The old HCT blog

Well, they’ve taken down the blog I did at HCT, so I had to copy/paste everything here. I’ll probably be enhancing this page when I get the time, like, when? Who knows? Enjoy for now, and suggestions on editing and organizing this is appreciated. Will have to update graphics, and missing graphics, because I’m sure something’s missing somewhere.

How to enhance the learning experience as we transition to online delivery?

A concern when transitioning from face-to-face to online delivery, which is driven by campus closures, is that the required speed of transition may negatively impact the learning experience. This is due to faculty needing to re-think their learning activities and to upskill themselves to succeed in an online model. This adjustment takes time.

However, delivery needs to start now.

One effective strategy to tackle this is the “one-minute essay” activity. This provides a rich, learner-centered experience, without re-designing sessions. From an institutional perspective, the onboarding for staff at scale is quick.

The approach is to do the following:

  • Provide a stimulus question
  • Allow two minutes to think about it
  • Give the learners one minute to respond in the chat area.

When used as a closure activity, it helps learners to consolidate the information; when used as a mid-session activity, it helps regain the focus of the topic.

Prompt questions can include:

  • What are the two most significant (useful, meaningful, surprising, disturbing) things you have learned during this session?
  • How can I help you learn the concept that is giving you the most trouble / this is the most challenging for you?
  • What did we discuss today?

Using breakout rooms with groups

Doing group work is of great benefit to you and your learners. It keeps everyone active on a task. It promotes team building and learning roles. Maybe most importantly, it gives you the chance to focus on a smaller group of learners and engage them in formative feedback, discussion, and coaching, depending on the task you are working on with them. This role will also help them later when they are asked to give peer feedback or coaching. How you decide to work with groups usually depends on your learning outcome for the task or activity, and a little imagination with your digital tools at hand.

Both Collaborate Ultra and Zoom have something called the “Breakout Room” feature. This will digitally divide your learners into groups. We’ll come back to applying the Breakout Room feature with some quick ideas.

Let’s look first at how you might set up groups in a physical classroom, by looking at this chart below.

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There are a minimum of five effective groupings in a physical class, with one grouping having four variations. Let’s assume you have a class of 24 learners:

  • Ones – Obviously this would entail breaking your students into 24 groups of one. Individuals need time to think, so having them work by themselves is beneficial for many reasons.
  • Pairs – Making 12 groups of two allows for intimate talk about topics. Learners share their ideas or thoughts with just one partner. This gets a minimum of 12 people talking at a time as they process the content you want work with. Variations on pairs include…
    • Onion – Three learners stand back to back in a kind of triangle, (the blue circles) and their speaking partners stand opposite them. This is a cluster of six, so in a class of 24 you can have four of these clusters. 12 people at a time are talking. In a classroom, you might have the outer circle move after a couple of minutes talking with their partner so that pair work is done with more than one person.
    • Starfish – Same as the Onion, but you have six learners standing back to back in a hexagon, again with their partners standing opposite. 12 people are talking.
    • Ladder – Learners stand in two longer lines and those in one line are facing their partner in the other line. Again, 12 people are talking. When you’ve had them chatting for a time, you can ask two people at the end of one line to move to the other end of the same line, and everyone else in that line move (either left or right) to fill in the two empty spaces so that everyone has a new partner to talk to.
  • Trios – Leaners cluster in groups of three to talk to each other. That means eight groups, and eight people talking at the same time. The third person can join the conversation or observe and give feedback.
  • Circle – A group of six sits in a circle. This would mean four groups, with four people speaking at once. Everyone in the circle could have a specific role, or it can just be a small group discussion.
  • Whole class – This is what instructors usually do. They have one large group of 24, meaning only ONE person can speak at a time. You might notice after awhile that the shy speakers never participate in this type of configuration, and participation is lowest. Group work is the way to go!

In addition, it’s possible to pair pairs, so that you have groups of four, meaning six people can be speaking at one time. In fact, 24 is a great number in a class. You can divide by 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, and 24. Though there isn’t space for a thorough discussion, experiment with these combinations using the breakout rooms.

I’m going to focus on Zoom’s breakout rooms, as this is what I tend to use most. You can easily create a breakout room and configure it automatically, or manually. I prefer to use the automatic function, as this will randomly distribute your learners. Within one class, you can start a discussion in groups of six, then switch them around into smaller groups of three to add on details to the discussion. Then you can switch back to a larger group of 12, for example, so that the group of 12 comes up with three main points from the topic, then the two groups come back together as the whole class and attempt to negotiate the four most important points out of the six they discussed in an earlier configuration. Zoom makes this almost effortless to do.

One other feature in Zoom is that you can designate your learners as hosts. Hosts have a unique power in the breakout groups: they can move from breakout room to breakout room. You can use this in an activity to assign several of your learners as hosts, and their task to is move through the rooms in order to fulfill a task that you set for them. Perhaps they have to go to each room and try to summarize the discussion they are hearing, or to give peer feedback to a discussion going on in a room, or to assist a breakout room group in the solving of a problem that the instructor has set out, or to coach a presentation that each breakout room is preparing. Or maybe they are judging group presentations. The uses of this feature are limited only by your imagination.

In short: do group work as often as possible, and change things up depending on the task. The Breakout room provides a powerful online tool for this task, and you’ll see learners participating much more if they have a smaller audience / peer group that they are working with.

