According to Bonwell and Eison (1991), active learning instructional strategies include a wide range of activities that share the common elements of “involving students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.” But, in a concrete way, what should the students really be doing? According to Fiorella and Mayer (2016), empirical evidence shows that eight strategies, though it is not an exhaustive list, may help students make sense of the material to be learned.
The students concisely state the main ideas of a lesson in one’s own words. An effective summary goes beyond restating words verbatim from a text or a lesson. It involves selecting information and organizing it in an outline. Summarizing may also provide students with metacognitive benefits as it helps them better assess their level of comprehension.
With this strategy, the students convert printed or spoken text into a spatial arrangement of word and links among them (part of, type of, leads to, characteristics of), including concept maps, knowledge maps and graphic organizers. Mapping strategies may be time-consuming and tedious for some learners. A teacher might want to ask students to fill a partially completed map.
Drawing, by hand or with a computer, allows the students to translate from text to a pictorial representation. This strategy, particularly useful in science instruction, works best when students are given specific directions concerning what to draw and the elements that should be included.
With this strategy, students create mental images that depict the content of a lesson. Imagining works best when the students have sufficient prior knowledge and when the material is not overly complex. Just as for drawing, it is also recommended that the teacher provides directions concerning the elements to be included.
Self-testing involves answering questions about previously learned material. This strategy is most effective when it is followed by corrective feedback. It is a versatile strategy that may be particularly useful as a study aid after exposure to the material, especially when it closely matches the final testing event.
This strategy involves explaining the content of a lesson to oneself during learning. It goes beyond summarizing. Oral or written, self-explaining allows students to search for consistencies and inconsistencies between the newly presented material and their prior knowledge. For better effectiveness, the teacher might give explicit prompting and guidance in how to generate good explanations that involve inference-making and elaboration.
Teaching involves explaining the material with the goal of helping others learn. It involves other factors that contribute to learning such as preparing to teach and interacting with others. However, a teacher should be aware that some students may merely restate the material with minimal elaboration.
Enacting involves engaging the students in movements during learning such as manipulating objects or performing gestures in coordination with the lesson content. In some subjects, concreteness fading can be useful. For example, students use objects (geometric shape, sticks, etc.) at the beginning of instruction and are gradually introduced to more abstract materials (ex.: symbols) to foster transfer.
All the strategies mentioned above work when the students are explicitly trained to use them. The teacher needs to model the strategy, to guide practice, and give feedback. The efficiency of the eight strategies also depends on both the student’s prior knowledge and the nature of the material.
EISON, J. & C. BONWELL. « Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom Washington », D.C.: School of Education and Human Development, George Washington U, 1991 [files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED336049.pdf].
FIORELLA, L. & MAYER, R.E. « Eight Ways to Promote Generative Learning », Educ Psychol Rev (2016) 28: 717. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-015-9348-9