Longer Activities

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Initial Publication Date: January 11, 2007

Longer interactive activities might take 15 minutes to an entire class period and are useful in engaging students in a lecture-based course. Such activities typically require time for the instructor to develop the materials and plan the activity, but once this investment is made the first time, it usually requires less preparation time in subsequent semesters. Extended activities are useful for getting students to use higher order thinking skills and tackle more complex problems. Additional time also makes it possible to engage in multi-stage cooperative learning activities that might have multiple learning goals. (link to cooperative learning module.)

Advantages of extended interactive activities

  • A great opportunity for extensive peer instruction
  • An opportunity for students to feel ownership of the material as the work through problems and arrive at their own conclusions
  • An opportunity for the development and use of higher order thinking skills

Types of longer activities you might consider

Longer activities provide an opportunity to have the students work on more complex problems and with data sets and to arrive at conclusions. Such activities include those in which

  • students work in pairs on a set of short actitivities that are sequenced throughout the class period.
  • students work in small groups solve a problem or plot and interpret data.
  • students work first in various small groups each of which is working with one of four data sets (A, B, C, or D), then the students are rearranged into other groups that include one or more members from each of the original four data set groups to share and discuss their results (this structure known as "jigsaw").
  • students interact all at once in an classroom experiment in which each student is an active participant (link to experiments module).
  • students engage in some sort of guided practice assignment or structured problem solving assignments that weaves throughout the entire class period (link to relavent modules)

Steps and tips for using longer activities


In designing activities you will have to make some decisions

  • How to arrange students into groups?
    • have students count off
    • assign groups by letters or numbers given on handout
    • ask students to arrange themselves into groups
  • How to handle the logistics?
    • distributing handouts and/or materials
    • ending group discussions (e.g., flicking lights, raising hands, whistles)
    • collecting written responses
  • What to do for follow-up or closure for the activity?
    • class discussion
    • students turn in handout with responses
    • assign a synthesizing paper or assignment

Examples of Longer Activities

map image from Discovering Plate Boundaries

Discovering Plate Boundaries (more info) , designed by Dale Sawyer at Rice University, is a data-rich activity using four global data maps that requires students to observe and classify data, present their results orally to other students, and results in students discovering the processes that occur at plate boundaries. His website provides detailed information about the activity, including downloadable maps showing earthquake location and depth, location of recent volcanic activity, seafloor ages, or topography and bathymetry, as well as a teacher's guide. Using the jigsaw structure, students work in different groups during the activity. This activity can be done in one or more class periods or a lab session.

For more examples, visit our collection of longer activities.

References and Further Reading

[Tewksbury, 1995] , Specific strategies for using the "jigsaw" technique for working in groups in non-lecture-based courses, Journal of Geological Education, v 43, p 322-326.

Discovering Plate Boundaries (more info) , an activity designed by Dale Sawyer, Rice University, with downloadable maps showing seafloor ages, topography, seismology, volcanology, or plate boundaries and a teacher's guide.
See more examples