Day 2 – Interactive Activities that can be used in Lectures

Deep and Interactive Learning in Lectures

Written by Glen O’Grady and Frederick Chew, The Australian National University

While collaborative activities can enhance learning it is important that this is not taken for granted, as it is the quality of the collaborative learning that will determine the quality of student learning (Nokes-Malach et. al. 2015). As introduced in Day 1, the question of what makes a lecture ‘interactive’ is quite a complex one, partly because interactivity can be defined as:

By UCL Institute of Education, sourced from Flickr, downloaded 20/03/18y, because interactivity can be broadly defined as the:
  • Activities between the lecturer and the students,
  • Activities between students,
  • Activities that foster deep learning by getting students to interact with the content.

In order for interactions in lectures to foster deep learning , it is necessary that the activities trigger cognitive learning mechanisms – see Day 1 for more detail.

Discussion questions

  1. List some interactive activities you have used in lectures.
  2. How would you rate their effectiveness in terms of fostering deep learning?

Learning Activity

We would like you to explore some new interactive activities that you could use in your lectures, and invite you to select one of the following activities with this in mind:

  1. A list of activities published by a range of Universities
  2. An example of interactive lecture using the Echo360 Active Learning Platform (ALP)
  3. Interactive lectures by the renowned Professor Eric Mazur

1. Interactive Activities Promoted by Universities

Teaching and Learning Units in various Universities around the world have suggested various interactive activities to use in lectures and large classes such as:

2. Example of an active lecture using Echo360 Active Learning Platform (ALP)

The Centre for Higher Education Learning & Teaching (CHELT) and the College of Arts & Sciences (CASS) here at the ANU recently hosted a lecture called Deep and Active Learning in Lectures using the Echo360 Active Learning Platform (ALP). Echo360 ALP allows for interactive tasks to be posted as “Activity Slides” in the presentation. For a more detailed list of interactive activities using Echo360 ALP go here.

Watch the lecture here if you are a staff member or student at the ANU, otherwise just click on the video link below.

Find at least one activity that you would consider interactive in the lecture – the intention is not to watch the whole lecture video (unless you really wish to!) – but rather to quickly browse through the recording.

Also, take a look at these two videos:


3. Professor Eric Mazur Interactive Physics Lectures

Harvard Physics Professor Eric Mazur is well known for his interactive lectures.

Consider how he uses interactivity in his lectures in the videos below. Notice how he uses a quiz type question to drive the learning. He asks students to respond to the question and then tracks the varied responses. He invites the students to discuss their answers. This discussion manifests, for some students, that they don’t understand some aspects of the concepts. He walks around observing, and in some instances, participates in the student discussions. He will then ask students after the discussion to rate the quiz. If the students are unable to resolve the issues he provides some further instruction.


Nokes-Malach, T. J., Richey, J. E., & Gadgil, S. (2015). When is it better to learn together? Insights from research on collaborative learning. Educational Psychology Review27(4), 645-656.

32 thoughts on “Day 2 – Interactive Activities that can be used in Lectures

  1. I ask questions in lecture to engage students in deep learning. Sometimes I don’t get any response (but it doesn’t mean that no one is thinking) from the audience, I will first prompt the direction of the thinking and wait for a few more seconds. With the prompt, some students would try to answer the question or just talk about it. I consider this is deep learning, but not judged by the result of having an answer.

    1. The think-pair-(be willing to)share strategy works for me. I find if students have a chance to rehearse their thinking with someone first this can reduce the stress of sharing their thoughts to a much larger group. It also invites all to participate.

    2. I guess sometimes in situations like what you had when students are not forthcoming with their responses your questions, using some sort of student response technology to gather answers anonymously might help to break the silence.

  2. Thank you for putting up these resources together. Very interesting and useful. It was great to find out that some off the things that I try in my classes were included in those lists. I still have a lot of work to do to make my classes as active as the ones shown in Prof. Eric Mazur’s videos but I feel more confident now. I have two class activities that normally generate a lot of interested from the students. In the introduction to spatial sciences subject that I teach (1st year), we do an outdoor activity using GPS. Students have to collect coordinates and find a location. This is done in campus and it helps explaining to the students how GPS works and what can impact its accuracy. But what the students really like is that they are outdoors exploring :). The other activity is group work done in class. I present to the students 3 scenarios for which they need to draw a map. For example, finding the best location for a city landfill. They need to represent on a piece of paper which features and criteria need to be considered when planning the location of a landfill. This is to explain the importance of using spatial data for analysis and introduces the concept of geographic information systems.

