Philosophy Active Learning Activities


Card File Setup

library-card-catalogsClick on the card title to reveal information on the activity information. Click again on the card title to compress the activity information. Each card includes information on: activity size,  time,  instructions,  pointers on running that activity as well as topics for which the activity works particularly well, and any additional resources available.  Many of the activities below are commonly discussed in active learning literature, so I have not provided any citations. However, for any activity I have adopted from a paper and/or blog, I have provided the reference. If there are any great activities I do not have, please feel free to forward it to me–I would love to add it to my list!


How to use the activities

Almost all activities can be used in an in-person or online setting. Much like a good lesson, the success of various classroom activities strongly depends on how the instructor sets up the activity. In addition to the importance of providing clear expectations and guidelines for a classroom activity, it is also (and perhaps more) important to take time at the start of the activity to explain why we are doing the activity: What will this activity accomplish? How does the activity connect up with the learning outcomes and skills development? Additionally, it is important to conduct some type of debrief when the activity is complete.


Want more?

The activities below are great ways to get students engaged during just one class. However, there are so many other great ways to get students engaged through activities that run over an entire unit, as an assignment or throughout the semester. If you’re looking for these kinds of activity or assignment ideas, I recommend looking through the list of recent submissions to the journals Teaching Philosophy and AAPT Studies in Pedagogy. These journals publish a lot of really great papers that outline various longer-term activities, assignments, and strategies for teaching philosophy. The Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO) has a whole page dedicated to this kind of toolkit, as does Teaching Philosophy 101. Looking for activities outside of the ‘mainstream’? The Deviant Philosopher is a place to look for specific activities, as is Diversifying Syllabi (the reading guides often also have activity or assignment ideas). I also recommend The Discussion Book: 50 Great Ways to Get People Talking by Stephen D. Brookfield for even more discussion ideas.

New to the concept of Active Learning? I recommend this Module on Active Learning. I helped create this module with others working at Western’s Teaching Support Centre in 2016. Additional online modules on other topics (Assessment, Globalization of Learning, Course Design, How Students Learn, Professional Ethics) can be found here.


Individual Activities • Small Group Activities • Entire Class Activities


Individual Activities

  Size: Individual
 Time: 1-minute (but really up to 5-7 minutes) at the end of a class or assignment

  1. Provide students with a short set of questions (2-4) you would like them to briefly reflect on. Be sure to emphasize responses are to be short.
  2. Each student then records their answers and submits them to you.
  3. As needed, follow up on comments. Be sure to summarize and respond to any important questions or issues that arise in the students’ responses the following class.

Example questions:

  • What was the most important thing you learned during this class? Or, The clearest point of today’s class was:
  • What questions remained unanswered? Or, Something that confused me or I want clarified) was:
  • Summarize the main point of today’s lecture in one sentence.
  • What was the most useful or meaningful thing you learned from this assignment?
  • In your own words, explain the major point in this assignment.
  • Write the question related to this assignment that you would like to have answered in class.
  • How I prepared for class today:
  • What I liked best that helped me learn:
  • What I wish had been discussed during today’s class:
  • Ending your class with short writing assignments is a powerful way to assess the degree to which students understood the presented material. These activities are also a flexible way to acquire candid feedback on the course material or presentation style.
  • This is a great activity to run at the end of a class if you encounter a sticky/high-anxiety discussion topic. It allows students to decompress and reflect on the day.
  • This is a great activity to run upon the completion of an assignment or paper in order to get students to reflect on why they completed the assignment and what they were suppose to learn.
  • Spontaneous writing also promotes confidence in writing quickly, as well as general writing skills.

  Size: Individual, pairs, or small groups
 Time: 10-15 minutes

  1. Students are provided with a question or prompt for which they need to generate ideas, solutions, etc.
  2. Give each student a few post-its, and have them put 1 idea per post-it.
  3. Students then post the post-its on the chalk board. Depending on the question or prompt, it may be useful to have them place the post-its in areas to group them by topic, question, chronologically, etc.
  • This activity is a way for the instructor to get a general sense of questions, concerns, ideas, etc the students may have.
  • It’s also a great way to generate a take-away (the list of questions, ideas, or concerns posted by the students).

