Teaching approaches: Active learning

From OER in Education

Active learning is any learning in which pupils are engaged in regulating, and taking ownership over, at least some of their learning. That is, it need not be about pupils being physically active, but it should involve them being mentally active! Active learning might involve *inquiry-based learning and *collaboration which involves pupils in the use of subject specific language and higher order thinking, especially:

  1. thinking like a scientist and mathematical thinking;
  2. reasoning, particularly in group work settings involving effective group talk;
  3. visualisation which involves pupils in organising their thoughts, and artefacts (digital or otherwise) to work through problems, and work with other pupils to solve problems and reason together.

Explore the other pages covering these areas for more ideas, and have a look at the lesson ideas and professional development resources below.

Relevant resources

Area Circles, frustums and cylinders revision
Measure the volumes of objects
This resource offer students the opportunity to engage in active learning(ta) - measuring and calculating using large size cylinders and frustums. This lesson brings great opportunity for small group "dialogic teaching(ta)". Open-ended and closed questioning(ta) of students can be used to draw on their existing knowledge and extend their understanding. The teacher provides a practical commentary below.
Astronomy It's full of stars
Using a telescope and considering how those early astronomers may have worked
Astronomy(topic) has been practiced for centuries and doesn't require expensive equipment! This first session aims to train the whole class(ta) to use a telescope and, hopefully, to provide an opportunity to engage in some active learning(ta). The lesson includes some naked-eye observations and describes how modern technology helps scientists know where to look. You can explore the scientific method(ta) and language(ta) at this point, using targeted questioning(ta)/differentiation(ta). Students may be able to engage in an inquiry(ta)-based project around this work, perhaps for homework(ta).
Blogs Digital Reporters at Camp Cardboard
Children using iPads to blog about Cardboard Sculptures
This activity is a cross curricula(subject) activity, involving a collaborative(tool) approach, giving children the opportunity to work together on a blog. Children were encouraged to engage in group talk(ta) and discussion(ta) in the classroom to reflect on the activity they were to report on. The activity furthers e-skills(topic) and e-safety(topic) through the use of whole class(ta) participation. The specific art activity provided a great stimulus for the blogging. Equally, however, this approach could be applied to any event in or out of school. The use of blogging and social media gave the opportunity for children to share their ideas with a wider audience, and also gave opportunities for real-time feedback to their work. The use of hand-held technology also enabled active learning(ta) as the portability of the iPads and iPods allowed them to be used outside the classroom.
CPD Developing Good Explanations
Say that again? Developing good explanations for classroom teaching
This resource explores some characteristics of good explanations (including linking to questioning(ta)), explaining these thoroughly and linking them to pupils' ability to engage in active learning(ta)
CPD Encouraging Pupils to Ask Effective Questions
Getting pupils to do the questioning
This resource describes some methods to encourage pupils themselves to engage in effective questioning(ta) - an active learning(ta) approach which may be useful in whole class(ta) or group work(ta) discussion(ta).
CPD Planning for Inclusion
Planning for inclusion in your classroom
This resource discusses planning(ta) for inclusion(ta), in particular as related to active learning(ta), group talk(ta) and more generally interactive pedagogy.
CPD Using Drama Activities in your Teaching
A lesson by any other name...Using Drama across the curriculum to enhance teaching
This resource highlights some strategies to use drama(ta) activities in the teaching of other subjects. Drama(ta) can provide a useful cross curricula(i) way to prompt active learning(ta) and subsequent discussion(ta) and group talk(ta).
Digital Art Creating Digital Painting using iPads
Children using iPads to create observational drawings of flowers
This activity is a cross-curricular(subject) activity, that gives children to opportunity to work independently on an art activity that also encourages the development of E-skills(topic). This activity encouraged inclusion(ta) as the children's final work was displayed as a collaborative(tool) piece, where all children had the opportunity to make an equal contribution.

In this instance, the children created observational drawings of flowers. However, the subject of the art could change to fit with any topic across the curriculum. The use of hand-held technology could also active learning(ta) as the portability of the iPads and iPods would allow them to be used outside the classroom, thus enabling observational drawings to be made in a range of locations.

Group work Active Engagement
This resource is a longer DfES document on active engagement/active learning(ta) from which some other shorter, more focused, resources are drawn including Using Drama Activities and Using Thinking Skills.
Materials The Material World
Exploring the properties of materials around us.
Designed to encourage active learning(ta), this study module explores the properties of materials from everyday life.
It also involves some simple inquiry(ta) and practical activities using household items.
QR codes Editing Using QR Codes to Engage Children with Learning
QR Hunt.jpg
Children using digital literacy to engage with reading and writing
This lesson idea uses technology to promote active learning(ta) as resources were produced to be located and explored in a public park. The early stage of the activity, involving the creation of the resources by the children, required discussion(ta) involving the whole class(ta). Group talk(ta) was also employed as a strategy, with the children agreeing on a narrative(ta) outline relating to the event. The creation of the online materials encouraged development of e-skills(topic).

The later stages of activity, where the children were looking for clues, required them to ask questions(ta) and to take a collaborative(tool) approach to find a solution, based on the digital texts they found.

Questioning Questioning
Why Question? A unit exploring the use of questioning in your classroom
This resource discusses questioning(ta) and its relationship to engaging reasoning(ta), active learning(ta) and discussion(ta) as well as aspects of planning(ta) such as writing learning objectives(ta).
Video Digital Video in ITE
Student teachers producing digital media
This activity is a cross-curricular(subject) activity, involving a collaborative(tool) approach, giving student teachers the opportunity to work together whilst making digital media in the form of films. The activity furthers e-skills(topic) and also helps to develop discussion relating to e-safety(topic). The topic of location provided the stimulus for the videos. Equally, however, this approach could be applied to any topic or subject in school. The use of video also encouraged active learning(ta), with the students developing their own skills through direct participation in the creation process.