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Assessment & Learning Activity Glossary


Audience Response Systems

Audience Response Systems (ARS) allow instructors to get immediate feedback from their students using electronic clickers or cell phone technology. Questions or problems are presented to students and they respond using an electronic device. The software collects and aggregates the responses, which can be used for formative assessment.

Example: ARS can be used to stimulate discussion, gauge student understanding on lecture material, or conduct paperless quizzes in class.  Research suggests that while using ARS to break up lectures and make sure students are listening can be helpful, larger gains come from using ARS to inspire discussions between students and encourage complex problem solving. 

Ball Pass

Ball Pass is a simple activity that engages students because it requires the class to be on alert. A large, soft ball is tossed around the room, requiring the person who catches it to answer a question or perform an action based on the day’s lesson.

Example: To activate prior knowledge, a culinary instructor teaching a unit about spices around the world wants students to consider how many spices they are already familiar with. The first student who gets the ball has to name a spice that begins with the letter A. That student passes the ball to another student who has to name a spice that begins with the letter B, and so forth until the class gets to the letter Z. This activity energizes students and gets them thinking about their prior experience with various spices.


A blog is a website that continuously updates content. Blogs connect to social media and provide readers the opportunity to post comments and responses to the blog content. Blogs are an excellent medium for students to communicate original ideas, improve writing skills, and reflect on concepts for a real audience. There are many free blogging platforms including Wordpress, Weebly, Tumblr, and Blogger.

Example:  Composition students are assigned to write about their proposed research topic. They summarize the issue and the research and provide classmates the opportunity to respond to and evaluate their ideas. The blog post can include images, videos, research, and links to social media.


Bookends, or mini-lectures, is a strategy that layers micro-lectures with learning activities for a lively and engaging class. Please note: This can be built into a slide presentation.

  1. Form permanent small groups in lecture who will sit together during class. To randomize the groups, have students select index cards with group names. Then, let students find their groups.
  2. Begin with individual engagement activity.
  3. Lecture for 10-12 minutes.
  4. Pose questions or problems to the group that require deep thinking about course concepts.
  5. Lecture for 10-12 minutes.
  6. Pose another question/problem.
  7. Randomly select individuals from each group to report out.
  8. Provide time for guided reflection such as “What was the muddiest point from today? 

Example: This Bookend (mini-lecture) example comes from an “intro to economics” class. Students are learning basic economic principles of cost and benefits. The Professor wants students to understand that  mastering a few basic economic principles can cast the mundane details of ordinary existence in a sharp new light showing how costs and benefits shape everyday experience.


Brainstorming is a collaborative problem-solving strategy that involves generating possible solutions, establishing criteria by which to evaluate them, and then applying the criteria to select the best solution. Ideas can be generated using either a structured or unstructured method; however, it is important to note that during the brainstorming phase, the focus should be on generating ideas, and not on evaluating them. Evaluating during that period can stifle creativity.

Example: Business students may be asked to design a marketing plan for a new product. Groups can engage in a brainstorming session to discuss the best approach for marketing the product. Students are encouraged to be creative, without evaluating each other’s ideas. Ideas are written down in a shared electronic document or in a place where all students can see. After the brainstorming session, students can begin to evaluate all ideas before deciding on the best marketing plan.

Case Studies

Case studies are extended examples of a person, group or situation that is analyzed in depth for the purpose of learning.

Example: Medical students can learn from analyzing real medical cases and evaluating the care and treatment of the patient. Students can also predict diagnoses and outcomes to test their level of preparedness for the field. Case studies also work well in many other disciplines such as criminal justice, social services, law, human resources, education, and marketing.

Collaborative Assignment

Collaborative assignments involve students working in pairs or small groups to discuss course concepts, or find solutions to problems.

Example: Physics students work in groups to test their understanding of how to use kinematic equations to solve problems involving the one-dimensional motion of objects. Each group is given a separate problem to solve and then explains to the class the steps they used to solve the problem.

Concept Mapping

Concept maps allow students to create a graphical representation of their understanding of concepts and theories, with a strong focus on relationships between different ideas. There are many free, user friendly electronic applications such as, Lucidchart for Google, Coggle, CMap, or MindMaple. Completed electronic concept maps can be downloaded as jpegs and used in documents and slideshows.

Example: Students can create a concept map for a final research paper. They would begin with their thesis in the middle and make connections to their subtopics and supporting evidence. Students who can visualize their arguments are better able to analyze and evaluate their own positions.


