Back to Table of Contents for the On Course I Workshop

Strategies on this page can be used in any course. If a strategy was written for use in a particular course, it may appear there as well.

1. Strategy: Silent Socratic Dialogue

Application: Academic Improvement Program or Any Course

Educator: Tawanya Garrett, Assistant Director, Academic Success Programs, Suffolk University, MA

Implementation: Use the Silent Socratic Dialogue as a way to help students reflect on the topic discussed in class that day. At the end of class, reserve 15 minutes for this activity. On the board, write specific questions that relate to the topic. Have each student choose one question and write an answer. Then they exchange writing with a partner, read, and write a question in response to what they read. This is an effective way to get students to think critically about the material and see that their peers are doing the same.

2. Strategy: Eagles & Hawks and VxE = M

Application: English writing or Any Course

Educator: Charlie Warnberg, Faculty, English (adjunct), Brookhaven College, TX

Implementation: The goal is to help students find greater value in the content/skill of the course and thus increase their inner motivation to learn. Have students write a response to the question “How will learning the content/skill of this course help you in your chosen career?” Pair students and have them decide who is an Eagle and who a Hawk. Partners then share what they have written and take notes on what their partner said. Eagles (or Hawks) fly to another partner and share their ideas and those they have collected from others. After repeating the process four times, begin a whole-group debrief by asking, “What benefits did you or your classmates come up with for mastering the content/skill of this course?” OPTION: Before this activity, have students anonymously rate on a scale of 1-10 the value they see in learning the content/skill of the course. Collect the cards as a pre-assessment. Repeat after the Eagles and Hawks activity, and compare to see if class scores have gone up. Possibly repeat again at the end of the course.

3. Strategy: Affirmation Milling

Application: Student Success or Any Course- Activity Before Forming Groups

Educator: Cindy Nichols, Coordinator of Retention and Student Engagement, Danville Area Community College, IL

Implementation: The purpose here is to help students have successful group learning experiences. Before forming groups, have students brainstorm as a class the different positive attributes they want in their ideal group members; record the list of positive attributes on the board. Have each student choose three of these attributes that most appeal to him/her and write an affirmation on an index card as follows: ” I am a _____, _____, and _____ group member. ” Follow the creation of affirmations with the affirmation milling. Afterwards, in a whole group discussion, explore why they chose the qualities they did and what it would be like to have group members with the qualities they heard in the milling. Students keep their affirmation with them throughout the semester to serve as a reminder that they must first have the qualities of an effective group member before they can ask or expect these same qualities from others.

4. Strategy: Success Teams

Application: Chemistry or Any Course

Educator: Nagash Clark, Faculty, Chemistry, Washtenaw Community College, MI

Implementation: I divided my general chemistry class into success teams. I chose the group members myself. This is a class where historically student performance is all over the place. After I created success teams, the groups sat together, kept each other accountable; and worked on assignments together. They earned bonus points if everyone got a C or above on a test. I have never seen such intra-group and inter-group camaraderie in a class. Attrition was very low, and grades were good. There was significant improvement on everyone’s final assessment compared to the initial assessment that was given at the beginning of the semester (and this was a multiple choice department test–not one that I wrote).

5. Strategy: Language of Responsibility

Application: Developmental Reading & Writing or Any Course about which students have fears.

Educator: Allison Carr, Faculty, Humanities, El Camino College, CA

Implementation: The goal of this activity is to aid students in taking ownership of any reading/writing (or math, public speaking, etc.) fears, concerns or excuses and translate them into Creator language. Early in the course, have students anonymously write any fears they have about the course on index cards and turn them in. Later in the course, introduce students to Victim/Creator Language. Give them an opportunity to practice translating general life Victim Statements into Creator statements. For example, “I never get a raise or a promotion because my boss plays favorites.” When students have an understanding of how to identify Victim language and translate it into Creator statements, give out a handout on which you have typed Victim statements about fears, concerns or excuses that you collected earlier. Model what you want them to do by demonstrating how to translate “I hate reading because it’s boring” into a Creator statement ( “I don’t enjoy reading because I read so slowly. I’m going to practice reading faster without lowering my comprehension.”) Point out that Creator language is characterized by accountability and a plan. Next, have students work individually to translate the Victim statements from the class members into Creator statements. Then, call out a Victim statement and invite volunteers to read their Creator language statement. This allows students to fill in any blanks they have on their own paper. End by discussing the advantages of approaching the course (and life) as a Creator instead of a Victim.