PLAs #10 – the “Empty Quarter”

Welcome to this series on the Top Ten Participatory Learning Activities (PLAs). Each week, I’ll describe PLAs that are effective to use online. Your use of these PLAs will foster better learning and higher motivation in your learners. Each PLA contains an illustration that contains four elements:

  • The name of the activity.
  • Which one of the four types the activity is (that’s the lightbulb), including,
    • Creative/critical thinking activity (inside the lightbulb, top left – the brain);
    • Small group conversational activity (bottom left – the speech bubbles);
    • Exit activity (given at the end of a lesson, unit, or project) (top right – the exit sign);
    • Timed activity (where learners are under pressure to complete it within minutes) (bottom left – the clock).
  • Whether it’s a Higher or Lower Order Thinking Skills Activity (HOTS or LOTS) (the HOTS/LOTS lever with “the pail”).
  • A suggested grouping to maximize the benefit of the activity (the circles arranged in many ways).

Also, the description will contain suggestions for one or more online tools you can use with the PLA.

#10 – The Empty Quarter (aka Muddiest Point)

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You might be familiar with “The Muddiest Point”, a reflective activity that you do with learners at the end of your class. In that activity, you ask learners to tell you what is not clear about what they’ve done for the day. The idea is that they are “stuck in the mud” on a certain point, and they’ll need your help later pulling out. “The Empty Quarter” is the same activity. I realized that learners in the UAE might not be too familiar with mud. They can, however, easily understand how being stranded in the Empty Quarter requires help from an outside intervention. Same activity, more geographically appropriate name.

Most important thing: Don’t end your class with “Any questions?”. Use the Empty Quarter activity instead, as you’ll get richer formative feedback on your teaching with it.

Name: The Empty Quarter

Activity type: Exit Activity

HOTS: This is a self-reflective activity, if nothing else, so you are asking your learners to analyze themselves.

Grouping: Best with ONES, but if you use it more often, try working in TRIOS for a little more reflective interaction.

Online tool: BbL Discussion, Nearpod’s “Open-ended question”, MSWord Teams document.

PLAs #9 – Mindmaps

Mindmaps are great for outlining content, brainstorming ideas, and making connections for many different concepts. Mindmaps can and should be colorful, reflecting the depth and complexity of linking ideas together. The process is simple:

  • Have learners draw a central image of the concept or topic to be explored. Words can be used, but drawing a concrete version of the topic helps to promote deeper thinking;
  • Each branch that comes off of the central topic should have its own color, for ease of seeing each of the different ideas inside of the map;
  • Each branch should also contain a single word (a very short phrase is acceptable but discouraged), that is a keyword to the thought associated with the branch. Most branches then have small branches, and it is worth varying the thickness of the branches as they connect. The smaller branches are usually examples that support the larger branches, or sub-categories to the larger topic up in the larger branches;
  • Mindmaps that are well done can become the basis of research projects or research papers;
  • A finished mindmap is a rich source of information about how deeply your learners are working inside of their topics, and gives you many opportunities for formative assessment and feedback.

Name: MindMaps

Activity type: Critical / Creative thinking

HOTS: A finished mindmap shows essential elements of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating

Grouping: Best with ONES, but if you use it more often, try working in TRIOS for a little more reflective interaction.

Online tool: For online collaborative mindmaps, try CoggleNearpod’s “Draw-It!” tool, or any embedded whiteboard is a good start. I use Xmind, but that’s almost entirely laptop/desktop based.

PLAs #8 – One Word

One Word is a very simple exit activity. It’s designed to give your learners just a little extra time to process the lesson of the day. It’s also scalable, as it can be used to process a single activity, or a summary after presentations, or a quick reflective nod to a group project. It requires no preparation and no special online tools … as long as the session is a synchronous session, you can make it work. The instruction is simple. Ask your learner to think about everything happened and to summarize their thoughts, feelings, most important take away, funniest moment, most confusing moment….it’s up to you to tell them, but their answer must only be ONE WORD without explanation. The point is for everyone to contribute without rebuttal.

Kahoot! has a word cloud feature that is the perfect implementation for this (see below), so if you do a Kahoot! with your students, try using it so you get a better idea of what your students are thinking.


Name: One Word

Activity type: Exit

HOTS: Learners critically reflect on the events of the activity, class, presentation, project, or unit, and must distill their thinking into a One-Word expression that summarizes it all.

Grouping: Best with ONES in an entire class, but if you use it more often, try working in the CIRCLES so that smaller groups who worked together.

Online toolKahoot! Has a tool that can do this activity that automatically records all responses at once and renders as a word cloud (as seen below). Wordle is another where you can take all of their words and make a word cloud.


PLAs #7 – Exit Ticket

As in PLA #8 – One Word, The Exit Ticket is an activity you do at the end of an activity, lesson, unit, project, presentation, midterm, or course. It’s a way to get students to critically reflect in some way that you decide, but it also pushes every individual to give you a response.

Unlike One Word, though, you allow your students to write a sentence or two, or a bullet point or two to summarise what they are learning. The Exit Ticket must be given to you before the student is allowed to leave the session, though, thus forcing responses from everyone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: your students need to be in constant practice of self-reflection, and writing down a reflection helps to reinforce what they have learned, especially the most salient points. The Exit Ticket can help you adjust your lessons down the road, as it’s also a good example of formative feedback coming from your students about how your lessons are going.

Take advantage of participatory learning activities like this, and use them often, requesting different types of reflections as you go.

