By Nur Taslimah

What Is Student Active Learning?

            Student Active Learning is an approach to instruction in which students employ the material they study through reading, writing, talking, listening, and reflecting.  Student Active learning stands in contrast to “standard” modes of instruction in which teachers do most of the talking and students are passive. (http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/tutorials/ )

Paulson & Faust in their book, “Active Learning for the College Classroom
define active learning as anything that students do in a classroom other than merely passively listening to an instructor’s lecture. This includes everything from listening practices which help the students to absorb what they hear, to complex group exercises in which students apply material to solve problem in  “real life” situations.. (http://www.calstatela.edu/dept/chem/chem2/Active/index.htm)

In the book of Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom, Bonwell and Eison  (1991) define active learning as the activity which involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.” It means that students must do more than just listen: they must read, write, discuss, or be engaged in solving problems. Most important, to be actively involved, students must employ in such higher-order thinking tasks as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

The  characteristics of strategies that utilize active learning in the classroom are:

  • Students are involved in more than listening.
  • Less emphasis is placed on transmitting information and more on developing student’s skills.
  • Students are involved in higher-order thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation).
  • Students are engaged in activities (e.g., reading, discussing, writing). (http://cte.udel.edu/publications)

There are many principle in Student Active Learning:

  • It  involves everyone in the group
  • It is student centered, not teacher centered
  • It is process oriented, not outcome oriented
  • It is reinforced and directed through a discussion period
  • It allows leaders to observe their group members as they interact with each other
  • It puts the burden of learning where it belongs – on the delegates themselves
  • It allows students to have fun while they learn (Jackson, in http://www.alphaconsultancy.co.uk/activelearning_benefits.shtml)

The importance of Student Active Learning

            Bonwell and Eison (1991) state that active learning  is very important because of their powerful impact upon students’ learning. Students stay interested and learn more from class when teachers use many different techniques to involve them in the learning process. When the students are involved in their own learning process, they understand more and retain the information longer. For most students, academic learning is too abstract. They need to see, touch and smell what they read and write about”. It is like Chinese proverb:

“I hear and … I forget
I see and … I remember
I do and … I understand”

Some old people said that a quiet classroom or a well-behaved student in learning  was very good, but observations have indicated that very often a great deal of  number of students may simply be daydreaming whilst the teacher  is talking. It means that being quiet and just  listening to the lecture does not mean that the students  have learnt something, but many of students  get nothing because they are often get sleepy and daydreaming. Therefore, student active learning overcomes this problem.

There are many other benefits to using  Student Active Learning. Student Active Learning  improves critical thinking skills, increases retention and transfers new information, increases motivation, and improves interpersonal skills.

Active learning strategies not only make the classroom a dynamic, ever changing environment in which students have a voice, but also allow students to view teachers as people who are flexible enough to take risks in the classroom. Remember that the teachers’ willingness to take risks in the classroom increases the likelihood of the students doing the same. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/active_learning)


Kinds of Activities  Based on Student Active Learning

In general, there are three categories of learning strategies used in an active learning classroom: individual activities, paired activities, small groups activities. The  choice of these  activities depend on the size of the class, the teachers’ physical space, the learning objectives,  the amount of time, and the teacher and students’ comfort level with the strategy.

The examples of  active learning in individual activities are:

  • A short written exercise that is often called “one minute paper.” This is a good way to review materials and provide feedback. However a “one minute paper” does not take one minute and for students to concisely summarize it is suggested that they have at least 10 minutes to work on this exercise.This not only tells the teacher  about students’ understanding, but it is also effective technique for checking student progress in writing.
  • Affective Response – Again, this is similar to the above exercises, but here the teacher asks students to report their reactions to some course material – i.e., to provide an emotional or evaluative response to the material. For example, asking the students to write their opinion about Malin Kundang, Is he a good son or not why? It is also a good technique to train the students express their feeling and opinion
  • Reading Quiz – Clearly, this is one way to force students to read assigned material! Active learning depends upon students coming to class prepared. The reading quiz can also be used as an effective measure of student comprehension of the readings.
  • Clarification Pauses – This is a simple technique aimed at fostering “active listening”. Throughout a lecture, particularly after stating an important point or defining a key concept, stop, let it sink in, and then (after waiting a bit) ask if anyone needs to have it clarified. The teacher can also circulate around the room during these pauses to look at student notes, answer questions, etc. Students who would never ask a question in front of the whole class will ask questions during a clarification pause as you move about the room. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/active_learning)

The examples of “active learning”  in paired activities include:

  •  A think-pair-share. Students think to themselves on a topic provided by the teacher; then they pair up with another student to discuss it. They then share with the class their thoughts.
  • Write/Pair/Share. The format for this strategy is identical to the think-pair-share, except that students process the question asked of them by writing about it rather than speaking. After a brief time to note their thoughts, each student turns to a partner to discuss
  • Paired Storytelling
    A narrative text is divided into two parts. Students work in pairs; each member is assigned different segments of the text. After they read their own parts, they jot down key concepts found in the part. Each student is to list the key words/phrases in which they appear in the text. Then they exchange the list and relate the clues to the story part they have read. Each student develops and writes his/her own version of the story’s missing part. When they finish, they may read the original version of the whole story and conclude the lesson with a discussion.
  • A learning cell . It is an effective way for a pair of students to study and learn together. A learning cell is a process of learning where two students alternate asking and answering questions on commonly read materials. To prepare for the assignment, the students will read the assignment and write down questions that they have about the reading. At the next class meeting, the teacher will randomly put the students in pairs.
  • Student debate. It is an active way for students to learn because they allow students the chance to take a position and gather information to support their view and explain it to others. These debates not only give the student a chance to participate in a fun activity but it also lets them gain some experience with giving a verbal presentation.
  • Student Summary. During a class session, the instructor pauses and asks students to explain to a partner the central concepts just presented. The activity can be altered in several ways. The instructor can request that students write or think individually prior to discussing with a partner, making the activity resemble a think/write-pair-share.