6. Strategy: Class Constitution

Application: Developmental Reading or Any Course.

Educator: Wei Li, Faculty, English, Lone Star College-North Harris, TX

Implementation: Instead of making the course rules myself, I asked my students to come up with their own ideas about a number of common problems such as tardiness, late work, unexcused absences, cell phones, side-talking in class, etc. I asked them to give me suggestions on how to handle those problems by writing down their ideas individually. When they were done, I had them do a “Hand-up/Stand-up ” to exchange and discuss their ideas with each other. Finally, I collected copies of their suggestions, which I compiled and distributed the next day. This approach worked really well because the rules were made by the students themselves; therefore there was very little resistance. For example, when students were late more than 10 minutes, they had to wait until break time to come into the classroom. As a matter of fact, I had the fewest number of tardy students this class in years!

7. Strategy: Silent Socratic Dialogue

Application: Developmental Reading or Any Course with a Reading Assignment

Educator: Sarah K. Thomason, Faculty, English, Roane State Community College, TN

Implementation: Use the Silent Socratic Dialogue to help developmental readers dive more deeply into reading assignments and help some reluctant readers to experience the joy of reading. Give students an essay to read, such as Alex Haley’s “Thank You.” Have students write their initial response to the reading with the clear understanding that another student will be reading their response. As the Silent Socratic Dialogue unfolds, prompt students to ask questions that will encourage their partners to think even more deeply about the reading.

8. Strategy: Menu of Assignments (Self-Motivation-Autonomy)

Application: Religion 101 or Any Course

Educator: Sarah Hadmack, Faculty, Religion, University of Hawaii and Windward Community College, HI

Implementation: When students are asked to write a paper/essay, provide them with three to five options for topics. The autonomy of choice often creates stronger papers since the students are more invested in the topic. Or have the students write on a particular topic but empower them to choose the format and style. They could write on the topic in the form of an interview, poem, eulogy, news article, children’s book, flyer, etc.

9. Strategy: Hand-up/Stand-up & Flashcard Quiz Game

Application: Religion 101 or Any Course with tests

Educator: Sarah Hadmack, Faculty, Religion, University of Hawaii and Windward Community College, HI

Implementation: Each student creates 10 questions on 10 index card as a review for an upcoming quiz/test. The answer is written on the back. Using Hand-up/Stand-up, students pair up. They then present their partner with the question on their card. If the other student answers correctly, the answering student gets the card. Continue doing Hand-up/Stand-up until the allotted time runs out. The student with the most cards wins! Here’s an example of a question card for a religion class: Who is the one god of Zoroastrianism?

10. Strategy: Movers and Shakers

Application: Test review for Religion 101 or Any Course.

Educator: Sarah Hadmack, Faculty, Religion, University of Hawaii and Windward Community College, HI

Implementation: The purpose of this activity is a test/quiz review. For a classroom of 24 students, create 12 index cards with one review question on each card and the answer on the back. Have the students stand in two rows facing one another. Give each student in one of the rows a card with a review question. These are the Shakers. Shakers ask the student directly across from them their question. The students answering the questions are the Movers. After 90 seconds of discussing the question, all Movers step to the right where they are asked another question by a Shaker (the Mover at the end of the line walks to the other end of the line to get a partner). Have the Movers move down the whole line of Shakers. When all the Movers have answered each question, have the students switch roles and repeat the activity. Option: Give the Shakers star stickers and the Movers blank 3×5 index cards. If the Mover answers correctly, the Shaker gives him/her a star sticker. The student with the most stars get +5 points on his/her quiz/test.