Nearpod and Padlet have tools where you can gather individual student responses to any prompt you give them that helps them to self-reflect on what they’ve learned.


Name: Exit Ticket

Activity type: Exit

HOTS: Learners critically reflect on the events of the activity, class, presentation, project, or unit, and must distill their thinking, producing a short summary of some kind.

Grouping: Best with ONES in an entire class, but if you use it more often, try using a breakout room to have them discuss in CIRCLES so that smaller groups who worked together can peer assess before they fill out their Exit Ticket.

Online tool: Try the “open-ended question” tool or the “collaborate” tool in Nearpod. Making a Padlet produces a similar result to the “collaborate” tool in Nearpod. A discussion board in BbL could also work if you want to extend the discussion out more.

PLAs #6 – Brainstorm

Doing a brainstorm should be familiar territory for many faculty. This is a jack-of-all-trades tool that can be used at any time, and is scalable for any length of time, from a single activity, to a way to assess a longer term project. Brainstorming is the emptying of the mind of all ideas around a particular topic or subject. This means some higher order thinking and a lot of interaction between individuals and groups. In the graphic displayed here, this can work in a physical class where students stand in pair work formations, like the starfish or the onion, and this can be easily reproduced through using breakout rooms found in both Zoom and Collaborate Ultra.

There’s a long list of ways to use brainstorming, so here is just a very small sampling:

  • summarizing a chapter reading
  • listing ideas for a project
  • creating class rules for day-to-day classes, teamwork, or any rule that involves multiple people
  • creating self-assessment rubrics
  • making checklists for examining the validity of internet resources

Here’s a sampling of web-based articles on brainstorming detailing many different approaches to it.

Better brainstorming via

19 top brainstorming techniques

How to brainstorm (visualized) from Wikihow


Name: Brainstorm

Activity type: Creative and critical thinking / high student interaction

HOTS: Learners enhance their critical thinking skills by listing as many ideas as they can about a topic, a process, or any variety of things where critical thinking is needed.

Grouping: Best with PAIRS, TRIOS, or CIRCLES of six in an entire class. Try using a breakout room to have them discuss in pairs or extended pairs so that ideas are shared and extended on through multiple conversations. End a session with the entire class voting on the top three to five ideas.

Online toolPadlet produces a similar result to the “collaborate” tool in Nearpod. A discussion board in BbL could also work if you want to extend the discussion out more.

The One-Minute Essay is an easy to implement reflective moment that can be done at pretty much any time you like. Since it’s only a minute long, it could be used at the beginning of a lesson to have learners anticipate what they are about to experience. It could be used directly after a short instructional lecture to have learners review the main points of what they just heard. It could be used at the end of a class or unit, to reflect on most significant learnings. In any case, using One-Minute Essay as a regular routine with your learners will strengthen their ability to construct their awareness of their own metacognitive knowledge, which will lead to higher retention and a heightened sense of intrinsic motivation. All-in-all this is a great activity for summarizing recent content, and should be implemented on a regular basis.

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Name: One-Minute Essay

Activity type: Reflection

HOTS: Learners enhance their critical thinking skills and understanding of metacognitive knowledge.

Grouping: Best with ONES. Let every individual learner get a chance to reflect deeply on what they are learning.

Online tool: Nearpod’s open-ended question is ideal. You could also use a discussion board in your BbL course if you want learners reading and responding to other’s reflections.

PLAs #4 – Think, Pair, Share (TPS)

Think-Pair-Share (TPS) is the Swiss Army Knife of activities.  This can, and should, be used often in your class.

In the first step, because learners need time to process information on their own, you need to allot some time for them to think about your challenge. It can be a one-minute thinking period, or it can be much longer, all depending on what they are thinking about. Given them this quiet time to work on their thinking skills. This takes practice, but if you use TPS often, it will quickly become a routine part of class.

The next step is crucial, and something that you will need to push yourself to do, as most instructors want immediate answers from their learners. Give them time, then, to pair up with someone else, and share their thoughts…whether it’s a single peer, or better, in a small group of three or four. You might have them do this several times in one class period, so they work on refining their responses. This also allows for full class participation at all times, and your have the luxury of joining smaller groups and doing more specialised, just-in-time instruction and formative feedback.

The final step is to do what is most traditional: have learners share what their discussions were about in front of the entire class. This is actually a bit different from the old teacher-student, teacher-student, teacher-student exchange from the days of yore. In the share part, learners are summarising their group discussions, which of course lowers their affective filters. There’s less fear if a learner response is what their group said. They are committed to answers that are shared among several peers.

Your main job at this point is to paraphrase their answers and check with other learners and their groups, to see let them evaluate their peers’ responses.

The illustration here shows many different ways to configure each of the three stages in TPS, and suggests several other variations on the theme. This can and should be one of the most used and reconfigurable participatory learning activities that you can do in your class, and it will yield higher intrinsic motivation, deeper learning responses, and a more reflective student population showing higher order critical thinking and creative skills, which is, of course, what we are all aiming for with our learners.


Name: Think-Pair-Share

Activity type: Discussion after a period of reflection

HOTS: Learners enhance their critical thinking skills, group facilitation skills, and lower their affective filters.

Grouping: Best to start with ONES. Let every individual learner get a chance to reflect deeply on what they are learning before they move on to working with others.

Online tool: Breakout rooms in Zoom or Collaborate Ultra will facilitate this activity, and you can easily randomise the number of participants in each room, and repopulate them quickly and easily.