  3. The two main ways I get my students to interact in class are through posing and receiving questions, and role-play simulations. The simulations are quite varied – from being allocated specific roles/personas with individual briefs, through to responding in groups to current critical developments and events. While both methods are useful in enhancing interactivity, I find the simulations to be more effective in fostering deep learning. In addition to encouraging interaction among students, and with me, the simulations also require students to interact with the content. They cannot perform their simulations, and thus, are unable to resolve the situation, without deep conceptual engagement. Additionally, simulations employ a different set of cognitive and practical skills. This is especially beneficial for the students who may not thrive in the mainstream teaching and assessment environment.

  4. Apart from inviting student’s to ask questions, I have not used interactive activities in lectures. I don’t think that voluntary questions from students are useful for deep learning, as those most likely to benefit are least likely to ask a question. I have not used class discussion, as lecture theaters are not designed for this format. I have not used on-line quizzes as students are not required to have devices for this.

    I have used discussion and quizzes for an on-line course and could imagine using them in a flipped format, where students do the on-line quiz and have some on-line discussion, then we discuss it in a lecture. But I don’t run my own F2F course, only give guest lectures, and all the course convener wants is someone to get up and talk to fill in a lecture slot, they are not looking real learning.

    1. Hi Tom your comment….” I have not used class discussion, as lecture theaters are not designed for this format” made me think of the quote attributed to Marshall McLuhan:
      “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us” …in our context we build the lecture theaters and they end up shaping how we teach. McLuhan argues that technologies, like building and spaces don’t have to dictate how we act, change the medium – the impact the lecture hall has upon how we think about teaching, we can change the message – what learning is.

      1. Glen I wasn’t exactly sure what you meant about the way a space dictates what happens in it, but I think it is the case that a tiered-lecture-hall-with-fixed-seating type space suggests a certain set of activities will occur (or at the very least that a certain set of activities are feasible and comfortable and efficient in that space).

        1. Hi Alice. Yes I agree the design of most lecture halls do not “easily” lend itself to “group work” and this just reinforces the idea that all built spaces are designed to mitigate for or against certain types of activities. However, I would argue the function of any space is not fixed. While I have seen how teaching spaces can condition both teachers and learners to act in certain ways… I have seen teachers who don’t accept that this has to be the way. It may be uncomfortable, unconventional and illogical to act in defiance to the implicit function of the design of a lecture theatre …but it is possible, and if one buys into certain conceptions of learning and teaching perhaps it is even an imperative!

          1. I think how learning is done in the classroom is largely based on how one design the lesson. A good learning design can often move interaction beyond the constraint of the physical space. This video is an example of a purpose designed learning activity called team-based learning. In the video, you can see that some of the classes were run in lecture halls with fix tables and chairs.


  5. I second the think-pair-share model. It is non-threatening, gives opportunity to meet new people and is productive – offering opportunities for peers to clarify and discuss content without needing to talk to the larger group or the lecturer (which they might not feel comfortable to do).
    I do realise that being creative in offering interactive activities in a lecture theatre can be challenging, but not impossible. Echo360 does offer great opportunities, but I worry that students and academics will never be able to really feel they are able to have down time with this. The interaction is great, but limits needs to be sent on how much time can be dedicated to out of class time.

    1. Jules I have used the think-pair-share as well, I like it and (in smaller group situations) have even taken it one or two steps further up so that a pair hares with the pair behind them, then the four talks to a group of four. I have done this with two different questions too, so that at the end of the exercise everyone has been introduced to both problems.
      Thilina mentioned yesterday the small quiz type questions – I’ve found them quite useful too. Quizzes in Wattle, before that it was mobile phone voting, before that it was clickers … betraying my length of stay in academia!