  Size: Individual, entire class
 Time: 20-40 minutes

  1. Students are provided with a question or prompt for which they need to generate ideas, solutions, etc. The topic should be rather open-ended. Explain to the students this is an individual, silent activity.
  2. Write the topic(s) or question(s) on the board, provide students with chalk or white board markers, and invite students to come up to the board to write down any information, questions, or ideas that might be relevant.
  3. Students should attempt to address the board talk, but also encourage students to write responses to other answers and responses, or to draw lines between different blocks to text to show connections. Allow 10-20 minutes for this part of the activity.
  4. Bring class back together and review what has been written.
  • This activity promotes communication between students, but through a silent conversation.
  • This activity could be used to assess knowledge before starting a new activity or project (such as a new topic, or even how to write a philosophy paper).
  • It can also be used at the end of a unit to summarize and assess what has been learned.

  Size: Individual, entire class
 Time:1 class

Taken from Shannon Dea (U Waterloo)

  1. Students individually read a short passage of text. When they are done, each student summarizes one point of their choice from the passage in their own words, in writing, on a piece of paper.
  2. The student then passes this piece of paper to someone else. The next person is asked to summarize a different point from the passage in one sentence, but must build on what is already written by beginning their sentence with one of the following phrases:
    • And also…
    • For example…
    • But…
    • And this shows…
    • To put it differently…
  3. Do this for several iterations. When done, have students make one final pass. On this pass, get all of the students to read all of the paragraphs produced in this way. The class can vote on which paragraph is clearest and most accurate.
  • This activity promotes communication between students, through a silent conversation. It is a great, low-stakes way to get students to learn to read and write on something over and over, as well as read very closely.
  • This is a non-speaking exercise, so good for shy students but still active.

Small Group Activities

  Size: Groups of 4
 Time: 1 class

Adopted from: You’re The Teacher.

  1.  All students are provided with a short passage of text that contains an argument. Each student first, individually, writes down what they think the conclusion is, as well as the premises (reasons) given to support it. (Give them ~5 minutes to simulate an exam-like situation).
  2. Students then share their outlines amongst themselves and discuss differences. From this, the group must then come up with a group outline of the argument (one that most, or all, agree on. There may be more than one valid way to outline any single argument). This should then be posted outline onto a predetermined class-wide viewing location. (This part should take about 15-20 minutes).
  3. Once all other groups have posted their argument online, each of the groups will choose the outlines they think is (it may be their own groups’ outline, or another group). Using a service such as PollEverywhere, students are to vote for the best argument (~10 minutes).
  • Coming soon…

  Size: Groups of 3-6
 Time: unrestricted

  1.  Break class into small groups. Each group discusses the topic or question on their own for a few minutes to generate arguments or ideas.
  2. Once time is up, have each small group share one idea or argument with the class. Record ideas or argument on the board.
  • Keep in mind the larger the group, the less opportunity each student will have to participate in thier small group discussion.

  Size: Small Groups (2-4)
 Time: 1 class, or long project

  1. Provide the students with a read-world case for the students to study (something like a news articles, account of a decision or procedure, video, etc.). Alternatively, have students find their own case to examine.
  2. Individually, or in small groups, have students analyze the case using guidelines and a framework provided by you (the instructor).
  3. Have students present their analysis the class, or turn in written answers. If presenting in class, try to facilitate discussion such that students connect case with material in class.
  4. After student analysis has been completed, ensure that the group has concretely discussed how the case study illustrates application of theoretical or background concepts from course material.
  • This is a great activity for students to work on the practical application of philosophy and philosophical theories. For example, students can come up with pros and cons for two possible options or solutions to a case, utilizing two different moral perspectives on how to solve a moral issue.
  • There are many ways you can run a case study in class. The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science has an amazing breakdown of different approaches to using case studies, as well as a collection of science-based case studies for classroom use.