PLAs #2 – Gallery Walk

Gallery walk is a highly participatory activity that can be used under a range of circumstances, and is especially good to do in a physical classroom setting. However, it’s easy to adapt to an online version using Nearpod’s slide upload feature, or to just convert slides into a single PDF file to download for each participant.

The way I find best is to prepare a series of slides. In my case, with faculty, I made seven slides, each with a quote about Feedback on it. The activity is to give them a task of some kind and look over the gallery of quotes. I usually ask faculty to pick a quote that stands out, and be ready to explain their choice. This gives everyone time to look and reflect over the individual items they are looking at.

In the illustration above, the dots represent your learners. The items, in a physical space, might be taped up to the walls around the classroom. They can move in  any direction while viewing the separate items, in my case, the quotes, and they can take as much or as little time as they like viewing each item and processing it. The task sheet can have any kind of instruction that they need to do in order to complete the task. In the physical space, we do all the interaction standing up next to the item that is most significant for us.

I’ve found the flexibility of this activity to be a great advantage and it’s always led to some pretty spirited, higher order thinking based discussions.

Name: Gallery Walk

Activity type: Discussion based on a variety of items to consider.

HOTS: Learners are evaluating more than anything else. They employ critical thinking as they discuss their selection, and others’.

Grouping: This is a whole class activity, though it might be done as groups from time to time.

Online tool: I use Nearpod’s slide upload feature lets you upload a group of slides together as a scroll. Convert groups of slides together into a single scrollable PDF as an alternative.

PLAs #1 – The KWL (and the KWHLAQ)

My favorite activity of all is the KWLKWL is a graphic organizer used primarily as a pre-assessment and post-assessment tool, that frames the main part of any activity, lesson, unit, project, or term. It inspires critical reflection, creative thinking, curiosity, and a love of learning and research like no other activity. With three simple questions on the organizer, you have a gateway of opportunity to foster intrinsic motivation of learning more than anything.


  • What do I KNOW about [the topic] – this is the K of KWL, and is done as a pre-assessment.
  • What do I WANT to know about [the topic] – this is the W of the KWL, and also part of the pre-assessment.
  • What have I LEARNED about [the topic] – this is the L of the KWL and done at the end of learning as a reflective review.

You can do this on paper, in Nearpod with the Collaboration tool, or, my preference, the Draw It! tool (where I put a .png image as the background and ask students to use the text tool in Draw It! to write fill in their columns). Padlet is also a great tool for the KWL, as you can configure a Padlet page to have the three columns and make it more of a group brainstorm for the KW pieces.

After using the KWL for awhile, you can more easily move into KWL 2.0, or the KWHLAQ. The three additional questions are…

  • HOW will I find out? – This invites research and investigation into learning how to answer the W questions that they’ve developed. This is usually added on later into the pre-assessment activity.
  • What ACTION will I take next? – Here’s where the learning moves on through the end of learning and into actual application of learning. Action is a critical and creative skill that is easily incorporated into project-based or task-based learning approaches. Now that your students have learned something, here are the ways to apply it.
  • What further QUESTIONS do I still have? It’s always imperative to make sure that learning never actually stops, so pushing the Q is vital. This assures further support of intrinsic motivation that is needed to push students toward excellence.

What is brilliant about the KWL is that you can more than likely use any of the other nine activities from this series in many parts of the graphic organizer. If you look carefully at the KWHLAQ graphic embedded inside the KWL graphic, you’ll see a long list of sub-activities you can use with each of the six parts of KWHLAQ, many of which are explained in more detail in this series. These include brainstorming, mindmapping, and TPS.


Activity type: A combination of several activity types including pre-assessment, post-assessment, and summary.

HOTSKWL pretty much utilizes all aspects of Bloom’s Taxonomy, depending on how each of the three sections are done. In the end, this and all graphic organizers tap into higher order thinking more than anything.

Grouping: This is also flexible. Start with the KWL as a class activity, then progress to groups, then to individuals in a TPS mode, where they will then pair up with others, then share back with the entire class.

Online tool: Nearpod and Padlet are your best bet for having everyone participate. I use Nearpod’s DRAW IT feature and upload a KWL organizer as the background with the topic written into the three questions. For Padlet, you might use separate pages for all three parts of the KWL and all six parts of the KWHLAQ. Kahoot! and Quizziz can be used for the L as a review of all things learned while adding a fun twist to reviewing.

PLAs #3 – Check Point (aka “Fist-to-Five”)

Check Point is a variation on something called “Fist-to-Five”. I’ve removed the fist (zero fingers) but you can always add it in if you like. This is also referred to as a “hinge point” activity. This is a simple check-in activity to give your learners a chance to stop and reflect on their metacognitive state, usually with a simple question like “How are you doing?” Of course, you can vary the type of question you ask, but the main point of the activity is to stop and reflect on one’s own state of mind during a lesson.

This can be done any time in the lesson, but works best at the end, as an exit activity, and might help you approach those learners who hold up only a finger or two, so you an offer specialised coaching or guidance as to what to do.

Best of all, no preparation is needed, and can be used often during a course. It’s a great tool that you use regularly and will help your learners lower their fear of saying they don’t understand something.


Name: Check Point

Activity type: Reflection, very brief.

HOTS: Learners do some affective evaluation.

Grouping: This is for every individual learner.