      1. That’s great Alice. I had originally written that the other thing I like about the think-pair-share is how easy it is to pair pairs and then groups, but my message errorred out and I wrote in a hurry, missing crucial comments, so I’m really glad that you mentioned that you do that. I also like that it keeps everyone ‘on their toes’ if they know that they are actually going to need to engage in conversation.

  6. Bhavani, your use of role-play simulations sould very interesting. But how do you get groups to role-play within the confines of a lecture theater?

    While sitting the students would not be able to do more than talk to the person on one side of them, so I can’t see how you could have a group of more than two. Even with just two it would be difficult to collaborate on someone, being difficult to jointly draw a diagram on a piece of paper or a tablet computer.

    Tom W.

    1. Hi Tom,

      My personal preference is to use flat rooms. However, tiered lecture theatres, while annoying, are not impossible to overcome. Groups often form a “circle” across 2-3 rows (you can see this starting to happen in the first Mazur video above). This enables group conversations and teamwork. I also encourage my students to break out of the theatre. They will spill out onto the aisles, foyer, even go outside. The simulations we use take 20+ minutes, so they may as well get comfortable. I just tell students what time to be back. Part of facilitating the simulations involves going around to all of the groups, so I give periodic countdowns during this process.

      Some resources I find useful include having a larger than necessary theatre (to give groups space) and having portable whiteboards. Most portable whiteboards are double-sided. As such, they can be used by 2 separate groups. Give the fixed ones at the front to another 1 or 2 groups, and before you know it, most groups have the capacity to collaborate.

      I know simulations don’t work for all disciplines, or even all topics/content, but they are fantastic when applicable. Give it a try 🙂


  7. Jules I have used the think-pair-share as well, I like it and (in smaller group situations) have even taken it one or two steps further up so that a pair hares with the pair behind them, then the four talks to a group of four. I have done this with two different questions too, so that at the end of the exercise everyone has been introduced to both problems.
    Thilina mentioned yesterday the small quiz type questions – I’ve found them quite useful too. Quizzes in Wattle, before that it was mobile phone voting, before that it was clickers … betraying my length of stay in academia!

  8. I was intrigued with the idea of using Echo 360 for interaction in a live class. I had though of it as just a lecture recording tool, not something to use live in a Face to Face class. I found a page from Echo 360 on “Adding Interactive Slides to a Presentation”. This explains I can add Multiple choice, Short answer, Image quiz, Ordered list and Numerical questions. But if I am not suing video, I don’t see what this does which I can’t already do with an LMS, such as Moodle. Also there doesn’t appear to be any form of discussion interaction, that is with students engaging in a text based forum and I can’t see how the assessment is done with these forms of interaction. If I use the LMS I can have the quiz marked and entered in the grade book automatically. Can this be done with Echo 360?

    My worry is that if you have a lecture theater with hundreds of students and no way for roving tutors to get to the students. It is physically impossible for the tutors to move around the narrow rows in a lecture theater. So it would be very easy for a struggling student to sit alone, unnoticed and without help. I know what this is like having been that student, week after week, lecture after lecture, wondering if it is better to quit now or wait to fail.

    1. Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your comments. ALP can be used in f2f classes. You can present your PowerPoint from ALP and embed the activity slides in your presentation for students to do. We do advise using these quiz as activities as formative assessment for students to review their knowledge and understanding of content. In terms of discussion opportunities the Q and A will provide a space for this to happen. Some colleges have switched off the Q and A function so check to see if it is turned on.
      We have also just released a new online training course that will help you further in using ALP as well as give you ideas for using the tools. https://services.anu.edu.au/training/self-paced-echo360-alp-training

  9. I always try to incorporate some interactive activities in my lectures to break things up and to allow the students to engage with the material and discuss with each other. Most commonly I’ll ask them a question or give another prompt (a statement, or picture), give a couple of minutes to discuss with their neighbours, and then have a brief summary discussion. I’ve also used other activities like negotiation simulations, ask students in groups to draw a timeline, debates from a given perspective/author, or writing a log at the end of class.

    I believe all of these activities have the potential to foster deep learning, but I’ve noticed I tend to ask the students to do many activities in groups, and so there is a risk that group dynamics I have no control over may get in the way of learning. For example, if one student does all the talking, and the others are passive observers. Nonetheless, in my experience, the majority of the activities I’ve tried seem to work most of the time, at least in terms of getting the students to think about the subject matter.

    I looked at the list of suggested activities from other university websites, and found a few I’d like to try out. “Support the statement,” “One-minute paper,” and different types of “graphic organisers” seem promising. I’m also curious about the “celebrity heads”, but it does require a bit of preparation, and I would need to think carefully about a suitable topic to use it with.

  10. I apologise but I am not a lecturer therefore I cannot reply to the discussion questions and list some interactive activities I have used in lectures, nor I can rate their effectiveness in terms of fostering deep learning. As a student, I have participated in interactive activities in lectures, such as group work to find the solution to a problem, or open debate on a certain subject. I consider these interactions to be effective in fostering deep learning, because students move from the passive position of being listening to the lecturer to the active position of having to utilise that knowledge.

  11. I think we can use various techniques in our lectures to improve the interaction with students. I mostly use simple questions in slides and ask the students to answer them. Usually, I allow them to think a little bit before they answer and this usually works well I think. Of course, we cannot expect everybody to raise their hands to answer a question, but if at least one person answers are quite useful as the provided answer can be used to drive the interactions further. I usually encourage other students to participate in the provided answers asking what they think about the answers already provided. Usually, this creates more discussions among the students as they build up the answers among themselves nicely.

    Another technique I used in the slides is introduced some errors. If I am teaching a programming subject I usually kept simple errors here and there for students to pick and pointed to me. If nobody picks them up I run the code to show them what errors they should expect by running them in a program console. This helps the students to go thoroughly on the next set of questions and they tend to point errors that need to be fixed before the code can be run. I think this is a nice way of engaging students in the lecture.

    Sometimes I use pairing strategy of students when I ask a question. When the slide pops up a question I ask them to talk to the person sitting next to them and think about the answer. Then I randomly pick few groups and ask them to tell their solutions to the rest of the class. I found this works well with smaller classes as for larger student groups I cannot move to the end of the lecture theater to get answers.

    Apart from these techniques, I usually keep few thinking questions (take home questions) at the end of each lecture for students to think. I do not want them to submit anything, but just to give or to give their opinion in the next lecture before we start the lesson. Sometimes this works well as it recaps the whole previous content we covered last week and give a nice flow to the new content.

  12. I haven’t done a lot of lecturing, but when I have, I’ve used questions. Sometimes questions can promote deep learning, but i expect they often don’t – unless the questions pique the students’ interest – perhaps by framing the question as relevant to something they personally relate to.
    The list of ideas for other ways of creating interactive lectures is appreciated – including the suggestions of how to use questions in different ways. Echo 360 will increase the tools for interactivity, and I’m looking forward to using it in semester 2.

    I’m of course impressed by Erica Mazur’s class/lecture- the technique of getting students to think and commit themselves to an answer before discussing it gives them more ‘skin in the game’ – as does the requirement that they justify/explain their answer to their partner. He obviously uses the quizzes to show up areas that students don’t understand – which can be addressed immediately in the lecture- obviously a great tool for deep learning. If he had just lectured, the students would probably have thought that they understood, but obviously a lot didn’t. By having to commit ( and getting it wrong/right), they are then keen to understand why they are wrong /right and more likely to listen ( perhaps again) attentively to Mazur’s explanation.

  13. Thank you for these nice videos on Echo360 and the Eric Mazur’s lecture.

    Echo360 is so tempting to use especially in large classes. It encourages the shy students to participate, as it provides an anonymous platform for students.
    Mazure’s class is really large, but still, that didn’t prevent the use of interactive teaching and learning. I find this really inspiring!

  14. I learned the “Think-Pair-Share” from Glen (: P) in the PTD training. In another SFHEA member’s lectures, I saw how powerful the strategy could be to encourage students’ participation, even in a large size class. I think this is the most effective method to foster deep learning.
    But as tutors, we have more limits in contents and time management.
    I use leading questions to help the students to work out the problem set. It’s not a simple “What’s your idea”. Many aspects need to be considered: when and how to present the questions, why do I ask this question and how long should I pause after asking.
    We have many tutorial quizzes in this course. I write a feedback for each student using the “Context-Behavior-Impact-Next Step” strategy (again, learned from PTD). Many students tell me that feedback is a helpful guidance. Although I admit it’s a little bit time-consuming.
    I occasionally make intentional errors. It works well in basic definitions or routinary calculations. Students can usually spot and correct it. But it could be a disaster when I explain something difficult.

  15. I love lists, and this discussion theme included lots of them (with quite a bit of overlap). One that first jarred with me (because of the term used), and then resonated (because then I got what it meant!), was the quescussion from UWaterloo. I like the idea of posing questions as a means to encourage the quest for multiple perspectives, rather than the search for answers. Plus its a neat platform for introverts and extroverts alike. The ‘rough and ready’ guide to the protocols of Q&A that I suggest to students is that there are broadly two types of questions (and indeed questioners): questions seeking factual answers, and questions seeking to provoke and stimulate debate. Both types of questions are relevant and useful, with the huge caveat that questioners should engage in respectful behaviour to the person they are posing the question to, and to the audience in general. I can see how using the ‘quescussion’ format can really push the Q&A approach much further than the classic variant, by asking students to do some applied research beforehand but also keeping the burden of information and expertise sharing with those with the most to share.

  16. This is not something that I have done myself, but one of the best interactive activities I have seen (granted definitely hard to do if not in a flat room) was when all of the students had to stand in a line and then take a step forward every time they agreed with one of the lecturers statements – the physical distance between people by the end of the series of questions made a point far more impactfully than otherwise could be made but also had the added bonus of breaking up the standard lecture format and physically getting the students to interact with quite conceptual ideas.
    I thought the 10 activities to make lectures more interactive link was interesting but all of those activities are things I would do in tutorials, not necessarily lectures, and I can’t quite work out why I feel better about syphoning those parts off. I think I need to muse on this more. Or work out ways to make my natural lecturing style and rythym more conducive to some of these activities.
    One thing I do though is possibly a humanities version of correct the error – I give half a lecture on the history of environmental movements, and then suggest that I have just lied to students – its essentially only a western-centric view of environmentalism. I then go back and fill in the gaps with relevant international examples that are normally left out of this narrative – hopefully, that both gets students to engage in the moment, but also teaches them to be more critical of information they are being given in the long term and gives them some analytical frameworks to critique bodies of information.

  17. As I mentioned in my Day 1 response, having short peer discussion periods to address a question or concept raised by the lecturer can really help students formulate their responses and gain feedback from their peers before presenting their thoughts to the 200+ lecture hall. I believe the think-pair-share ideology is fantastic and the best part is that it can be easily applicable to both small and large class sizes.

    One of the best interactions I personally had in a lecture situation was when we had a visiting lecturer in a forensics biological anthropology course discussing how evidence is presented in court. He used role-playing as a tool to get multiple people involved and began asking us questions as a lawyer would of a witness to show how eye witness reports could be easily contended. It was a great way to see how the knowledge would apply in practice and we were all very engaged in his lecture.

  18. I haven’t used many interactive activities in lectures, though I’ve used several in tutorials, such as debates, group problem solving and so on, and I think that most students take something useful from these. I do wonder, if I use all these techniques in lectures, what I would do with my tutorials.
    I did recently design an interactive activity for a guest lecture I delivered for a colleague’s course. In the first hour, I gave a lecture about my own research trajectory and the methodology I have developed for my research (to do with analysing works of art). In the second hour, I asked the students to walk around the building and find a work of art to analyse using this method, or to find one on their devices. After they had had some time doing this, each student presented the result of the analysis to the class. Those who had found a work in the building took pictures with their phones and emailed them to the lecturer, who put them up on the projector screen, and the rest provided the link to the work they were analysing. It went very well. I was very impressed by how quickly the students had picked it up, and they clearly enjoyed being able to teach the class (and me) something new. My colleague told me the following week that students had expressed later how much they had enjoyed the seminar, and one student approached me a couple of months after to tell me how much she had enjoyed it. I think this means that the students experienced deep learning!
    It was a very small group, so it was relatively easy to do this. I’m not sure how I would use it for a larger class. I am definitely going to develop this exercise for future courses.

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