Designing Activities

Determining learning experiences for students to develop skills, actively construct knowledge and deepen understanding.

On this page:

Importance of Activities

Activities are the experiences that allow students to achieve learning outcomes. These may consist of readings, lectures, group work, labs or projects to name a few. While situations and learning outcomes are unique, there are best practices that have proven to be more effective across contexts.

Active Learning

Constructivist learning theory emphasizes that students build their own knowledge, rather than passively receive information. Therefore, students learn best when they actively construct knowledge through engaging and relevant activities such as discussion and collaboration. The purpose is not to keep students busy, instead they must actively do and think, connecting their current experiences to prior knowledge. Often, these activities allow students to practice higher order thinking skills. 
Research (Prince, 2004) has shown the following active learning benefits:

·       improves critical thinking skills

·       increases retention and transfer of new information

·       increases motivation

·       improves interpersonal skills

·       decreases course failure

·       provides practice and feedback

For further evidence please see active learning’s effectiveness.


Aligning your activities to your learning outcomes is essential. If you do not choose activities that align, students will be less successful in achieving the learning outcome. For example, imagine you have a course with the learning outcome “Students will think critically about world geography.” What experience would help students practice thinking critically? If you choose only to lecture, students will not have the opportunity to practice thinking critically and improve through feedback. While they may learn to remember geographical features, this misalignment does not offer them the opportunity to build and refine critical thinking skills. Therefore, it is essential to identify the activity’s purpose to ensure it aligns with your learning outcome. Make sure, however, you are not choosing active learning activities if they are a poor fit for your learning outcomes, doing so may cause confusion or overwhelm students. Additionally, start small when choosing and integrating activities.

Choosing Activities

Build in Active Learning

On the teaching methods page you will find student-centered teaching methods that are inherently more active than lecturing.

Often, there are concerns about difficulty of implementing active learning in large courses or with limited support. We address several of these concerns here:

Aligning Activities

The chart below offers a variety of suggested activities that can support learning outcomes.

  1. Activity groupings are a starting point and many can be used in combination and in different categories. For example, small group work may have a discussion component built in.
  2. Activities can be adapted to meet a variety of learning outcomes depending on what students do in the activity. To adapt an activity, first choose your learning outcome, and then choose an activity to help students achieve the learning outcome. To ensure alignment, refer to either Bloom’s Taxonomy or Fink’s Taxonomy to make sure the verb (what students are doing) matches the category your learning outcome is in. For example, a discussion board activity may ask students to create, analyze or explain their understanding of a topic.

Method Grouping

Category Activity

Interactive Lecture

  • Concept maps
  • Demonstrations
  • Guided notes
  • Pair-compare-ask
  • Pause Procedure
  • Polls
  • Retrieval Practice
  • Freewrites
  • Journals
  • Learning logs
  • One-minute paper
  • One-sentence summaries


  • Backchannel discussions
  • Discussion boards
  • Scenario based
  • Socratic seminar
  • Student-generated questions
  • Think-pair-share


Small Group Learning

  • Analyze data sets
  • Case study analysis
  • Fishbowl
  • Jigsaw
  • Process worksheets
  • Strip sequence
  • Think-write-pair share



  • Academic games
  • Community service
  • Debates
  • Field trips
  • Panel discussions
  • Press conference
  • Virtual tours


  • Build a wiki
  • Create a poster session
  • Design a vlog
  • Develop a computer code
  • Record a podcast
  • Write a blog

Further information about these activities is in the Build section of course development.

Choose Your Activities

Use the Couse Design Template to determine the activities that will support your learning outcomes and assessments.

  • Step 1: Using the above resources to identify activities for your course. Make sure to consider:
    • A. The teaching methods you’ve chosen for each learning outcome.
    • B. Your learning outcomes, and whether the activity will support student growth in this outcome. Refer to the verb lists for Bloom’s Taxonomy or Fink’s Taxonomy to ensure alignment.
    • C. Choosing student-centered activities that promote active learning when appropriate.

Next Steps

After choosing your activities, you have now completed the design phase of course development. Next, you will begin building the elements of your course.