Online tool: I use Nearpod’s polling feature, but you can just have your online learners hold up any number of fingers with their video on, or even use the chat to type in a number.

Three Participatory Learning Activities for Higher Order Thinking Skills (3 HOTS PLAs)

In the TOP 10 PARTICIPATORY LEARNING ACTIVITIES (PLAs) series, I described, in brief, ten configurable and reusable PLAs that you can employ in your practice. Their flexibility in design makes all of them ideal for your expanding toolbox to offer more active learning in your courses, and can also be adapted easily to the online environment.

This post, and another later this month (July 2020), are two more supplemental blog posts, each containing an additional three PLAs that focus more on the Bloom’s Taxonomy (BT) (Bloom, 1956; Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) distinction between the higher order thinking skills (HOTS – apply, analyse, evaluate, create) and the lower order thinking skills (LOTS – remember, understand). Remember to keep in mind that moving from HOTS to LOTS is a continuum,  as represented by the vertical arrow as lever moving up and down as appropriate. Let’s have a look today at three HOTS PLAs.

HOTS 1. Bloom’s Taxonomy of Reflection

This is an activity that overlays a reflective question on each of the six levels of BT. This is best done as an exit activity in your class, and can be done either individually or as a group. In a large class, I’d use the breakout room to make “circles” of six, so that each in the group can be the first to answer each of the six reflective questions posed. Note that each question is aligned with each general idea of the strand it represents, so that the Remember reflective question is very simply “What did I do?”  and call for a simple recollection of what occurred in the class on that particular day. The Create reflective question “What should I do next?” mirrors what the group might collectively decide to do as an action point extending out into the next class, or to the project they might be working on together.

Having your learners do these questions in order from LOTS to HOTS helps them to intuit better the levels of complexity involved in their metacognitive processes. Reflection is a vital part of the learning process, so why not align it to BT and get your learners into the regular practice of deeper learning?

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HOTS 2. The Fishbowl

The fishbowl is an extremely flexible tool that has myriad uses, and it’s always worth experimentation.

This activity divides the class into two groups: the observers and the observees. The observees are “the fish”. In a physical class, you might place the fish in the middle of the room, and have the observers sit in a circle around them.

Participation in this activity is divided. The task is to be carried out by the fish. If it’s a brainstorming activity, only the fish do the brainstorming. If it’s a discussion activity, only the fish do the discussion. If it’s a mind-mapping activity, only the fish do the mind-mapping. In every case, the observers’ participation is guided by the teacher, and can range from giving general observations of the fishes’ behaviour, to watching for specific language or thoughts that the fish produce. The idea is that the observers are the central learners on the outside looking in, and their job is to process what went on when the fish did their activity, and see if it can be generalised out as best habits for whatever habit you want to instill in your learners. In a class on research methodology, for example, the fish might be an interviewer and an interviewee, and the observers are listening for interviewer questions to identify different types of research  questions that can be asked to collect qualitative data. The number of fish varies via the context of the content being learned.

The main target, though, is to make sure the observers watch for patterns to describe during a later whole-class processing of what went on during the fishbowl activity.

HOTS 3 The PMI (Plus-Minus-Interesting) graphic organizer

If you followed the original series, you’ll notice that the PMI (DeBono, 1982) looks similar to the KWL (KWHLAQ). However, the only similarity is the three columns. The PMI functions in a very different way.

Comparing/contrasting is a HOTS analytic routine that should already be a part of your instructional toolbox. DeBono conceived of the third column, the  “I” column, where your learners consider the implications of the thing they are analysing. This of course is a great conversation starter, and contributes to critically analysing just about anything. It is hoped that the subsequent conversations generated in your class about the implications will have a strong positive effect on learners and learning.

As with all graphic organizers, this should start out as a team effort, before you use PMI individually. Once your  learners feel more familiar with looking at a third aspect, this can then be folded into your routine use, and the implications piece can become a reliable springboard to deeper research about any particular topic.

Nearpod’s “Draw-it” tool or Padlet are two good pieces of technology where you can employ this type of graphic organizer.

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Three Participatory Learning Activities for Lower Order Thinking Skills (3 LOTS PLAs)

n the TOP 10 PARTICIPATORY LEARNING ACTIVITIES (PLAs) series, I described, in brief, ten configurable and reusable PLAs that you can employ in your practice. Their flexibility in design makes all of them ideal for your expanding toolbox to offer more active learning in your courses, and can also be adapted easily to the online environment.

This post, and another earlier this month, are two more supplemental blog posts, each containing an additional three PLAs that focus more on the Bloom’s Taxonomy (BT) (Bloom, 1956; Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) distinction between the higher order thinking skills (HOTS – apply, analyse, evaluate, create) and the lower order thinking skills (LOTS – remember, understand). Remember to keep in mind that moving from HOTS to LOTS is a continuum, as represented by the vertical arrow as lever moving up and down as appropriate. Let’s have a look today at three HOTS PLAs.

LOTS 1. Hot Seat

Hot seat puts the pressure on a single learner, yet still involves the rest of the class. If you can imagine this activity in a physical classroom, one student is chosen to sit in the Hot Seat in the center of the classroom, surrounded by classmates. Classmates’ questions and queries are directed to the Hot Seat occupant, who must answer in whatever configuration you decide. Perhaps you are reviewing concepts, giving definitions,  helping to recall information, guessing new vocabulary words related to the topic. The point is, only the person in the hot seat is allowed to give the  answer, while everyone else is tasked with asking the questions. While this sounds stressful for the person in the Hot Seat, it’s actually more fun and involving than you might initially think.