11. Strategy: Changing Habits

Application: Nursing or Any Course that gives tests

Educator: No Name Given

Implementation: The purpose of this activity is to help students discover and experience strategies to reduce test anxiety in a high risk environment such as nursing. Give students the “Changing Habits” handout and ask them to fill it out BEFORE the test is given using the following modified sentence stems: “One habit I have that helps my success on tests… One habit I have that hinders my success on tests… One new habit I would benefit from having when taking tests is…” Hold a class discussion for students to exchange what they wrote about habits.

Additionally, because writing has been shown to reduce anxiety, devote a few minutes before the test to have students write about their feelings about the test. After the test, have students discuss new habits they applied to preparing for the test, how they think they did on the test compared with how they initially expected to do on the test, and what habits they will employ before, during, and after the next test.

12. Strategy: Toss a Test

Application: Engineering or Any Course

Educator: No Name Given

Implementation: The purpose of this activity is to help students review homework materials or review for a test. Buy a number of small, soft sponge balls at a craft shop. Have students stand in a circle. Ask a question and then throw a ball to a student. The student with the ball must answer the question correctly in order to keep the ball. If he/she answers incorrectly then he/she must throw the ball to another student to answer. Ask students another question and throw another ball. Student with the most balls at the end wins.

13. Strategy: Success Teams

Application: General Studies (Communication Skills) or Any Course

Educator: Jennifer McIntosh, Faculty, General Studies, Fox Valley Technical College, WI

Implementation: I decided to have students in two of my classes develop Success Teams this semester. My goal was to create interdependence within the class and increase student retention. Once success teams were established, student participation and attitude dramatically changed. They supported each other and reached out to their Success Team members for answers and assistance.  On the first day of class, I introduced the concept. I then facilitated several ice breakers and group activities, so they were able to “get to know” their classmates. I told the class members to take note of other students they may want on their Success Team. I encouraged them to identify classmates they had something in common with and/or classmates they thought would support them.  At our second class meeting, I gave them some time to choose their teams, get together, and introduce themselves. I then had them identify three desired outcomes and three desired experiences. I gave them some examples, but I required that their #1 outcome be to pass the course.  Just as in the On Course I Workshop, I had them create a contract detailing the actions they would take to help each other. I gave the class some examples, and they came up with some interesting original ideas such as:

  • Meet for 10 minutes after each class to discuss the assignment (and yes, they really did do this!)
  • Wear Packer jerseys on speech days
  • Become Facebook friends
  • Meet at Connections for coffee once a month
  • Carpool on snowy days (I had one student offer to pick up his other group members on bad weather days)
  • Call another group member if you have car trouble (So everyone can get to class!!)

I’ve used the Success Teams as groups, too. It is so easy for me just to tell them to discuss a concept with their success team. Overall, students just have more fun when they have others they can count on. I’ve seen them encourage each other to read aloud and present in front of class. It is a lot easier to do something when you have a group of people encouraging and supporting you! This is really been a great experience.

14. Strategy: Silent Socratic Dialogue

Application: For test preparation in any course

Educator: Essie Childers, Faculty, Reading/Education, Blinn College

Implementation: Explain the Silent Socratic Dialogue. Pair students and allow them to choose an important course concept either from a list provided or from the course text’s table of contents. For example, in an On Course student success class, concepts could be: 1) The differences between inner and outer success, 2) Effective note taking, 3) Emotional Intelligence, 4) Neurons and learning or 5) Forks in the road. Each student writes about his or her chosen course concept. Students exchange papers and write a question for their partner to answer. They exchange writings and questions two or three times. The expected outcome of this activity is a self-discovery of facts that students need to study. Allow students to share their responses with the class so they learn about additional course concepts.

