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Engage Students in Active Recall

Many students come into classes and believe they are unable to learn. The challenge for many of these students is they are reading chapters or working problem sets but not devoting time to activities that force them to use active recall. Instead, they think that because they have read the material or worked the problem - with the book open - they will remember. This is still a valuable activity but it is not as valuable as active learning.

Active recall is engaged when you try to remember something - everything from when someone asks you what you had for lunch yesterday to taking an exam.

You should encourage students to use active learning and even demonstrate to them how to do so. Here are some common tools that are perfect for active learning - some for both in class and activities to encourage students to use out of class.

Activities for In Class

These activities are ones you can use to demonstrate active learning to students.

See One, Do One, Teach One

In See One, Do One, Teach One - occasionally called SODOTO - students first observe or learn about the skill through reading, watching lectures, or gaining experience through interactive material. The Do One stage encourages students to do the skill on their own. Finally, in the Teach One phase, students pair up or form into small groups and teach each other the skill again. This can bring in a variety of opportunities for students to clarify one another's understanding.

Exit Tickets

This is one of my favorite activities to use in a class. I create a brief quiz to give at the end of each class that encourages students to apply the skills that we practiced or discussed in class that day. I stop class about 5 - 10 minutes early and then give out the quiz. Students complete the quiz and then turn it in to exit the class.

I use exit tickets more for checking understanding than as a true "quiz". My grading policy typically allows students to drop their two or even three lowest exit ticket quizzes or I will allow students to correct exit tickets as a part of homework.

Teach A Lesson

In some classes, it would work well to have students sign up once or twice during the semester to prepare and teach a lesson to the rest of the class. This is an excellent opportunity for students to learn a topic well enough to teach a short lesson on the topic.

Activities for Out of Class

These activities are ones you can use to encourage students to use active learning on their own.


Flashcards are one of the best tools for active learning. You can simply encourage students to create flashcards where appropriate to the learning objectives of your class. You can also provide students with flashcard templates with one side of the flashcard and students fill in the other side of the flashcard.

Encourage use of Cornell Note Taking

Help students study using Cornell Note Taking in class. As the students take notes, encourage them to write sample questions or sample problems in the margin as a cue in the note taking process. Students can use these samples as a way to study through active recall. You could also provide an advance organizer - a pre-filled note template with the samples filled in. Students could fill in their notes opposite these samples.

You can also encourage students to summarize what they've learned at the end of each page of Cornell Notes.

Practice Exams

Provide practice exams to students and encourage them to use them as true practice exams as an opportunity to learn the material better. Or have students create practice tests and trade them with fellow students to use.

Want to Know More

This is an excellent video to assign to your students to learn more about Active Recall.


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