There are many applications. This YouTube video explains using Hot Seat For teaching English as a Second Language,  but what they describe can easily be adapted for most subjects where review of materials and concepts becomes essential.

Resource - PLAs4HOTSnLOTS.004

LOTS 2. The Talking Stick

In many Native American cultures in the Northwestern United States and Western Canada, the Talking Stick is used to control a conversation. Only the person holding the stick may speak. 

This can be recreated in a group to ensure that everyone gets a chance to say something, and that the conversation is done one person at a time. This is a good way to encourage self-regulatory learning to practice the leadership skill of deep listening.

In an online environment, all group members must adhere to giving all other members a chance to speak uninterrupted when discussing new ideas, recalling information, brainstorming  solutions to problems posed, and many other scenarios that you can devise.

HOTS 3. Wordmap

Kahoot! has a tool called “Open-Ended Question” that automatically generates a “word map” of whatever game participants’ input. The most frequent single words appear larger than the other words in the generated product.

The applications for this are many, but the generated map leaves an instant visual to varied responses from students. Words input can be in response to any question that requires memory  recall, so the tool in Kahoot! is ideal for quick review of terms, definitions, or correct spelling, just to name a few of the simpler applications.

Wordle is a web-based solution, and has options to download dedicated software for MacOS and Windows OS.

Resource - PLAs4HOTSnLOTS.006

10 routines for teaching online – #10 Reflection

A long time ago (20 years), in a country far away (Japan), I was an associate professor of communication studies at a brand new university. Most of my colleagues were Japanese, and most were in the hard sciences, including things like robotics and computer programming.

One day, a younger assistant professor came up to me. He said he was new to teaching, and asked what he could do to help his students learn better and smarter. “Is there a magic way to do this?” he queried.

Without hesitation, I said to him: “right now my guess is that you take your two hours of time and you talk the whole time”. He agreed this was his approach. I continued: “in this case, it’s quite easy. Make sure you stop talking after a set period of time. Every 10 minutes should be good. Talk for 10 minutes, then make your students talk to each other for three minutes to discuss what they understood about that 10 minute lecture. See if they have questions from their discussion, and answer their questions.”

Later, he reported back that yes, this small thing raised the energy of the entire class, and students became much more interested in the topic. The class ran more smoothly and motivation stayed high!

You, too, can implement this in many ways in your class, but the important thing is, your students need time to reflect on things. It could be on what you say, it could be what they do in their class. It could be a video they’ve just watched. It could be a short reading passage you’ve given them in class. No matter what it is, give your students time, in class, to process what’s going on before you move too quickly too soon.

This is a new series of tips for teaching online. This series focuses on the small things, in this case, small routines that you can, and should, easily incorporate into your every day instruction online. These routines address student motivationparticipation, and metacognitive training leading to higher order thinking skills that focus on the conceptual and metacognitive knowledge dimensions from Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001).

10 routines for teaching online – #9 A language pause

There are times when you have to work with students and introduce new terminology and new concepts. Sometimes, there are many new items to learn all within the course of a class or two.

Your students can get very easily overwhelmed, not just with the new content, but with the language. Remember, they might not admit it, but, there’s a lot of vocabulary in English that will be challenging for them. First, they are learners, then English as a Second language learners. You need to address this as best you can.

The good news is: there’s a very simple routine you can do to address this.

Every other week, take 15 minutes of class time to pause and have your students reflect about and act on their language ability. Is there vocabulary that they don’t know? Are they having trouble explaining things in English? What strategies are they using to acquire the new vocabulary at an accelerated pace? Do they have an English study partner or do they need one? Are they taking language classes? Are they using apps or the internet to increase their linguistic power?

You could also use the 15 minutes to have students design mini-quizzes for vocabulary recall. Perhaps there is a flashcard database they can use as a group, and add words and their translations or the word defined and used in context.

Whatever you do, it’s worth devoting a small amount of time in your instruction to have students reflect on how they are doing working in English.

Teaching Infographics #1 – 9 tips for teaching online

As faculty at HCT, you are already experts in what’s working best while teaching online.

In this series, I’ll be posting some infographics that I’ve found while traversing the Internet and making some short comments on them.

This first one, 9 tips for teaching online, I found in my facebook account. In fact, there are many teacher’s groups on Facebook, and they post a lot of convenient infographics such as this.

Here’s my quick follow-up comment for each of these tips. Some might seem obvious; others not so obvious.