This technique explores and analyzes similarities and differences between content including people, places, and things such as ideas, theories, approaches, themes, etc.  

Example: Students in Women’s Studies can work in groups to analyze the similarities and differences between women living in the early 20th and early 21st Centuries. Students can then write an individual, thesis driven, paper comparing and contrasting how women experienced life in each historical period.


Debate is an oral public discussion in which multiple sides use evidence to argue for a position on a selected topic— including supporting a position they may not necessarily agree with. This allows students to view multiple perspectives, new evidence, and challenge their assumptions.

Example: Students in political science may be asked to take a position on various state and local referenda. Students are divided into groups based on referenda and their similar positions on that referenda. Groups are given time to research and develop their arguments before engaging in the public discussion/debate. After the debate students are asked to reflect on other perspectives and their willingness to alter their own perspectives after being confronted with new evidence and arguments.


Students demonstrate to the class or a group how to perform a task. Demonstrations allow students to practice what they are learning and develop a certain level of proficiency.

Example:  Nursing students are learning how to move critically injured patients from a gurney to the hospital bed. Groups of students can take turns practicing the procedure while the class and instructor assess how well each student performs the procedure. Students get an immediate formative assessment and the opportunity to continue to practice the procedure until proficient.

Discussions (Online)

Students engage in classroom material through an online discussion board. This allows students time to learn from each other as they process difficult material, better preparing them for class.  The expectations for participation in online discussions should be made clear before students begin. Forums are created by topic so students can engage in threaded discussions. Online discussions also allow instructors to assess students’ level of understanding and plan classroom activities accordingly.

Example: Students in a Sociology class are assigned a chapter reading about non-verbal communication.  They are then asked to make some specific observations in their day-to-day lives and share their findings on the discussion board, making connections to what they read. They are also asked to respond to two classmates’ posts. This allows students to engage with content before their face-to-face class and be better prepared for in-class discussions.


Drawing is a means of communication as well as a problem solving tool. Drawing can be a way for students to learn new ideas, make new connections, and represent their understanding of course content.

Example: Students in biology class are asked to draw models of lipid bilayers and chromosomes in meiosis. The drawings reflect model-based reasoning and serve as a formative assessment of student learning.

Exit Ticket

Exit tickets require students to respond to a question or apply the objective they learned in class. Students must submit tickets—usually written on paper—before they leave class. Exit tickets help students gage their understanding of course material and serve as a formative assessment tool for the instructor to determine how well student understand the material and where there are gaps. After reviewing the exit tickets, instructors will have a good idea how they need to adjust instruction.

Example: Math students are asked to write down one way they could apply a concept they learned in class in their everyday lives. Students turn in their writing to the instructor as they “exit” the class.

Fish Bowl

Fish Bowl is a method for structuring a type of group participation that encourages peer-to-peer dialogue and active listening, facilitating equal class participation and ensuring that every student contributes to the discussion.

How to:
Arrange the space into a smaller inner circle of 3-4 chairs and a larger outer circle of remaining chairs. The facilitator poses an initial question, and those in the inner circle discuss the question among themselves while all others in the outer circle listen attentively. Participants in the inner circle may choose to leave, at which point anyone in the outside circle is free to take the empty seat in the inner circle and join the conversation.

Example: Students in political science set up a fish bowl with 3 students in the center to discuss the recent election. The small group is asked to discuss the implications of the electoral college while the larger group observes. When a student from the inner circle decides to leave, he/she steps out and someone from the outside steps in to participate in the discussion.

Four Corners

Four Corners is an activity that might be done near the end of the course for students to reflect on their cumulative learning.

How to: Choose four aspects of a topic that your class is currently focusing on. Assign each of these aspects to a corner (or an area) of your room. Present the topic and the four related aspects to the whole group and give the students some "think time." Students can then choose a corner to discuss and document the topic. Representatives from each corner can share what their respective groups discussed.

Example: At the end of a Women’s Studies course students are asked to debrief and reflect on how women have impacted and been impacted by political issues in America. They can select to go to one of the four following topics: Voting Rights, Equal Rights, Employment Rights, or Reproductive/Contraception Rights.  Students can write points on large poster paper as they hold a discussion. If time allows, students can move to another corner. At the end of the activity, students from each group will report out.