15. Strategy: Hawks and Eagles

Application: Child Growth and Development or Any Course

Educator: Karen Malaska, Faculty, School of Education, Montgomery College, MD

Implementation: I use “Hawks and Eagles” regularly in all of my classes to check for understanding. I post chapter review questions/concepts for the students to reflect upon and have them take turns “flying” to a different partner to ask and answer questions and explain concepts. You can have all students discuss one question or concept at a time, give one list of questions and concepts to Hawks and a different list to Eagles, or have one list of questions and concepts from which students can choose to ask/discuss at random. I find that this activity causes students to be more accountable for their own learning as well as learning from each other.

16. Strategy: The Puzzle

Application: Clinical Nursing Course or Any Course Where Students Work in Groups

Educator: Lori Eithun, Nursing Faculty, Mid-State Technical College, WI

Implementation: The puzzle activity can be utilized as an initial activity for groups of students who will be together throughout a multi-week clinical course. Divide the group into two groups, and have each group work to complete a small puzzle. After the activity, have students reflect on what they learned about themselves and about each other in terms of the benefits and challenges that come with working together. In addition, the instructors will have the opportunity to observe the activity and make initial assessments of group members’ personalities and work styles as the clinical period begins.

17. Strategy: Success Team Constitution

Application: Speech Course or Any Course in which Students Give Presentations

Educator: Kelly Kaiser, Faculty, Communications, Mid-State Technical College, WI

Implementation: To help students overcome their fears about giving speeches, create success teams and have them create a “speech day” class constitution. First, in success teams of four or five students, have students discuss their anxieties about giving a speech. Then ask each team to develop five “speech day” rules (e.g., no talking while someone is speaking, cell phones off, no sarcastic comments). Have each group post their suggestions on a poster page or on the board. Compare results and combine similar ideas to create a master list for the “Speech Day Rules” to be honored by each member of the class. Distribute the rules or post them on your online platform.

18. 32-Day Commitment

Application: Human Resources or Any Course

Educator: Mary Schils, Department Chair, Human Resources, Fox Valley Technical College, WI

Implementation: Most of my students are adult learners and have a great deal on their plates. I suspect they have little time to consider their own personal wellbeing, often to their detriment. I ask each student to make a 32-day commitment specific to their own health/wellbeing; no work related commitments allowed!  This commitment helps the students take better care of themselves and enhance their chances for success in college.

19. Eight Choices of Successful Students

Application: Business Technology or Any Course

Educators: Cathy VanEsperen, Sara Williamson, Faculty, Business, Fox Valley Technical College, WI

Implementation: Students in our self-directed lab courses receive a series of emails every 2-3 weeks. The content of the emails includes information about the course AND and a nugget of information or an idea, to reinforce one of the eight choices of successful students. Some examples:

  • Self- management form with an offer to consult with the instructor about how to use the form effectively
  • Timeless wisdom quotes on Life-long Learning
  • Reminder of resources available (Interdependence)

20. Self-Management using the Calendar

Application: Philosophy or Any Course with new terms/vocabulary

Educator: Ida Batltikauskas, Professor of Philosophy, Century College, MN

Implementation: The goal is to help students manage the huge amount of information–especially vocabulary and terms that students need to know in my world religions class. Students write on the calendar the new vocabulary words they want to learn by a specific date (i.e. I will learn “moksha,” “samsara,” and “karma” by October 4th) so that all the words will be learned by the end of the semester. They write review dates with specific information about what they will review each day leading up to the exam. In this way, students will not be ‘cramming’ before the exam and they will be able to learn all the new words/terms they need to know for the test.

21. Strategy: Translating Victim Language to Creator Language

Application: Advising/Counseling or Any Course

Educator: Sandra Barnes, Microbiology Faculty and Pre-Nursing Advisor, Housatonic Community College, CT

Implementation: When meeting with a student who is using victim language to describe a situation or problem, invite the student to choose one victim statement from those you have identified and write it down on an index card. Now have the student fold the card, and on the outside write the creator language translation for that statement. Invite the student to either take the card with them or to post it on a bulletin board space reserved to collect these cards. The bulletin board gives other students the opportunity to see how their peers have been able to master creator language. Next step: Have students come back to write the outcome of their creator action on the card, such as “passed math class” or “got into the nursing program.”

