As we look ahead to the fall term, many instructors are planning to deliver in-person courses on campus. With the precautions that need to be taken for COVID-19, it’s important to consider a teaching approach that aims to actively engage learners while complying with evolving public health guidelines. Thoughtful design of in-class activities and clear communication will ensure students are prepared to fully participate in your course.  

Below are some active learning strategies and techniques for effective classroom management that you can consider as you plan for the fall. These strategies and techniques will be updated to reflect the circumstances in Carleton’s classrooms as they relate to evolving public health guidelines. To discuss ideas for your specific course(s), please book a 1-on-1 consultation. 

Practical advice to promote active learning activities in any classroom

Ask all students a question 

  • Use a student response system (e.g., Poll Everywhere) on a regular basis to get all students involved (note: this can also be used for taking attendance). 
  • Get students to raise hand*, give thumbs up/down, number of fingers, one arm/two arms, nodding, stand up/sit down, etc. 
    *You may need to provide an alternative to accommodate students who may have physical limitations. 

Incorporate class discussions/group work  

  • Small groups (e.g., think-pair-share)  
    • Use a shared document to have groups of students work together on a problem (can be done within or outside of class). 
    • Use cue cards to have students share information between themselves. 
    • Use the whiteboard/chalkboard in the classroom and have students bring their own whiteboard marker/chalk (outline in course expectations, syllabus); have 1-2 volunteers per class write on board for peer-led discussions. 
    • For smaller classes, personal whiteboards may be an option, or have students write on paper and swap with peer or slide over to show work. 
  • Large groups  
    • Use a whiteboard (physical board or document projected on slide) 
    • Incorporate instructor-mediated group discussions.   
      • Repeat student questions to ensure clarity; allot extra time for large group discussion.  
    • Use a reflection activity (can also be used for taking attendance) to get students thinking about the content before it is presented in class. 

Tips for classroom management (under current public health guidelines)

Expectations for the classroom

  • What will students need to bring to class to fully participate? How will they engage with you, and how will you engage with them? Communicate expectations clearly and put them somewhere central (i.e., on the syllabus, in the first lecture, in an announcement, etc.) 
    • Go over them in the first class and provide reminders as needed. 
  • Tip: Have students contribute to a classroom code of conduct by working in a shared document in smaller groups, or by working as a larger group to populate a document you share on a slide in class  
    • The document may consider things like how to ask questions, how to use discussion forums, netiquette, staying home when feeling unwell, maintaining six feet from peers, bringing hand sanitizer, etc. 
    • Consider including expectations for everyone involved in the course (e.g., students, teaching assistants, peer leaders, instructors) 

First class checklist  

  • During your first class, go over the tools and activities you will use regularly, allowing students to practice in a no-stakes environment.  
    • Examples may include giving a tour of the course’s Brightspace page, practicing responding to Poll Everywhere questions, engaging in class discussions, working in shared documents, using Zoom (e.g., if using for virtual office hours or other online sessions) 
  • Tip: A brief ‘how-to’ guide for engaging and participating safely in the physical classroom may be useful for students. Consider posting one in Brightspace.

General recommendations 

  • Put instructions for activities on slides, rather than depending on oral instructions alone. 
  • Set a timer to keep track of time for activities (set your own timer or have it facing students during activities).  
  • Set expectations for sanitizing and/or bringing own X or Y to class (e.g., whiteboard marker/chalk), following the guidance for a safe return to campus. 
  • Have students sit in assigned seats to limit exposure to others. 
    • Create spaces for students to interact with their peers online through discussion forums (social café, introductions, themed discussions for socializing, building community), online group work or peer-review activities, etc. 
  • Account for extra time for activities due to mechanics of setting up, physical distancing, sanitizing, etc.  

Additional info and resources:

Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms, Vanderbilt University

Implementing Active Learning When Masked and Social Distancing, Lafayette College

Active Learning while Social Distancing, Saint Louis University

Teaching in a Physically Distanced Classroom, Wake Forest University