  1. Do not make students turn on their camera. Obviously this applies especially to female students. They might use cameras in breakout rooms, but you should leave the judgement of camera up to the students. There are many strategies  you can use to assure that,  even with cameras off, students are there and attentive. Do frequent check-ins or polls to assure participation remains active throughout the session.
  2. Do not comment on student surroundings. Student privacy is very important, so keep the policy of respecting their privacy. You’ve probably already noticed some students have younger siblings who move about and interrupt your student during a class. Remind students to mute themselves if this happens often.
  3. Use the mute all feature. Zoom has this feature. Collaborate Ultra (CU) in BbL seems not to have it (please correct me if I’m wrong). Mic feedback will reverberate and build and be very disruptive, so be wary and vigilant, and remind students frequently to toggle on/off their mic if they want to speak.
  4. Create permanent breakout groups. It’s a good idea for routine things, but I would still personally recommend it’s good to mix up groups from time to time. The permanent groups can and should be for bigger projects where several meetings are needed. Unfortunately, neither Zoom nor CU allow you to do this. You have to add students to groups each time you use the feature. However, if I remember correctly, you can configure CU where they can join other groups on their own, so you can ask them to self-sort  and save yourself the time to sort.
  5. Do not lecture / mini-lesson for more than 20 minutes. If you know the website, you know that TED-Talks are limited to 18 minutes, which accounts for research showing adults have an attention span of that length of time. When you can, chunk your talks into small pieces of 18 minutes maximum, and insert some kind of quick and easy reflective activity. After you talk, have students summarize three main points of your talk; have them paraphrase what you said; give them a challenge question and have them work in small groups to process your talk. There are many more approaches to activities you do between your mini-lessons. Check to see what your colleagues do.
  6. Polls and forms are great. The reason I like presenting in Nearpod, during a synchronous session, is that you can easily add in a variety of response tools like Draw it!Collaborate (not to be confused with CU), polling, quizzes. I use the “Check Point” activity a lot for polling.
  7. Let students know what the end goal of each session is. Lesson objectives need to be a part of every lesson, unit, project etc. I absolutely agree that this is vital, and recommend relaying objectives just after you’ve done some kind of bridge-in activity to start your session.
  8. Use the chat. I’ve had many cases where a Nearpod response tool isn’t working for someone on faculty during  my PD sessions. i always ask them first to refresh their browser, then when all else fails to just post their response in the Zoom or CU chat. I then copy/paste it into the Nearpod tool I’m using. The chat always works, and always remember that technology is reliably unreliable.
  9. Put yourself in the shoes of your students. These are new times, and some affordances need to be designed into your synchronous lessons. As noted in #2 above, privacy is important, and knowing your students are more likely in a house full of family members means slower response times in getting work done. Try to establish a policy with students about this, and allow extra time when they request it, as long as they request extensions BEFORE, and not after, due dates of assignments.

10 routines for teaching online – #8 Kahoot! – “Did you know or did you guess?”

Something I started to do recently during my live online sessions with faculty is to stop and give a short quiz about something. As you probably know, I use Nearpod for a lot of my live sessions, but not long ago learned of an interesting routine for using Kahoot! to introduce new topics. I highly recommend this video from the “inventor” of the blind Kahoot!

I designed a blind Kahoot! for my session entitled “Bloom’s Knowledge Dimensions and the Cognitive Domain”, whereby I introduce new material, discuss the concepts, then practice identifying the concepts with faculty. This is done through a series of the ever more interesting gamified multiple choice questions found in Kahoot!. When faculty give answers to the earlier questions, when the concepts are new, I will pause to see who got the answers right or wrong. Then, I ask a simple question: “For those who got this answer right, did you know it or did you guess?” I ask this and hope that faculty will be honest. This is a bit of formative assessment that can help me see that the design of the material is working as intended.

The other thing I’d suggest when using Kahoot! is to ask who got it right and how they know they got it right. This helps you understand how students are working with your material, and shows if they really have learned it through the explanations they give. It’s worth the extra class time, and it’s good if students supply answers for other students to monitor, knowing that they might  be put on the spot in future, when such interactive online quizzes are done.

Kahoot’s website even has a link to a blind kahoot template, so that you can begin to construct one. Just make sure to stop after each question, and see who guessed, or who knew the actual answers and can explain them to some further depth.

10 routines for teaching online – #7 Cooperative learning group roles

Many teachers use online Collaborate Ultra’s breakout rooms feature with students, putting them into groups to work on some task or project. However, think about how you organize those groups.

Extensive research has been done on the efficacy of implementing cooperative learning and how group roles within cooperative learning will work.

Simply stated, when you set a group on a task, each group member should assume some type of additional role inside of the group done while they are working on the task as a group. As you see from this infographic , there are at least 12 roles that can be assigned to students as they work together. You don’t need to assign every role during every group activity. You also should not use the same roles repeatedly. Make sure you vary the roles and make sure students don’t assume the same role every time.

You’ll want to assign these roles the first few times you take this approach. However, as students work through all the roles and become more experienced through several activities, you can start to get them to take ownership of the roles that are most appropriate during latter stages of your course. You want autonomous students who know what role they need to take as group work progresses.

Giving students an additional role also increases their soft skills of leadership, staying on task, staying organized, note taking, and a slew of other practical skills needed that will carry over into the work place once students have graduated.

In short, this is a highly recommended approach that puts the responsibility of doing group work entirely on the students. You should take time to explain why you are doing cooperative learning roles, and have them reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of each role as they experience them.

Infographic accessed from a very interesting part of a larger research study on Enhancing group autonomy found at:

10 routines for teaching online – #6 listen for the lie

Do your students sometimes look bored when you are giving a mini-lecture? Does it feel like you are speaking into the wind from time to time? Do you want to say “Hey! Are you paying attention or what?” There’s a simple routine solution to fix that, and to get your students to be more attentive, especially when there is some positive reinforcement attached to it in the form of getting a few extra credit points toward their grade.

From time to time, before you start a mini-lecture, announce that you’ll be doing the lecture as usual with one twist, and that is that you are going to say something that is a deliberate lie, a piece of misinformation, something you know is not true about your topic. This can be in the form of a wrong calculation, quoting the wrong person, saying the exact opposite of what is true…anything that will stand right out and that your students can jump on to say “Hey teacher! That’s not right!”

