Learning Activities

Learning is promoted when students are actively engaged in the process. Active learning strategies include a wide range of activities designed to allow students to do something with the information they either heard (e.g. lecture, podcast) or read (e.g. textbook, article).  The “active” piece typically includes having students discuss, write, or practice a skill.

Incorporating learning activities throughout your course also provides opportunities for students to assess their understanding of what they are learning and provides both you and your students useful feedback on the teaching-learning process as it is happening. Learning activities are an example of formative assessment that promotes learning with low-stakes or no-stakes grading. The emphasis is not on the grade received, but on the feedback. 

Learning activities enhance classroom teaching and learning by:

  • Providing just-in-time feedback about the teaching-learning process
  • Providing information about student learning with less work than traditional assignments (tests, papers, etc.)
  • Encouraging the view that teaching is an ongoing process of inquiry, experimentation, and reflection
  • Helping students become better monitors of their own learning
  • Helping students feel less anonymous, even in large courses
  • Providing concrete evidence that the instructor cares about learning

Strategy for implementing a learning activity: 

  1. Decide what you want to assess about your students’ learning.
  2. Choose a learning activity (see resources below for ideas) that provides this feedback, is consistent with your teaching style, and can be implemented easily in your class.
  3. Explain the purpose of the activity to students, and then conduct it.
  4. After class, review the results, determine what they tell you about your students’ learning, and decide what changes to make, if any.
  5. Let your students know what you learned from the learning activity and how you will use this information.

When you change from giving students grades to giving them diagnostic comments you are giving them a great gift: your knowledge, ideas and feedback on their  mathematical development. When this is phrased positively with growth mindset messages, students’ learning pathways transform. For example, a teacher might see that a student does not understand how to add fractions, and instead of giving a low
score on an assignment the teacher can highlight and even celebrate the mistakes (Boaler, 2015). 

A Few Learning Activities to Consider


Fink’s Taxonomy of Learning Domain: Application

Think-Pair-Share is a simple and effective collaborative learning strategy that works well in classes of all sizes.  In this strategy, the instructor poses a question or a problem, then provides time for students to think (or write) their ideas about the question/problem individually. This is followed by the students pairing up and sharing their ideas with each other. An additional piece to the “share” is allowing students to report out to the class which can then prompt a whole-class discussion.

Visit the K. Patricia Cross Academy website to view a video tutorial and to access downloadable materials on the Think-Pair-Share

Background Knowledge Probe

Fink’s Taxonomy of Learning Domain: Foundational Knowledge

Before introducing an important new concept, subject, or topic, students respond to questions that will probe their existing knowledge of that concept, subject, or topic. This can be done using clickers, polling apps, index cards, or a non-graded quiz. Analyze the data to identify what concepts students already understand and where knowledge gaps might exist. It is also helpful in identifying misconceptions. This information will guide you in determining how you might address knowledge gaps. 

Visit the K. Patricia Cross Academy website to view a video tutorial and to access downloadable materials on the Background Knowledge Probe.

Test-Taking Teams

Fink’s Taxonomy of Learning Domain: Problem Solving

In Test-Taking Teams, students work in groups to prepare for a quiz or a test. They then take the test, first individually and next as a group. Both the individual and the team scores are used to calculate the grade for the quiz/test, however, you decide what percentage of each version accounts for the final score.

Visit the K. Patricia Cross Academy website to view a video tutorial and to access downloadable materials on Test-Taking Teams

Quotation Commentaries

Fink’s Taxonomy of Learning Domain: Application Learning

Provide students with a quote from an assigned reading, podcast or video and ask them to interpret, share their opinion, or cite evidence to support or maybe counter the statement. This can be done in a variety of ways. Individually or group, during a live class or outside class time (ex: discussion board), … Analyze the student responses to determine how well they are meeting your expectations for this activity. If there are any misconceptions, inaccuracies or confusion, then how you plan to address them.

Visit the K. Patricia Cross Academy website to view a video tutorial and to access downloadable materials on the Background Knowledge Probe.


Visit the K. Patricia Cross Academy Teaching Techniques Video Library to view more video tutorials and access downloadable materials for a variety of learning activities.



Barkley, Elizabeth F., and Claire Howell Major. Learning Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. 2016. (print and electronic version available through CTAL’s library)

Boaler, J.  Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching. 2015. Jossey-Bass/Wiley: Chappaqua, NY.