For more about the learning theory behind the plans, please visit the section of this site called Introduction to Active Learning (web link).
Here are some links that take you directly to specific pieces of this guide in case you have a particular question about any component of the plans.
The curriculum designers on this project were given a great degree of autonomy in how they approached their design. Because of this, in some cases, you might notice that there are two versions of the same plan. Some of these plans might incorporate lots of active learning, and some of the plans are less active. Some of the plans have a lot of “scripting” (i.e. the curriculum designer modeled exactly what they would say and how they would expect students to respond). Others have instructions, but less explicit scripting.
We wanted to provide instructors who use this resource with a wide range of potential approaches and techniques. Therefore, multiple versions of the plans are available when possible. We hope to continue adding more in the future.
We recommend that you take a look at all available versions and ultimately decide on what works best for you and for your students. We also recommend that you use the plans as a flexible potential starting place that you can personalize and change rather than a definitive guide to exactly how the lesson should look.
Each of the plans on this site follow a structure (or a “shape”). The shapes are designed1 to maximize moments for student synthesis, active interaction with the material, and collaboration with other students.
While these are not the only possible lesson shapes for an active learning lesson, the shapes we used in this series are as follows:
In this Word document handout on the shapes we used, you can learn more about the lesson shapes, the stages and aims that each one typically involves, and some other considerations for each lesson type. (back to the top)
In an active lesson, class time is divided into several segments called “stages.” Stages are the steps involved in teaching a lesson of a particular shape, and each shape contains several stages.
An aim is the objective (or the goal) of a particular stage. In each stage, the instructor should have a pedagogical reason for doing something and that moves students closer to the aim of the entire lesson.
For example, in the first stage of a test-teach-test lesson, the aim is to find out what students already know. So the stage is “test” and the aim is “To assess students’ prior knowledge.” (back to the top)
The procedure portion is a step-by-step “how-to” guide.
In some cases, the curriculum designers used the procedure portion to actually script out what they anticipate the instructor or the students will say during a stage. But it might be most useful to think of the procedure portion as a rough guide of what might happen rather than a carved-in-stone edict of what WILL happen.
Having some flexibility to listen to students’ real questions and concerns as they arise is one of the most important parts of active learning, so don’t hesitate to deviate from the plan when necessary (as long as it’s not to offer a 15-minute completely instructor-centered explanation about something!).
As a general rule, many of the stages contain some or all of the following microstages:
Instructions: The instructor gives instructions or a demonstration of how to complete a task. This does not necessarily mean that the instructor solves a problem completely for the students. It’s important that the students work things out on their own. But they should understand how to complete the actual activity (especially if it’s something less familiar), so clear instructions and careful monitoring are crucial.
Individual work: Generally, even if students are put in groups later, they should work on something alone before checking their answers with a partner. This can help prevent the problem of a stronger or more dominant student just finishing all of the tasks for the entire group while everyone else stops working.
Peer / group checks (with instructor monitoring): Before the instructor gives feedback to the whole class, students should spend some time trying to answer each other’s questions or at least articulate the questions that they have to one another. While students do this, the instructor should circulate throughout the classroom to (1) make sure that students aren’t so stuck that they can’t do anything (make sure they understood the task instructions!), (2) figure out which students have gotten the correct answer and can help out during feedback, and / or (3) listen to the kinds of questions that students have so that the whole class can benefit from hearing them when the peer / group check is over.
Whole class feedback: After the peer check has ended, the instructor should facilitate feedback with the whole class. This can take several shapes. The instructor might raise some of the questions that she heard when walking around the room. The students might ask questions that came up during the peer check. The instructor might have a student who understood the answer walk through an explanation with everyone else. (back to the top)
If you’d like to try your hand at designing an active lesson that isn’t included in this series, you might be interested in consulting this Word document handout on the shapes we used.
You might also be interested in consulting this guide (web link) which connects stages of each lesson shape to specific activities that you could use to accomplish your aim.
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Key terminology (definitions forthcoming)
Here are some key pieces of terminology that you might want to know / review as you’re using the plans. See something that isn’t listed here? Feel free to contact email@example.com to add something:
aim: The objective or the goal of a particular lesson stage.
lesson shape: A format for constructing the stages and aims of a lesson plan. The shapes of the lessons included in this series are mostly test-teach-test and present-practice-produce.
low-stakes assessment: An assessment that helps students (and their teachers) to check understanding, but that isn’t necessarily attached to a formal grade. Active learning frequently implements low-stakes assessment.
monitor / monitoring: Walking around the room during a task to ensure that students have understood the instructions and that they’re progressing on the task. Later in the stage, teachers can also use monitoring to see what kinds of questions students are asking and to determine what to bring up during whole class feedback. In some cases, teachers might also want to provide supplemental instruction or support during monitoring (for example, if most of the class seems to be understanding the task, but if one group is stuck).
peer / pair check: An opportunity for students to check their work with a partner or a group. Peer checking can build student confidence, and it also allows students to teach each other what they know or to articulate what is still confusing to them.
procedure: The step-by-step instructions of a stage, which may include predictions of what teachers and students will say and do during the stage.
scaffolding: Breaking down a complicated process and providing students with smaller, more manageable steps that will allow them to approach more difficult tasks. A well-scaffolded research paper assignment might include an annotated bibliography, an outline, a peer review, a conference, and a few drafts rather than just the paper itself.
stage: One step within a lesson shape.
think / pair / share: A common active learning technique in which students first work on a problem individually (think), then share what they’ve done with a partner or a group (pair), and then ask questions or give insights to the whole class (share).
whole class feedback: Generally at the end of a stage, this is a moment when the whole class discusses what they’ve learned and what was confusing about the task they’ve just completed.
1The design of these lesson shapes, stages, and aims has been adapted from Cambridge University’s Certificate of English Language Teaching to Speakers of Other Languages.