Implementing Teaching Best Practices

Incorporating teaching best practices creates better student-to-student and student-to-instructor engagement learning and incentivizes student attendance for in-person/live learning. Below are established best practices for creating an engaging learning experience:

Active Learning

"Active learning" generally refers to teaching strategies that "cognitively engage students in building understanding at the highest levels of Bloom's taxonomy," such as critical thinking skills (National Academies, 2017, p. 3-3). It gives students opportunities to practice and apply course concepts, understand what they have learned, and identify where there is room to improve (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010; Davidson, 2017). Examples include:

  • Incorporate low-stake writing exercises, such as entry tickets or minute papers (Angelo & Cross, 1993).
  • Use team-based learning to flip your classroom so that a majority of class time is spent with students in groups working on focused tasks or problem-solving (Michaelson, Bauman-Knight & Fink, 2003).
  • Pause periodically to allow students time to review their notes and identify questions or to compare notes with a peer (Major, Harris & Zakrajsek, 2016; Prince, 2004).
  • Divide students into small groups or pairs and pass a sheet of paper with a prompt or problem down the row. After passing through several rounds, students report on the "best" responses (Barkley, 2010).
  • Ask questions and collect responses in real time during class using a "clicker" or phone app. Questions can be answered individually or in groups or after discussion as a think-pair-share.
  • Ask students to put a sequence of steps in order to test their understanding of sequencing or processes (Lee, 2007).


Metacognition enables students to identify their cognitive process (Lovett, 2008) and is a reflective skill that is necessary for creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Within the classroom, teaching metacognitive practices enhances student learning outcomes (Tanner, 2012) and helps students to have a complete understanding of what they learned and how (Brownlee, Purdie, & Boulton-Lewis, 2001). Examples include:

  • Ask students to write a "Minute Reflection Paper" on an open-ended question or statement, such as "What was the muddiest point of today's lesson?"
  • After completion of an exercise or task, ask students to assess their role. Focus on what aspects of their learning you want them to assess. Examples include:
    • Describe your preparation and work process
    • Describe your goals or what you hope to achieve (e.g., work product)
    • Evaluate your performance
    • Provide areas for future improvement
    • Describe your next steps
  • Present students with a controversial statement or problem that they must analyze and ask them to express their opinion on that statement. Results can be shown via a poll, on a whiteboard, or through a structured discussion.

Spaced Retrieval Practice

Utilizing spaced retrieval practice and self-testing strategies (spaced practice) helps the learning stick by utilizing long-term memory retrieval (Dunlosky et al., 2013; Rawson, Dunlosky, & Sciartelli, 2013; Pashler et al., 2007). These practices have been shown to improve learning outcomes, especially when compared to more passive forms of learning, such as listening to a lecture or rereading materials. Examples include:

  • Revisiting concepts that have been taught in previous class meetings.
  • Use Canvas or other technologies to help students set a spaced study schedule.
  • Include cumulative retrieval practice throughout the course.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered teaching strategy approach that enables students to learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. This problem is what drives motivation and learning (Duch et al, 2001; Nilson, 2010). In PBL, students typically do the following tasks:

  • Examine and define the problem.
  • Explore what they already know about underlying issues related to it.
  • Determine what they need to learn and where they can acquire the information and tools necessary to solve the problem.
  • Evaluate possible ways to solve the problem.
  • Solve the problem.
  • Report on their findings.


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Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

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