Gallery Walk

A Gallery Walk is a great way to get students energized and moving as they explore texts and images that are located around the room. Gallery walks can be a way for students to share their work, analyze images, examine historical artifacts, or respond to written text and quotations.

How to: Instructor sets up stations around the room to display writing and artifacts. Students form groups and move through each station, following the directions for participation. Students might engage in discussion, answer prompts, or perform some other task. Students are engaged in the course content the whole time and guided through important conversations. A Gallery Walk should conclude with a debriefing discussion, writing activity, or assignment that helps students synthesize and reflect on the information they learned.

Example: World History students are studying American and Japanese propaganda during World War 2. The instructor has set up stations throughout the classroom to help students analyze how propaganda served the Allies and the Axis powers Germany and Japan. For example, at one station students are asked to compare and contrast propaganda posters from the United States and from Japan. Another station requires students to read brief newspaper articles and analyzes the work within the context of racism and how it contributed to the tensions and fears of the time. A third station has students examine propaganda posters intended to ease fears and boost morale in Great Britain and the United States.


A topic, chapter, or reading is broken into smaller pieces, and each piece assigned to a different group. Each student in the group works to become an “expert” on their assigned piece. The students are then regrouped so groups include one student from each of the previous groups. Next, each “expert” teaches their piece to the rest of the group. When completed, and the puzzle is put back together, every team member will have learned something about each piece.

Example: Students in literature class are learning about 4 different literary theories. The class is placed in 4 groups of 4; group 1 reads a text about Marxist theory; group 2 reads a text about Feminist theory; group 3 reads a text about Deconstruction, and group 4 reads a text about Traditional theory. The idea is that each group member will understand the text/theory enough to teach it to another group of students. Groups are free take use their own approaches to learn the material;however, they must work to learn the material as a group.

Next, the students form new groups that include one member from each group (a 1,2,3,& 4). Each group member takes turns teaching the theory he/she learned. At the end of the activity, every student in the new group has learned about each of the four theories.


Infographics are tools that help students create a visual representation of their understanding. This give students a medium to synthesise their knowledge and express ideas to others.

Example: Groups are asked to present their final projects to the class by displaying their main points in a visual format. Students use infographic software such as Piktochart, Canvas, or Venngage to visually display their project. The infographics can also be displayed on a slide presentation.

Interactive Lectures

Interactive lectures provide breaks during class to have students participate in activities that let them work directly with the material and apply what they are learning.

Example: During a World War II history lecture, the instructor takes a break after discussing the German Blitzkrieg and has the class try a game of “Red Rover, Red Rover” to illustrate why the Blitzkrieg was so powerful. Students learn a principle in a powerful, physical way and will likely always remember the lesson.

Internet Research and U-M Library Guides

Students can learn from a lot from general Internet search; however, there are times when they will need more in-depth research.The U-M Library provides resources, strategies, and information on conducting research for many different subjects from architecture, dance to technology and most everything in-between. The guides have quick links to blogs, websites, journal articles, videos, support for research writing, style guides, and much more. Visit for the complete list of U-M Library Guides.

Example: Students in African Studies are assigned a research essay due at the end of the semester. Early in the semester they can view the Library Guide for African Studies and write an annotated bibliography about three pieces they find interesting. Students will save time because they won’t have to do all the research themselves, and they will have more time to devote to their selected topics.

Muddiest Point

Students are asked, “What was the muddiest point today?” In other words, where are they having difficulties understanding the course material. Students can write their response on paper or online and/or engage in face-to-face discussion. The feedback allows instructors to assess where and when students are having difficulties with the material, so they can provide further instruction or guidance in those areas.

Example: Nursing students are asked to write about the muddiest point from a lecture on infection control. More than half the students were confused about what they felt were discrepancies in hand washing procedures and protocol. The instructor will probably want to schedule additional time to review hand washing protocol before moving on to the next section.

Multiple Choice and True/False

Asking students multiple choice and true false question can be an effective way to measure how well students understand course concepts. This type of assessment also helps students understand how well they understand the material and what content needs more focus.

Example: Economics students are assigned a multiple choice and true-false quiz on their assigned chapter—Demand and Supply— to encourage reading. Students who prepare for the quiz are better prepared to apply “demand and supply” concepts during an in-class group assignment.