 Size: Entire class, or small groups, at most 8.
 Time: one class (8 questions can be addressed in a 50-minute class).

Taken from: Prof. David Concepcion and Juli Kathryn Thorson

  1. Each student should be asked to bring a couple questions to class. These can be clarificatory questions, issues they think were left unresolved, or even ideas or positions not yet considered.
  2. Have students arrange themselves in a circle. Alternatively, students can be in small-medium size groups.
  3. One student reads a question aloud. The student to their left then has one minute of uninterrupted time to speak and give their thoughts. This person signals that they are done speaking by saying, “OK, I’m done”.
  4. The next person to the left goes, has one minute of uninterrupted time to speak, and signals they are done by saying, “OK I’m done”. Finally, the third student to the left goes, following the same pattern.
  5. After three people have had a chance to speak, the conversation is opened up to the whole group for two minutes of discussion.
  6. The next student gets to ask a question, and this cycle continues.
  • A benefit of this activity is that it allows students to speak uninterrupted. It also allows the students to work through some of their issues, questions, or concerns with the text together.

  Size: Small Groups (2-4)
 Time: 1 class

  1. Select a ‘”difficult” text or passage. Break it up into 1-2 paragraph sections.
  2. Break students up into groups of 2-4. Give each group of students a different section of the text/passage.
  3. Give the students time (~15 minutes) to read through and discuss their section of the text.
  4. Bring the class back together. Each group (starting with the first part of the text) presents their section to the class.
  5. As students present, the instructor should write/draw on the board, correct and add to, and provide examples as needed in order to help tie the concepts together.
  • This activity can help the students feel like the text is more manageable.
  • This activity also allows for students to practice their communication skills.

  Size: Small Groups (2-4)
 Time: 1 class

  1. In this activity, students provide their peers with feedback on their papers. Have each student bring to class a copy of their draft of their upcoming paper, whatever form it may be in.
  2. Have students swap papers with one to two other students (depending on time available).
  3. Each student then reads another student’s paper and provides them with some form of written feedback (see pointers below) on their current drafts.
  4.  After preparing written comments, students then chat briefly (~5 minutes) with the other student about their paper, in order to provide verbal feedback as well.
  • In this activity it’s important to structure how the students are to respond. Be sure to give them guiding questions such as things to look for in the essay based on the assignment rubric or a form to fill in about the other student’s paper.
  • This activity can also become part of the grade or assignment. When submitting their final version of their paper, have each student, in addition to their final draft also submit the feedback they gave/received, as well as reflections on the revisions they made in light of their peer’s comments.
  • This activity can also help in classes where providing all students with some type of feedback on papers may not be possible due to the number of students in the class.
Additional Resources
  • In a nice short paper by Juli Eflin outlines in more detail another way to run this activity, as well as discusses the benefits of such an activity. See “Improving Student Papers in ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ Courses” in Tziporah Kasachkoff (ed.), Teaching Philosophy: Theoretical Reflections and Practical Suggestions (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

  Size: Groups of 2-6
 Time: unrestricted

  1. Pick a topic that lends itself to the idea of making lists of pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages for some issue (see pointers for suggestions). Break students up into small groups.
  2. Have the groups come up with at least thee points for each side. Additionally, let students know whether they should be putting their lists together in point form or full sentences.
  3. Once students have had time to complete activity, bring the class back together to share and discuss points on each side.
  • Pro/Con Grid ideas coming soon!
  • This activity can help students in developing analytical and evaluative skills. It also requires students to go beyond their initial position and reactions, and come up with points of discussion for the other side of the issue. Finally, it also requires students to weigh the points of competing positions and claims.

  Size: Groups of at most 6 (depending on roles included)
 Time: 1-2 class periods

Adopted from: FacultyFocus.