22. Strategy: The Puzzle/Wise Choice Process

Application: Any Course

Educator: Vicky Day, Business/Finance Faculty, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, CN

Implementation: On the first day of class, use the Puzzle activity and have students write about the prompt: How I Did the Puzzle is How I Will Do This Course. Encourage them to consider strengths and challenges in their reflections. As a next step, give students the “Wise Choice Process” in the form of a laminated bookmark. Go over an example using the process, and then ask them to identify an obstacle to success in the course and have them fill in possible answers to the steps on their own (no partner). Invite students to volunteer to share as desired; with no judgment, thank them.

23. Strategy: Professor Roger’s Trial/Success Team Constitution

Application: Any course involving group work

Educator: Tim Magee, Computer Applications Faculty, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, CN

Implementation: The goal is to help student groups avoid common group issues and give them the tools to effectively deal with the issues if they arise. Have the students read the case study. Discuss how the actions of each character negatively impacted the group’s performance. Have the student groups draft “performance contracts” with clauses that address the negative actions discussed earlier. Prompt, if necessary, with key/common issues; i.e., attendance, timeliness, accuracy, bossiness, emotionality, effort, reliability, etc. Have the student group draft consequences that acknowledge the issues mentioned in the performance area along with penalties. All groups commit to honoring these performance guidelines as their success team constitution.

24. Strategy: Learner Centered Toolbox (adaptation)

Application: Leadership and Management or Any Course

Educator: Karen Hitchings, Business Administration Faculty, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, CN

Implementation: At the beginning of the first week, bring in an actual tool box labeled with the course focus; e.g., Principles of Management Tool Box (or whatever your course may be). Explain that everyone has a toolbox they can use in the workplace and in life. The purpose of this course is to add tools to their toolbox. Provide them a handout titled something like “My Principles of Management Toolbox.” During the last class each week, provide students the opportunity to reflect on what they have added to their toolbox that week, including an explanation of the tool and its meaning for them for the workplace. This reflection is submitted to the instructor for feedback, and the tool is added to the toolbox list provided.

25. Strategy: Purpose and Fun as Motivators (Using Videos)

Application: Nanotechnology (Science or Engineering) or Any Course

Educator: Aruna Brennan, Nanotechnology Systems Faculty, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, CN

Implementation: At the beginning of the course, assign students to provide a link to a website/video which makes them excited about learning the discipline of the course. Students should explain the element that provided them motivation. At the beginning of each class thereafter, pick one of the submissions, show the video (all or part depending on time), and have the student who submitted it tell why s/he found it motivating.

26. Strategy: Monthly Calendar and Success Groups

Application: Early Childhood Education or Any Course

Educator: Dede Marshall, Faculty, School of Education, Montgomery College, MD

Implementation: On Day 1 of the course, provide students with a course syllabus and a blank calendar. Homework (worth points) is to fill in the calendar with all assignments from the syllabus. On Day 2, have student work in groups to brainstorm all of the possible obstacles that may cause them not to complete assignments on time. List obstacles on the board and have each student choose his/her biggest obstacle. Then form success groups according to common obstacles. Have each group brainstorm ways to overcome their obstacle and then report out to the whole class to provide new ideas for others. Subsequently, provide groups with 15 minutes of class time weekly to review how they are doing with their obstacles. If appropriate, have groups report to the class on their efforts and their results. Consider giving extra points to members of a Success Team that all turn in all of the assignments.

27. Strategy: Next Actions List

Application: Any Math Course or Any Course Where Students are Likely to feel Overwhelmed by Course Work

Educator: David Hyatt, Faculty, Mathematics, Washtenaw Community College, WI

Implementation: Use the Next Actions List to alleviate the concern students have at the beginning of the semester about the amount of work they need to do for the entire class. Instead of giving them a schedule at the beginning of the semester that shows all of the material that will be covered for the entire course, give them a Next Actions List that contains only the material to be covered in the first month. Repeat this for each month. This way the students know what to expect for each month of class but will not be overwhelmed with the full content of the course.