One Minute Paper

Students are asked to write a response to an open question or make a written prediction at any time during class.  Students are usually given 1-2 minutes to complete the paper. One minute papers give students the opportunity to think critically about a topic, organize their own thoughts as they reflect on the day’s learning, and improve their writing skills. Instructors can use the papers as a formative assessment tool to determine how well students understand course concepts.

Example: Students in earth science are asked to write a one minute paper about the most significant, or meaningful, idea they learned about from the lecture/discussion about invasive plants and how it may change the way they interact with the world.

Panel Presentations

A small group of individuals are given time to prepare an argument for a selected topic. The group then publicly (in front of class) discusses different perspectives on the same topic and may also answer questions from a moderator. This allows participants and audience members to think through the various sides of an argument and challenge their assumptions.

Example: A panel  of chemistry students is asked to explore competing theories for a particular topic and prepare an argument for the theory they believe has the most merit. The panel holds a discussion in front of the class in which each student presents evidence and reasoning for why their argument is strongest. Audience members are encouraged to ask questions and challenge the argument.

Peer Review

Peer review gives students the opportunity to evaluate and provide feedback to classmates who are working on the same assignment. Students should have clear guidelines for what they are expect to do and a set of questions and focused tasks to work from. Students often feel they are not qualified to evaluate other students’ work; however, peers understand the assignment and the course content and can provide quality feedback when held accountable.

Example: Students in psychology use guided questions to review each other’s final research papers. The can provide feedback about what information/evidence is missing, potential objections, lack of clarity, originality, and other higher order issues. Time need not be spent on lower level skills such as grammar and punctuation until the paper is sufficiently revised.


A student portfolio is a compilation of academic work and other forms of educational evidence assembled for the purpose of (1) evaluating coursework quality, learning progress, and academic achievement; (2) determining whether students have met learning standards or other academic requirements for courses, grade-level promotion, and graduation; (3) helping students reflect on their academic goals and progress as learners; and (4) creating a lasting archive of academic work products, accomplishments, and other documentation. Advocates of student portfolios argue that compiling, reviewing, and evaluating student work over time can provide a richer, deeper, and more accurate picture of what students have learned and are able to do than more traditional measures—such as standardized tests, quizzes, or final exams—that only measure what students know at a specific point in time.

Problem-based Learning (PBL)

PBL is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem. Students learn both thinking strategies and domain knowledge. The PBL format originated from the medical school of thought, and is now used in other schools of thought too. The goals of PBL are to help students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration skills and intrinsic motivation.Problem-based learning is a style of active learning.

Working in groups, students identify what they already know, what they need to know, and how and where to access new information that may lead to the resolution of the problem. The role of the instructor is to facilitate learning by supporting, guiding, and monitoring the learning process.The tutor must build students' confidence to take on the problem, and encourage the students, while also stretching their understanding. PBL represents a paradigm shift from traditional teaching and learning philosophy, which is more often lecture-based. The constructs for teaching PBL are very different from traditional classroom/lecture teaching.


Assigned reading is an excellent way to introduce students to course content. Students expect to read chapters from their textbook, but it may not be necessary to assign entire chapters. Consider assigning only the sections that will be most relevant to the course. Follow up with study questions—which can often be found at the end of each chapter—to help students think more critically about the content and be better prepared for in-class discussion. Readings can also include current news and journal articles, editorials, and web content such as web sites and blog essays.

Example: Physics students read their textbook chapter on motion, focusing on the section about speed and acceleration. To think about motion in more depth, students read an article titled, “The Motion of the Ocean,” which is about converting the energy of tides into electricity. Students can then discuss whether tidal power could be a reliable producer of energy.

Recorded Lectures

Brief lectures that focus on key concepts can be recorded and published in the learning management system (Canvas). Many classrooms at U-M have lecture recording software that records on demand. Once a lecture is recorded, it can be used over and over in future semesters.  Instructors can also create their own recordings. When students view lectures before class, there will be more time during class for active learning experiences.

Example: Students in human services view a series of lectures about the procedures for handling suspected child abuse cases. This will free up more time during class for active learning. When student arrive to class, they can spend more time working in teams to review case studies and discuss how each case should be handled. The instructor is free to facilitate group work and provide feedback about how well students’ understand the course material.


Students use brief written or audio reflections to track their understanding over time. Reflections can be open, but guidance (in the form of a prompt or question) can be helpful, especially for students who are new to the concept. It can also be helpful to make sure that they are looking back at  their older reflections and referring to them in newer reflections. This improves students’ metacognitive skills, as they become more aware of their own learning process.