  1. Prior to the class: Provide students with 4 topic/reading choices, and let students provide preferences on which they would like to discuss. Additionally, have students submit preferences for Reading Circle Roles (see below). Assign students to a topic, and role. In doing the readings for the following class, tell students to read the reading with their role in mind. Also be sure to stress to the students that the success of this activity relies on (1) everyone coming to class having read the reading and (2) everyone participating.
  2. During class, one student in the group is assigned each of the following roles:
    + Discussion Director: Keeps the group on task, helps the group understand the reading, listens intently to the group members, makes sure everyone participates, and is responsible for the group summary notes.
    + Argument Summarizer. Presents a brief, concise summary of the day’s reading, places everything in chronological order, and is able to answer any clarifying questions.
    + Illustrator. Uses details from the text to help group members better understand the reading and selects significant elements that make connections to course themes.
    + Literary Luminary. Selects quotes that are especially significant, descriptive, or controversial; makes an interesting or engaging plan to have group look at particular passages; and is able to explain the significance of passages, or ask questions to help group understand significance of passage.
    + Connector. Makes strong detailed connections cross-textually, historically, and culturally to emphasize or demonstrate how the reading topic applies to contemporary issues. Also engages other group members in making similar connections.
    + Questioner. Uses a mixture of various levels of questions to engage group members and engages with the text on a critical level.
  3. Each circle then makes a 20-minute presentation of one significant aspect of their text in any way they chose (standard presentation, dialogues, interviews, plays, speeches, and debates).
  • This activity can work very well as a way for students to review for an exam, or as a discussion before students need to write a paper. Activity may be more challenging for first-year students, but is an excellent classroom activity for upper-year or smaller classes.
  • If including this activity as part of a graded component, be sure students are given the rubric.

 Size: Small Groups (2-4)
Time: 1 class

  1. Break students up into small groups.
  2. Provide students with a prompt. The prompt can be a targeted question, written passage/text, or argument.
  3. Reach student then responds to the prompt on their own in writing.
  4. Each student then reacts to each of the other group members’ responses. This can be done either verbally, or in writing.
  5. Then, the student replies to each of the reactions to their own response.
  • Be sure clear expectations and structure are provided to the students. (e.g, how long responses/reactions/replies should be, as well as the structure they should take; how this activity will be evaluated; reminders of classroom rules; etc).
  • This is a great activity for online classrooms. If a student is delays in responding/reacting/replying the instructor can give “behind the scene’s nudges.

  Size: small groups (3-4)
 Time: 1 class

  1. Select a text for the groups to annotate. Many philosophy texts can be found online at the Marxists Internet ArchiveProject Gutenberg, and The Internet Classics Archive.
  2. Select a platform on which to preform the social annotation, such as Google DriveeMargins, or ClassroomSalon.
  3. Have at least one student from each group bring a computer to class (ideally, all students would have access to a computer). In small groups have students annotate the text. Encourage them to reply to each others posts as well.
  • Annotation increases memory and learning, as well as improve reading comprehension. This activity allows students to practice the activity of annotating a text, taking notes, and analyzing the text as a group. It can be run during a discussion section, in a class during lecture, or outside of class time as preparation.

 Size: Small Groups (3)
 Time: 1 class, or 3 classes

  1. Break students up into small groups of three
  2. Provide students with an article or reading.
  3. Each of the three students will take on one of the three roles. The student assigned to “Summarize” the argument will go first and provide a purely descriptive account of the article.
  4. Next the student who is assigned the role of “Entertain” will entertain the author’s argument, and provide a strong account for their position, cases in which the author is correct, or their point of view leads to the best results.
  5. Finally, the student assigned to “Challenge” will critique the author’s position.
  • Be sure clear expectations and structure are provided to the students. (e.g, how long summaries/entertainments/challnges should be, as well as the structure they should take; how this activity will be evaluated; reminders of classroom rules; etc).
  • This is a great activity for online classrooms. If a student is delays in summarizing/entertaining/challenging, the instructor can give “behind the scene’s nudges.

  Size: Pairs
 Time: 1 class

h/t to the APA/AAPT Seminar on Teaching and Learning 2014 session from Prof. Stephen Bloch-Schulman. (Activity below designed by me in light of discussion).