28. Strategy: Thirty-two Day Commitment

Application: Any Math Course or Any Course

Educator: Jason Davis, Faculty, Mathematics, Washtenaw CC, MI

Implementation: I often have students come to me several weeks in to the semester who are failing the course due to unwise choices such as poor attendance, not completing homework regularly, or poor preparation for tests. When this happens, I create a 32-Day Commitment contract identifying the desired behaviors as well as the possible accommodations, such as forgiving some absences, allowing extra time to complete missed assignments, do test corrections, etc. We both sign the contract to complete the 32-Day Commitment. If at the end of the contract time the student has met the requirements, I provide the accommodations agreed upon in the contract.

29. Strategy: Eagles and Hawks & Use/Adapt

Application: Human Development (Psychology) or Any Course

Educator: Debra Ford, Adjunct Faculty, Guildford College and Davidson County Community College, NC

Implementation: Use Eagles and Hawks as an end-of-class self-assessment and for student-led learning. Give students the following question to ask each other during this activity: “How will you use or adapt what you learned in class today in your personal or professional life?” The more times these exchanges occur the more ideas students receive from each other and the more their own ideas are affirmed, increasing the likelihood that they will be implemented.

30. Strategy: DAPPS Rule

Application: Any Course

Educator: Raechel Soicher, Adj. Faculty, Psychology, Folsom Lake College, CA

Implementation: During the first class period, after reviewing the syllabus, have students identify a topic or assignment from the course which they think will be challenging for them. Students should provide a written explanation of why it will be challenging. Next, have students write their desired outcome(s) for that topic/assignment, using the DAPPS rule. Students should keep this goal in their binder/notebook to track progress and to mark off when achieved! Possible addition: at the end of the semester, have students reflect on the extent to which they achieved the desired outcome and discuss what helped or hindered achievement.

31. Strategy: Late Paper (Case Study), Popcorn Reading, and Language of Responsibility

Application: Second Year Financial Services class or Any Course

Educator: Vicki Dyer, Faculty, School of Business, Nova Scotia Community College, CN

Implementation: The goal of this multi-step activity is to help students understand that they must take responsibility for their own success. First, using Popcorn Reading, have students read “The Late Paper” and have them rank each character for his/her responsibility for Kim’s failing grade in Psychology 101. Next have students form groups according to their first choice. Each group prepares an argument in support of its choice, writing main points on a flip chart page and posting the page on the wall. Each group then presents its argument to the class, with the option for anyone to switch groups at any time. Next, have entire class brainstorm Kim’s possible excuses, recording them on the white board. Create small groups and assign to each group one of the class-generated excuses. Distribute and explain the handout about the Creator/Victim Language; then assign each group to turn their assigned excuse into a Creator statement. Have each group present its translation and solicit feedback from the class. Finally, ask students to share excuses they have used or heard others use in school, at work, or elsewhere. For each excuse, invite the class to translate it into a Creator statement.

32. Strategy: Self-Management Tools & Aha!

Application: Records Management Course

Educator: Fran Kutha, Faculty, Business, Bay College, MI

Implementation: Early in the semester (perhaps on the first day), lead a discussion about students method of self-management and what tool(s) they use to organize their course work. Make available copies of a Monthly Calendar, Next Actions List, and a Tracking Form, and 32-Day Commitment for students to use. For homework due in the next class period, have students explain the personal self-management method they will use to complete all of their course assignments with excellence. (Award points for this assignment.) After each quiz or test, have students write a reflection paper how their self-management approach contributed to (or detracted from) their results on the evaluation. Allow students to change/improve their self-management method any time they realize there is a better way for them to keep track of and complete tasks necessary to do well in the course. At mid-term, have students evaluate their self-management method with a goal of improving it. After reading these homework assignments, invite students who have had an “Aha!” about self-management to present their discoveries to the class.

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