Promoting active listening in your class doesn’t have to be a huge labor. You can even trick them by telling them you will say something false, but then don’t say anything false and award extra-extra credit for those who catch you lying about lying!

Small things like this can assure that your online sessions run well, your students stay motivated and on task, and gives you yet another avenue of formative feedback that can help improve the quality and depth of your mini-lectures.

If you DO try this, I would really like to see it in action! Drop me an email and an invite to the online session that you tried this with, as I’d like to enhance this advice at a future date!

During your course, it’s always good to get to know your students. In a class of 24 students, you can do this activity to start your first 50-minute session and end your second 50-minute session. It’s quite simple.

For each of these sessions, one student shows two to three artifacts that are personally important to him or her. They should NOT be related to the topic you are teaching in your class. These artifacts can be objects, photos, certificates or awards, or anything that is personally meaningful to them. In a physical class, it might be things they bring in that they’ve kept in a ‘shoebox’ or a drawer or some storage space that they’ve kept mostly for sentimental value. The idea of showing these things and talking about them humanizes your student, and helps him or her relate to others in the class. Everyone gets to know everyone else a little better, and each student gets five minutes to do this. This is a good bridge-in or summary activity in your BOPPPS-structured class time.

The best way to get this started, of course, is to model it yourself the first time. Your students are interested in you, and here’s your chance to pull away the ‘teacher curtain’ and show that you, too, do ordinary things, and have a life outside of the classroom. Since most faculty are from countries outside of the UAE, this is an ideal activity to teach just a little bit of culture or something about your family from your home country, and is a great advantage to Emerati students who might have little to no exposure to the outside world. Everyone wins!

Teaching infographics #2 – Using video to assess student attention

Like many of you, I have Facebook and LinkedIn account, and I’m a member of a lot of educational groups on these two giant social media platforms. A lot of these groups post some excellent gems of information in the form of infographics.

I particularly like this one because it’s all about respecting students home situations, and with Covid, faculty are still mostly teaching ‘virtual class meetings’ with students, so a degree of sensitivity to this is needed. I think these are some basic tips, but very necessary things to think about as you move about your teaching routine and as you work with your students.

What do you think about this infographic? Is there anything you do differently when working with students online? What have you found to work well? What are you sure doesn’t work well. Please share your ideas with your colleagues as you look together at this infographic.

10 routines for teaching online – #4 Talk types

The idea of ‘talk types’ is loosely related to Cooperative learning group roles, though the functions described in ‘talk types’ are less based on leadership skills, and more based on communication skills: both of which are vital in any workforce.

There are six talk types that your students can use as a supplement to their cooperative learning roles. You might work it so that a group role and a talk type are randomly assigned for all tasks or activities (try this link – the Wheel of Names! you can customize your own!), so that all students get a chance to try out the role/type and then take some time to do some reflection on the experience.

Here’s a brief description of each of these six talk types that you can use with your students.

Instigator – The instigator starts things off, using open-ended general questions, like “what do you think about…” “do you have an opinion of…”, “where do you think the best place we should start today?” or even “shall we move on to another topic?” This person drives the conversation, and should especially be ready to move to something new when the old topic of conversation and interaction begins to die down.

Builder / improvisor – This type is someone who initiates broadening the current topic in some way, encouraging people to seek new angles or add new information to what is being discussed. “previously we said…” is a typical utterance for this type, as it seeks to reinforce what has already transpired, while encouraging innovation on ideas already put forward.

Challenger – This type is what is usually known as ‘the Devil’s Advocate’, always taking a contrary position to the basic beliefs and assumed shared agreement of all members on a learning team. “Yes, but…” or even “No” are two popular catch phrases of the challenger. Team members will need to work on critical thinking skills to refute the challenger at all times.

Clarifier – If you watch any televised sport, you know there are usually two announcers: one pretty much tells you what is happening in the game, including who has the ball, where they are going, if they pass the ball, if someone scores. The other person, this is the type we are focusing on, is the person who provides background: maybe more information about player, some interesting statistics about the player or the team or the place the game is being played, or the stadium it’s being played in or the country it’s being played in. This ‘color commentator’ we can call the Clarifier, and it is his or her type to add information, make connections, or give more background to the ideas being discussed in the group.

Prober – The difference between the prober and the builder/improviser is that the proper is looking for justification of ideas, whereas the builder /improviser is looking for expansion of ideas. Both are necessary to tease out an idea to its fullest extent, with the prober a kind of quality control / coach / mentor role.

Summariser – The role does a lot of listening, note taking, idea organizing, paraphrasing, and generally making sure the learning group is clear on their ideas, problems posed, solutions offered. This role rephrases, and attempts to make further connections in relation to the task at hand.

Give these try with your students. Give them a chance to reflect on trying out these talk types. Have them suggest other possible cooperative group roles or talk types. Make sure you aren’t just tossing your students together in a group and something meaningful will  happen. They need to critically examine their roles and functions within a group, so that they work toward true collaboration and creation. Getting students to work on such interpersonal and communication skills, I think, is our main mission as educators.

Teaching infographics #2 – VOCAL: Traits of a Successful Online Teacher

This graphic is a quick guide for some common sense approaches to teaching online. The graphic comes from this post, which has a short discussion attached to it with a few more leads toward better practice in teaching online. It’s worth the quick visit.