  1. Choose a text, either philosophical or from literature, for the students to engage with (approximately two 2-3 paragraphs). Students should not have read the text for this activity already.
  2. The idea in a think aloud is that while one reads a passage of text aloud, they also stop frequently to “think” aloud. Every few sentences the reader stops, and expressed what they are thinking. (This process is awkward and weird for most. Let students know this is OK!)
  3. Inform the students what the point of this activity is (see references and pointers below), and then model this activity very briefly for students with a sample pice of text.
  4. Have students get into pairs, and give each student a text (in the pair, student A gets text 1, and student B gets text 2).
  5. One at a time, each student should preform a “think aloud”. Once student A finishes their text, student B then preforms their think aloud. Give students 15-20 minutes to preform this part of the activity.
  6. Bring the class back together as a group. Go over each of the texts, preforming a think aloud as a class, asking students to contribute what they were thinking about at each point.
  7. Finally, conclude class with a “Meta-moment”: ask students what they thought of the activity, and what they will take away to their next reading. (This can take the form of a 1-minute paper!)
  • This activity helps students develop their ability to read a philosophical text, as well as their ability to explain their (philosophical) thinking process. An analogy I like to use in this activity is comparing it math: Much like a mathematician must show their work when solving an equation, so must a philosopher when explaining their thinking and reasoning process.
Additional Resources

  Size: individual, and pairs
 Time: 1 class

  1. Students individually think about a particular question, scenario, or problem.
  2. Next, have each student pair up to discuss their ideas or answers.
  3. Then bring students together as a large class for discussion.
  • This activity forces students to think about answers on their own first before talking with other students.

Entire Class Activities

  Size: Entire class, divided into 2 groups
 Time: 1 class

  1. Divide class in half either by (1) asking students to seat themselves in the section representing a particular side of the debate, or (2) dividing students in half by where they already happen to be seated.
  2. Assign each half of the class a position on a topic or issue. Give students approximately 15 minutes to prepare an argument for their position. After 15 minutes, have each side share their position.
  3. Following each side providing their “Opening Argument”, each side must then prepare to respond to the opposition’s argument. (Give students approximately 10 minutes). This part requires members of the groups to carefully listen to, and reconstruct the opposition’s argument.
  4. After each side provides their criticisms of the opposition’s position, each group then has the opportunity to respond to the criticisms. (Give students approximately 10 minutes for students to prepare their responses to this as well).
  • This is a great activity for students to work on the practical application of philosophy and philosophical theories. Additionally, this activity models a common structure for student paper assignments to take.

 Size: Entire class
 Time: unrestricted

  1. For this activity, you will need a small group of volunteers to be “in” the “fishbowl” to participate in the activity. The rest of the class are “outside” of the “fishbowl” and observe the activity take place.
  2. Run your activity. See pointers for ideas of activities.
  3. Upon the conclusion of the activity, those “in” and “outside” of the fishbowl debrief about the experiences and observations.
  • Possible fishbowl activities coming soon!

 Size: Entire class
 Time: unrestricted

  1. Give each student an index card. Ask them to write down one question they have from the reading, (for a review session) from class, or a question related to something more specific to your needs.
  2. Students then exchange cards, making sure to make at least 4 passes (or more!) If they get their own card back, it is ok, or, they can just make an extra pass.
  3. Have students get in groups of 3-4. Each student should read their index card, and as a group pick one question they want to address. Students should then discuss possible answers to the question.
  4. After students have had time to discuss, pick a few questions to discuss as a group.
  • This activity can run for just part of the class, or as the basis for an entire class. It works well for all class sizes.
  • Check out the activity “Redistributing Voices / Someone Else’s Problem”. This activity is similar to index card pass, but also prompts students to respond to the questions themselves.

 Size: Entire class or Small Groups
 Time: unrestricted

h/t to Mara Bollard, Dan Hicks, Jacquelyn Maxwell, and Jessey Wright for pointing me towards versions of this activity.


This activity is a version of the index card pass, but focuses on voicing or resolving other people’s concerns. Here are two versions of this activity.

