At a Glance


  • STEM
  • Physics

Instructional Level

  • College & CEGEP
  • University


  • Waves, Optics and Modern Physics

Tasks in Workflow

Social Plane(s)

  • Individual
  • Group

Type of Tasks

  • Discussing
  • Solving problems
  • Writing

Technical Details

Class size

  • Small (20-49)
  • Medium (50-99)


  • Single class period (< 90 mins)

Instructional Purpose

  • Consolidation & metacognition


In this activity, reflective writing on waves informs and provides the basis for the instructor’s in-class plan.

Students begin by completing a reading assignment on waves, introducing concepts such as wavelength, phase, and types of waves. As students read, they “free-write” a reflective writing about the concepts they struggle to understand. They should write any problems they encountered or questions they still have after completing the reading. The writing should only be a few paragraphs. The writing is submitted online at least 3 hours before class.

Prior to the class, the instructor reads through a sample of the reflective writings, and imports all of them into a word cloud generator (such as The word cloud gives the instructor an overview of the topics most commonly mentioned, and the sample gives specific and idea of exactly what students are struggling to understand. The instructor annotates a few examples of the reflective writings to use as visual aids in class. These should be anonymized.

In class, students are assigned to groups of 3-6 and told to come up with a “superquestion”, a question related to the reading which none of them can answer. In doing so, they answer each other’s questions. The instructor then leads a class discussion in which the answer to each groups’ super-question is explored.

For the rest of the class, the instructor presents a series of problems (or other tasks) to be completed in groups, chosen based on the reflective writings to cover misconceptions or difficulties the students had. Between each problem, the instructor recaps the material either through discussion or mini-lectures, using the annotated reflective writings when appropriate.

Instructional Objectives

Students will familiarize themselves with introductory topics related to waves.

Workflow & Materials


Activity Workflow

View on CourseFlow

Contributor's Notes

Chris Whittaker

Chris Whittaker

Dawson College, Montreal


The general strategy used here has the benefit of being content independent – though the example used is for waves, this works equally well for any topic.

Reflective writings force the students to read the textbook and solidifies their understanding as they try to identify topics they do not understand. The students come to class with better prior knowledge and deeper prior questions.

Basing the lectures on the reflective writings saves time, as you only cover the topics the students are struggling with. It also allows you to be more targeted in terms of what activities you do.

In an active learning classroom, you have to get students taking risks. That means it must be a safe place to reveal ignorance. This rewards that – don’t take marks off because students don’t understand a topic. This activity also helps students realize either that they they are not the only ones having trouble with a topic or, if they did understand it, they realize that they can help others.


The greatest challenge is maintaining the benefits throughout the whole semester and making sure they are writing these for themselves, not just for you. As soon as they are writing what they think you want to see, the benefit is severely diminished.


You can start with small short problems that tackle just a single part each time, scaffolding them to more complex problems. Be careful in ramping up the difficulty. A good way to do this is by using the Knight student workbook. This bridges the gap between the theory and the problems.

Grading should be based only on whether the writing was completed and on topic, not on their actual understanding (a scale of 0, 1, or 2 is a good way to go, most students should be earning a mark of 2/2). Later you can start marking based on quality, but again marks should never be given based on the student’s understanding.

When doing the superquestions or answering student questions, some instructors like to ask if any other students know the answer. This should not be done, as it discourages students from taking risks when one student gets to be a show-off.

Applied Strategies


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