Example: Students in a public speaking class create a blog to share their reflections about how they performed on each speech. They reflect on skills such as body language, voice control, content, and professionalism. They also reflect on how their skills have improved throughout the course. Other students in the class who viewed the speech post feedback as well.

Role Play

Role play involves students acting out the role of a person or people who must make decisions about the content they are learning such as policy, ethics, medicine, finances, etc. Instructors observe the role play to gage how well students can apply course content, and students watching the role play can view multiple perspectives and evaluate their own understanding.

Example: History students take the part or perspective of various historical figures during World War II and must interact from their perspective. Each group is assigned specific characters who will discuss one of the course topics. The characters must interact to solve a problem or to resolve a conflict for the character, providing a new perspective through which students can explore or understand an issue, as well as develop skills such as writing, leadership, coordination, collaboration, and research.


Roundtables are informal, orderly discussions in which each person in the “round” has a chance to participate and share ideas. Classmates are encouraged to ask questions.

Example: Students form a circle and take turns discussing their selected topics for their final research project. Group members are encouraged to ask questions and offer different perspectives to help each other better understand what questions the project should address.


Scenarios are hypothetical situations presented to students to assess their ability to apply course concepts and make appropriate decisions.  Scenarios also help students explore uncertainties in the field and make well-thought-out decisions. Students may respond to scenarios in groups, with role play, or in a written response.

Example: Nursing students who are studying the chapter “Communication in Nursing” are given scenarios depicting difficult situations with patients. Students work in groups on different scenarios to determine the best way to handle the situation and preserve quality of care. Groups explain the situation to the class, describe how they would handle it, the reasons behind their approach, and how their decision connects to course material.

Short Answer

Short-answer questions are open-ended questions that require students to create an answer. They are designed to assess basic knowledge and understanding (low cognitive levels) of a topic before more in-depth assessment questions are asked on the topic.

Example: Economics students are assigned a short answer quiz on their assigned chapter—Demand and Supply— to encourage reading. Students who prepare for the quiz are better prepared to apply “demand and supply” concepts during an in-class group assignment.

Socratic Seminar

The Socratic seminar is an open discussion based on an assigned reading. The group leader asks open-ended questions of anyone and students are expected to listen closely, share their ideas, and make comments to other students in the class.

Example: History students who have been studying the CIvil War are assigned to read a text about Reconstruction before Socratic Seminar.  Students are taught and encouraged to annotate the text so they are better able to support their positions. During class discussion, the instructor is free to ask open ended questions about the reading to any student in the class, and the student is expected to cite the text for supporting evidence. Classmates are encouraged to comment and ask follow-up questions to further the discussion.

Speed Dating

Students arrange themselves in two rows so that each person is sitting across from one other person. Students exchange ideas for 3-5 minutes. When time is up, one row moves 1 person to the right and students exchange ideas with their new partners. These exchanges allow students to practice communicating their ideas and get to know their classmates better. It also provides an opportunity for all students to share their ideas.

Example: Students in biology class are developing a research question for their final writing assignment. Pairs will take turns explaining their current position on their selected topic, while the other student will ask questions that challenge the position.

Structured Academic Controversy

Structured academic controversy (discussion) has students engage with different perspectives within a field, therefore, developing better logical arguments. This process provides an opportunity to learn through debate and discussion, creating a more robust and complex understanding, and moves the students away from the “knowledge from authority” view of the subject that is commonly developed by studying from textbooks and lectures. Students will likely need help to learn healthy and productive ways to debate, to determine the strength of resources they find, and understand the merits of taking charge of discussion and learning, instead of having it be driven by the instructor.

Example: Small groups are assigned a particular perspective on a relevant topic in chemistry class. Groups prepare, present and defend their position. After all sides have been heard, groups write a group report that synthesizes the best arguments on each side.


This type of activity first asks students to consider a question on their own, and then provides an opportunity for students to discuss it in pairs, and finally together with the whole class. The success of these activities depend on the nature of the questions posed. This activity works ideally with questions that encourage deeper thinking, problem-solving, and/or critical analysis. The group discussions are critical as they allow students to articulate their thought processes.

Example: Education students are asked to quietly think about the best learning experiences they ever had. Then students are asked to pair and discuss their ideas with another student. Finally, pairs share a few highlights from their discussion.



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