Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Course Delivery > Active Learning

Strategically replace passive learning (e.g., listening and note taking) with activities that require more thinking (i.e., greater cognitive engagement). Research shows that even short opportunities (as little as two minutes) to discuss challenging points with classmates can improve student learning.

Have students answer a question or complete a short task individually (Think), then compare their answers with a partner and synthesize (Pair) before calling on a subset of pairs to debrief with the entire class (Share). 


  1. In large lectures, use clickers or polls to ask conceptual multiple choice questions. Create the incorrect choices based on common errors or misconceptions. After students respond, invite them to speak to someone beside them. This lets all students participate, even in large classes where it’s impossible to hear from everyone. (Machine Learning)
  2. Ask students to predict how the output of a model would change if a particular assumption was relaxed. (Economics)
  3. From a particular reading, ask students to identify the author’s primary argument and two strongest pieces of supporting evidence from the text. (Any)


  1. Given the short duration of the activity, providing instructions both verbally and visually can minimize confusion and maximize time on task. 
  2. During the Think step, students with different backgrounds and preparation each receive an opportunity to engage before discussion, which can allow everyone to bring something to the discussion. 
  3. During the Pair step, students can hear a variety of perspectives (rather than just the instructor’s).
  4. A Think-Pair-Share allows students to “try out” their ideas first with a partner or small group before speaking in front of the whole class, which can encourage participation and risk taking. 
  5. Clearly signaling any correct answers and the underlying rationale during the Share step can increase student learning.

Students write independently, for 1-5 minutes, in response to an open-ended prompt.


  1. Use daily participation quizzes in Canvas and include a question soliciting the most confusing aspect of today’s class. This helps the instructor see misconceptions and challenges as well as hear from voices that are usually quiet in class. (Biological Sciences)
  2. Ask students to list as many of the principal features of [insert any process here] as they can remember in one minute. (Mechanical Engineering)
  3. Show students a of work of art (e.g., The Hunter, by Joan Miro). Then, ask them to briefly write a response to an analytical question about the work (e.g., Is this surrealist painting a landscape? Why or why not?) (Art)


  1. Minute Papers/Muddiest Points can also be used to evaluate participation, rather than simply counting which students participated and how often. 
  2. These strategies provide all students with both time to formulate their thoughts and opportunities to participate, including students who may be shy or second language learners. 

Many other approaches are possible for in-person, remote, and hybrid teaching across disciplines. 


  1. Concrete strategies for and in-person courses. (Any)
  2. Concrete strategies for remote/hybrid courses. (Any)


  1. Copious research illustrates the benefits of active learning, including increased learning and student persistence and decreased gaps in performance among demographic groups. 
  2. When choosing where to strategically replace passive learning, research suggests prioritizing concepts and skills for which students experience the greatest challenges/struggle.
  3. The details of implementation matter. Active learning may not work optimally on your first attempt. Starting small, then taking time to reflect, adjust, and refine your approach (rather than giving up on the first attempt) can help you decide whether a particular strategy “works”. 



Eberly colleagues are here to help!

Eberly colleagues are available to help you translate strategies and examples to your particular teaching context (