What’s in Your Active Learning Toolbox

Contributed by: Claire Childress, Senior Assistant Director at Virginia Tech Career Services

Edward Weisband, Psci; classroom with students; diversity

“Everyone stand up. I’m going to read 5 items, and then follow the instructions.

  1. If you don’t know what you want to major in or the career you want to pursue, SIT DOWN.
  2. If you want to find a job while you’re in college and get some experience in your career field, SIT DOWN.
  3. If you don’t have a resume, SIT DOWN.
  4. If you haven’t done a lot of interviewing for jobs, SIT DOWN.
  5. If you think you want to go to vet school or some other graduate or professional school, SIT DOWN.

If anyone is still standing, you can leave, because you don’t need to hear what I have to say.”

That last bit usually gets some laughs if some students in the audience are still standing—they don’t really leave.

The above activity is one active learning tool I use to begin a presentation providing an overview of Virginia Tech Career Services to a group. I’ve used this exercise for a number of different kinds of topics and audiences. This method is especially good to use if you’re addressing a group who has been sitting for a while. For example, I used this at a Career Services staff meeting when I was one of the later speakers on the agenda and we were talking about LinkedIn. Getting an audience to stand up for an activity like this gets them recharged and ready to listen to the rest of what you want to share.

There are all kinds of active learning tools to employ in classroom presentations or lectures or in meetings to engage participants and get them talking. With the short attention spans we encounter in university audiences, having a tool box of active learning methods is a must. Below are tools I learned a few years ago in a  university training program for faculty about active learning.


Active Learning Tool Box:

Think-Pair-Share: Begin with a response card (an index card) where you have each participant take a few minutes to write a response to a question. Then, have students pair up and discuss their responses. Finally, open up the discussion for the group to share ideas together. This activity is great for large lecture classes as well as smaller ones. I’ve used this in our career class to talk about the difference between a job vs. a career and work vs. Life’s work.

K-W-L: Create a sheet like the one below. In the K column, have the group write what they already KNOW about the topic, such as resume writing. Then in the W column have each student write what they WANT to know or questions they have about resume writing. Then at the end of the class students can write what they LEARNED. As an instructor or presenter if you collect the sheets, you get immediate feedback after your talk. However, I often let students keep their sheets because they end up taking notes on them. If the group has less than 30 members, I have class members introduce themselves and share something they wrote down that they KNOW or WANT to know. I love this tool because it:

  1. Makes the student do a knowledge dump in the KNOW column before you start talking.
  2. Allows the instructor to find out if something a student KNOWS is actually incorrect.
  3. Tailors discussion around questions students have with their WANT to know issues.
  4. Helps students who need time to reflect before they speak have a chance to gather their thoughts.


Entry/Exit Slips: The Entry Slip can pave the way for class discussion on a particular topic where the student turns in a written reply at the start of class. I’ve used this when we’ve had a visiting speaker where the Entry Slip was a requirement for them to write down 2 questions they had for the guest. The Exit Slip is a great way to obtain feedback from a class or group to check for understanding about a particular topic.


The Muddiest Point: A tool to check for understanding, the Muddiest Point gives an instructor immediate feedback about issues that are still unclear for students.


These are just a few of the tools I like to use as I speak to groups or run meetings. What tools do you use to engage your audiences? Let’s share!

Claire Childress, Senior Assistant Director, Career Services AuxiliaryClaire Childress, Virginia Tech Career Services Senior Assistant Director for Job Search and Graduate School Preparation, advises students and leads a team of advisors and a portfolio of services and programs. Prior to over 19 years at Virginia Tech, she worked in distance education and as an adjunct faculty member at New River Community College, as a healthcare marketer and as a banker. A former President of the Virginia Association of Colleges and Employers, Claire currently serves as SoACE Director of Professional Development. She writes regularly for her career advising blog,CareerChassé. Connect with Claire: childrec@vt.edu LinkedIn.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *