Ideas for Instruction

Instruction is the main body of your workshop and combines the presentation of your content with active learning. Your role as a facilitator is to convey new material while involving the participants as actively as possible in the learning process. This means designing strategies that allow participants to develop the necessary knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes to accomplish the learning outcomes of your workshop.

Selecting strategies

This section contains a range of ideas for instruction, but if you would like additional guidance, please use Selecting Strategies to help you choose the strategies that best suit your needs.

One minute paper/free write

Discussions can be a great way to promote active learning. However, all too often only a small number of people participate in discussions during a workshop. To address this situation, try incorporating writing into your workshop(s) to give participants an alternative way to engage.

Suggested procedure:

  • Pose a question, either by writing it on the board or projecting it. Open-ended questions are more likely to generate more discussion and higher order thinking.
  • Have participants reflect and jot down notes in response to the question (1 – 5 min).
  • Emphasize content over form, so that participants focus on expressing their ideas within the time allotted.
  • Re-group as a whole group and ask one or two participants to read their responses. Each time this activity is carried out, intentionally choose different people to read their responses and kick-start the discussion

Virtual workshop variations:  

  • Write question in the chat or having it on a slide. Ask participants to type their responses in chat or raise their hand to unmute themselves one at a time to speak.
  • Use a word cloud generator, share the link in the chat, and share your screen to show results as they come in.

Think-pair-share

You can use Think-Pair-Share in your workshop to allow participants to connect new ideas to prior knowledge and to summarize, apply, or integrate new information. Participants first consider a question on their own before taking a few minutes to discuss their ideas in pairs, and then with the whole group. Working alone gives participants a few moments to reflect and come up with their own responses, working in pairs is a chance to test out ideas before going public, and discussing with the group allows both the facilitator and participants to gain an understanding of how everyone is thinking.

Suggested procedure:

  • Pose a question by writing it on the board, chart paper, or projecting it. Open-ended questions are more likely to generate more discussion and higher-order thinking.
  • Have participants reflect on and jot down notes in response to the question (1-2 min).
  • Emphasize content over form, so that participants focus on expressing their ideas within the time allotted.
  • Instruct participants to form groups of 2-3 people, discuss the question, and share their responses (3 min).
  • Re-group as a whole group and solicit responses from some or all of the pairs (5 min). Each time this activity is carried out, intentionally choose different pairs to give summaries of their ideas.

Sample instructions:

  • Step 1 - Think (2 min): Describe and interpret the image (images could include graphs, photographs, cartoons, and other visuals).
  • Step 2 - Pair (3 min): Discuss your answers in pairs.
  • Step 3 - Share (5 min): Share your responses and any further questions as a whole group.

Virtual workshop variation

  • Pose a question by writing in the chat or having it on a slide. Make use of breakout rooms to separate participants into pairs/smaller groups of 2-3 people to discuss the question, and then come back to the main room to have a few pairs/groups share their responses.

Focused listing

Using the basic structure of Think-Pair-Share, this is a quick and easy strategy for participants to reflect on their background knowledge, synthesize what they’ve learned, and generate new ideas.

Suggested procedure:

  • Ask participants to take out a sheet of paper and generate a list based on a specific topic. You might ask participants to jot down pros and cons or list out examples. Let participants know how much time they have to independently create their list.
  • Have participants share their lists in small groups and identify the two or three most important points. As an alternative, if you are pressed for time, you might skip the first step and ask participants to generate the lists in these small groups.
  • Have participants share the most important points with the whole group.
  • You might choose to ask participants to add to their lists and make any corrections if necessary at the end of the workshop period.

Virtual workshop variation:

  • Make use of breakout rooms to separate participants into smaller groups when sharing their lists 

Jigsaw

This strategy allows participants to become the experts of a particular topic and dedicates time for them to learn from one another. Not only does it validate the importance of the participants’ contribution to the group, it also facilitates deep learning and fosters relationships among participants in the group.

Suggested procedure:

  • Divide a large topic/scenario into small portions.
  • Divide participants into “expert groups.” Each group studies an assigned portion and addresses a question or questions related to that portion. Encourage participants to take note of key points.
  • After the participants have learned about their specific portion, split up the expert groups so that new groups are comprised of one member from each of the expert groups.
  • In the newly-formed groups, have topic experts present their information, integrating knowledge of their respective portions into the new group’s collective understanding so as to address a larger, overarching question.
  • In order to assess participants’ learning, ask groups to share their collective understanding with the whole group.

Virtual workshop variation:

  • Divide material among students in breakout room groups so that not every group addresses the same question or problem. Rather than splitting up the expert groups into newly formed groups (step 3 above), bring the students together as a full class afterward for a debriefing. Students’ discussions can complement one another rather than being redundant. (Variation from instructor responses to McGill’s March 2021 Remote Teaching Survey) 

Brain Drain

Through this strategy, participants will explore new ideas in a group brainstorming session. You might choose to tie these ideas to the concepts you would like participants to learn.

Suggested procedure:

  • Create a worksheet with an empty grid of six rows and three columns. At the top of the page, provide a prompt or task relating to the workshop.
  • Form groups of 5 or 6. Distribute the worksheets so that each participant receives one.
  • Ask participants to brainstorm ideas using the prompt and jot down their thoughts in the first row.
  • After three minutes, or when participants have finished writing, have each participant pass their paper to the participant on their right who then works on the second row (without repeating any answers they see in the first row).
  • Repeat this process of passing the paper until the sheet is filled in.
  • Ask participants to share with the group the new ideas they generated through the brainstorming process.

Virtual workshop variation:

  • Create a sharable document, sending the link to the participants via the chat. Assign each participant a starting row/number. After 3 minutes, tell them to move onto the next row.  

Four corners

Also called “Write Around the Room,” this strategy is useful when participants need as much time as possible to explore content and generate new ideas.

Suggested procedure:

  • Post large sheets of chart paper in each corner of the classroom. Each sheet of paper should have a different question written on it that relates to a topic being discussed.
  • Form groups and provide each group with markers.
  • Have each group move to a corner and brainstorm a list in response to the question posed. Alternatively, you might ask groups to remain seated at their own stations and bring the papers to each group. Set and keep a time limit for this activity to ensure that participants have sufficient time at each of the corners.
  • Have groups move clockwise to the next corner (or rotate the papers if everyone is seated) and add to the previous group’s responses. There should be no repeated responses. Only new responses should be added. You might choose to ask participants to put a check mark next to a previously-listed response that is consistent with their list.
  • Bring the group together to discuss the contents of each list.
  • You might choose to take this activity a step further and ask participants to organize their results using concept maps, further solidifying their understanding of the connections between the concepts.

Virtual workshop variation:

  • Create four sharable documents, sending the link to the participants via the chat. Divide participants into breakout rooms and assign each group a specific worksheet to start from. When the allocated time is up, they must close that document and move onto the next. 

Function subgrouping

Also called “The Fishbowl Exercise,” this strategy encourages participants to listen actively, paraphrase others’ ideas, and discover points of connection so they can grow in their understanding of and empathy for other viewpoints.

Suggested procedure:

  • Begin by asking participants to identify with one side or the other of an issue. This could be an issue that has arisen organically during the workshop, or simply one that you want the participants to discuss that day.
  • Ask participants belonging to one point of view to make a circle with their chairs in the middle of the room. Participants who identify with the opposing viewpoint form a concentric circle around them. As an alternative that reduces movement, you might ask participants to remain seated and simply foster discussion without the aid of circle formation.
  • Participants in the central circle are then invited to discuss their position on this issue with one another and what meaning this issue has for them. Participants in the outer circle should listen to the conversation.
  • Once participants in the middle circle have all had a chance to speak, the facilitator asks those in the outer circle to paraphrase what they heard. Participants in the middle may affirm or correct their peers’ understanding and clarify where needed.
  • Participants are then asked to switch places – those in the outer circle come to the middle and those in the middle move to the outside. The above process is then repeated, so that by the end, all participants have had the opportunity to express their views.
  • You might then choose to ask participants to reflect on their experience with this activity, either independently or with the whole group.

Virtual workshop variation:

  • Ask participants belonging to one point of view to unmute themselves discuss their position on this issue with one another, while the other participants who identify with the opposing viewpoint stay muted and listen to the conversation. Once participants have all had a chance to speak, those who were listening to paraphrase (write in chat) what they heard, being affirmed or corrected by their peers’ and clarifying where needed.

 


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