Someone Else’s Problem:

  1. Give each student (or group of students) are given index cards. The class is given a question, and asked to brainstorm possible answers. For example, “What are different ways one could participate in a course?” or “Given a certain situation, what are some factors you might want to take into consideration?”.
  2. The index cards are then exchanged, and students are then asked to take the brainstormed collection of problems from part 1 and try to provide solutions for those problems. For example, “For each way of participating listed on your card, identify one or more ways to assess it”, or “Given the factors you might want to take into consideration, how will that effect the outcome of the situation?”.

Redistributing Voices:

  1.  After watching a video, reading a text, or finishing up discussion about a controversial issue that students may not want to respond aloud to, give each student an index card and ask them to write down a brief reflective thought about the material just covered. For example, invite students to reflect on what they now know that they didn’t know before the unit.
  2. Once everyone has written something down, collect the cards and redistribute them, making sure everyone gets a card written by someone else. Students then take turns reading out what’s on the card they have. Try first to let students speak spontaneously, without calling on people.
  3. After all (or enough) of the cards have been read, debrief quickly about why you did the activity: This activity allows students to express their sometimes quite personal thoughts without having to speak or be identified with them publicly. It gives everyone an opportunity to speak up, given that everyone has a card in front of them, and it is a way of making vivid that different people’s identities and group membership will affect their experience with/interpretation of the content.
  • For both versions of this activity, one of the most powerful aspects is hearing other’s concerns or thoughts, and reflecting on them. For example, if a topic of reflection has a clear gender component (such as “What do you do to get ready for a late night out”) when male students read and voice the reflections of female students, it can make salient that women experience the same question or topic from a different location in the world (a women might make sure she is not walking home at night alone for safety concerns). Elements such as this may be something that many of the male students hadn’t fully realized before.

 Size: Entire class
 Time: unrestricted

Taken from: Prof. Claudia Card

  1. Obtain a piece of chalk (or whiteboard marker, pen, etc).
  2. In order to speak a person must be holding the piece of chalk, a symbol of power in the classroom. No one besides the person who is holding the chalk may speak, including the instructor.
  3. If a person wishes to speak (again, including the instructor) she must raise her hand and hope that the chalk holder gives her the chalk.
  • This is a particularly great activity for philosophy topics about power relations, as it actually allows students to embody the very topic under discussion. After discussing the topic for the class, be sure to include time to discuss and debrief about the activity itself with the students.

 Size: Entire class, or a group of volunteers in larger class
 Time: 10-40 minutes

  1. Ask the entire group to line up along one wall of the class and then present an issue (e.g. Facebook is an appropriate forum for student-TA interaction).
  2. Tell the class that the right end of the line represents the position ‘yes, I agree completely’ and the left end of the line represents the position ‘no, I completely disagree’. Students should mingle and discuss their opinion on the issue, eventually finding and taking their appropriate position within the continuum.
  3. Once students are in place, take a few moments to discuss why they have chosen the position they have in the various locations in the line-up.
  4. Repeat for a variety of questions.
  • For another version of this activity, tape a circle in the center of the room. Students who agree should stand close to the circle and those who disagree further away. Ask students who are on the extremes (close or far away) and in the middle why they chose that location.
  • For another version of this activity, write on a chalkboard a few positions one could hold, and ask students to stand by the position they agree with the most.
  • This activity is a great tool for highlighting the “shades of gray” in issues. Line-ups allow for interactions and the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions (to figure out your place in line) and to get an idea of the wide range of opinions that may exist about a certain issue.
  • A disadvantage of this activity is that students must make a public stand about their opinion.

