity that sums up the lesson(s) learnt.
  • Discussion in pairs about the class/course and whether the set objectives have been met, reporting these to the teacher and/or entire class in the agreed format.
  • Students give feedback either anonymously or with providing their name in the student feedback system in use at the school.
  • Students can be asked to design the exam questions or quiz questions for the teacher to use in the next lesson.
  • Students and teacher can engage in a feedback discussion (cf. performance appraisal) where they answer questions set in advance.
  • A Padlet wall or some other format can be set for students to discuss challenges or items they have found not well organized during the course. A similar wall can be created for positive feedback.