 Size: Entire class
 Time: 10-15 minutes

  1. Discussion facilitator starts the Quescussion by asking a question related to the discussion topic, and writes it on the board.
  2. Participants may only respond, or add to the discussion in the form of more questions. Each question is written down on the board. This discussion model is very informal and participants should (take turns) shouting out questions as they think of them.
  3. There are two rules: (1) If someone makes a statement everyone yells “statement!”, and (2) Two other people must speak before a participant can participate again.
  4. Following the Quescussion, the class can then focus on the questions one at a time, or simply leave the ideas bouncing around in students’ heads while moving on to a different activity or lecture.
  • This is a great activity for controversial topics. In getting students to ask questions, you’re getting them to generate a variety of thoughts about the topic without them directly stating their own views. Additionally, with each questions students are likely thinking of answers to the proposed question.
  • This activity also works will with really dense readings, where students ask genuine questions about what the text might mean or be implying. (This works particularly well for literature or more abstract poems).
  • Quescussions are a great way to generate lists of questions people might ask, or questions they want to address in a paper. For use in generating possible paper topics, you can then break students up to draft mini-papers addressing one of the questions.
  • This activity can wander off topic. Additionally, students sometimes find the “Statement!” rule a bit silly.

 Size: Entire class
 Time: unrestricted

  1. Have the class move their desks into a circle so that everyone can see each other.
  2. Discussion facilitator poses a question. Each person, in turn around the circle, provides a comment. If a student does not wish to comment, they may “pass”.
  3. Repeat for a variety of questions.
  • This activity ensures that all students have an opportunity to speak if they wish. However, the question posed cannot be a simple yes/no, and must have several points or issues that can be raised.

 Size: Entire class
 Time: 30-40 minutes, or longer depending on discussion

  1. Present an idea, question, or issue to students. Each student first thinks about the idea/question/issue for one minute, with the goal of generating at least three reactions, comments, answers, etc.
  2. Two students then come together with their lists and try to come up with three things they agree on.
  3. The pairs of students then join with another pair, and try to come up with three things they agree on. Repeat for as many iterations as desired.
  4. Eventually, bring the class together as a group to hear what the students have decided are the three most important issues, questions, ideas, etc.
  • For some issues, it may be difficult to reach consensus on the “three most important issues” (which can be good, or bad depending on the topic).
  • This discussion model can be time-consuming.

 Size: Entire class, divided into four groups
 Time: 1 class

  1. Divide the material you would like to cover into four parts. For example, this could be four papers, four case studies, four theories or positions, etc.
  2. Pre-assign students a number (1, 2, 3, 4). Let students know that 1’s will be responsible for paper/case study/theory #1, 2’s are responsible for #2, etc.
  3. Be sure to provide students guidance or with a set of questions you want them to answer, or task you want them to complete with respect to their assigned part. For example, ask students to be prepared to present a summary of the ethical theory they have been assigned, and what that position might do in the following 2 situations.
  4. During class, create small groups of 4, with each group having a #1, #2, #3, and #4 member. Each member is to be the “expert” for their group on their topic, and to present their information, position, case study, etc to the other group members during the small group discussion.
  • In another version of the Jigsaw, rather than small groups of 4, the class can be divided into 4 groups, with each group being responsible for 1 part. Have each of the four groups answer a set of questions related to their assigned reading or topic. Bring the class together as a group, and have each group present what they have discussed to the rest of the class.
  • The biggest advantage to the Jigsaw is that one person or group is responsible for one component. This allows, in some ways, for more content to be covered, since not all the students will have to read everything. Rather, one student (or one group of students) provides a synthesis to the rest of the group.
  • The activity’s success relies heavily on students coming to class prepared. This is why it is important to provide students with guidance on how to prepare for this activity (such as giving them a set of questions, or study guide).
Additional Resources
  • The Jigsaw was introduced in the 1970s by Elliot Aronson, as a way to reduce hateful behavior and increase cooperation among students. More information about The Jigsaw Classroom can be found online here.
  • A quick Google Search will also bring up several other links to resources and papers on using this technique.

 Size: Entire class
 Time: unrestricted

  1. This activity can work for any larger group discussion on a variety of topics or readings.
  2. One student is asked to start out the discussion with their comment.
  3. Before the next student to contribute, she first needs to summarize what the previous student said, before they can add to or disagree with the previous point. This procedure of summary followed by comment is repeated for as long as facilitator likes.
  • This activity gets students to actively listen to each other, and summarize other student’s positions. They also need to think about how what they want to say adds to the previous comment, or, with what they disagreed.