The examples of small groups activities are:

  •  Jigsaw. It involves four to six members in a team working on material that has been broken down into sections. Each “home team” member reads his or her section. Then, members of different home teams who have studied the same sections meet in “expert groups” to discuss their section. Next, the students go back to their home teams and take turns teaching their teammates about their sections.
  • Numbered Heads Together. In this AL type, students number off in teams, e.g. 1-2-3-4. As soon as the teacher finishes asking a question, the students in the teams literally put their heads together to make sure everyone knows the answer. The teacher calls a number. Students with that number raise their hands to be called on, as in traditional classrooms.
  • .Roundtable/round robin
    In a roundtable activity, a student in turn writes one answer as a piece of paper and a pencil are passed around the group. With round robin, the students say the words orally.
  • A class game is also considered an energetic way to learn because it not only helps the students to review the course material before a big exam but it helps them to enjoy learning about a topic.  Many games such as jeopardy and crossword puzzles always seem to get the students minds going.
  • Corners. The leader of the day places content (or flipchart with question) in each corner of the room. Groups of 3-6 people move from corner to corner and discuss answer(s) to each posed question. The groups develop a consensus and write their answer directly on each flipchart. When the flipchart has an answer already written by a previous group, the next group revises/expands/ illustrates that response with additional information, if possible. Different colored markers can be used for each group to see what each group wrote for each question
  • Rotating Chair Discussions. The Rotating Chair group discussion method works well in several situations; groups well versed in the ordinary usefulness of this process of building ideas will comfortably engage rotating chair practices for handling difficult discussions. The ground rules for Rotating Chair are four:      (1) When you would like to participate, raise your hand; (2) The person speaking will call on the next speaker (aiming to call on a person who has not/has less frequently contributed); (3) The person called on will first briefly restate/summarize what has been said then develop the idea further; (4) As a speaker, if you wish to raise a new question or redirect the discussion, you will briefly summarize the points made in the prior discussion, and where possible create a transition from that thread to the one you’re introducing.( Ranjana:2011)

Some Research Results On The Implementation of Students Active Learning

There has been so much enthusiasm for active learning that a variety of research have been conducted related to it.  Several studies have shown that students prefer strategies promoting active learning to traditional lectures. A study  done by Armstrong (1983) shows that students who receive a formal education learn better when they are actively engaged in the learning process as opposed to those who do not partake in the learning process.

Zutell, a professor of Elementary Education and Reading, The Ohio State University conducted research using active learning in improving student spelling activity. He uses many kinds of spelling active learning strategy such as: flip folder, word hunting, word sorting, games, peer testing, etc. He found that in the future, effective spelling programs will replace rote memorization with study techniques that get students actively involved in their own development as spellers and writers. (http://www.zaner-bloser.com/news/student-active-learning-approach-spelling-instruction)

Other research studies evaluating students’ achievement have demonstrated that many strategies using active learning improve students’ achievement compared to using classic and old strategy in the development of students’ skills in reading and writing. The example of this is the study done by  Astuti (2004) and Sabarun (2004). Both  studies shows that   cooperative learning can improve  students’ writing skills.  The similar research was done by Cahyaning (2011). This research shows that Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC) strategy can improve the students’ reading achievement.

However,  implementation of Student Active Learning  is not always satisfactory. In  Indonesia,  three lecturers from Syiah Kuala University (Bahri.S, et.al:2011) conducted the research on the implementation of active learning at an elementary school in Aceh. The research shows that although the teachers had attended  training workshops on teaching for active learning, they did not retain what they had learned several  months after the workshops.

Stern &. Huber’ s study shows some obstacle in implementing active learning   the classrooms. The researchers found that despite teachers’ interest in active learning, they are not always able to  arrange for students to do it. Another obstacle is that some students find it threatening. They do not want the challenge, or they are more comfortable in a more passive role. However, Each obstacle or barrier and type of risk, however, can be successfully overcome through careful, thoughtful planning.

Conclusion, Comments,  and Suggestion

            The Student Active Learning covers many kinds of  instructional activities done by the students, not just being quiet listening to the lecture. The classroom activities based on Students Active Learning can be in the form of individually activities, paired activities, and group activities. Using the active learning approach does not mean that the sessions of learning are always in group work. Rather, each teacher  needs to consider his or her own course objectives, time allotment, teaching style and reflect upon what suits the students’  needs.

There are so many advantages using active learning activities. Active learning promotes problem solving skills and  improves  students’ achievements and skills. Active learning also make the  students learn more materials and retain information longer that using traditional way of teaching. However, it is a pity that there are some teachers that  are  still comfortable to use their old fashioned  way of teaching.  They reluctant to try some  innovative inventions of teaching strategy.

Based on the conclusions, it is suggested that teachers should eager to implement active learning strategy so that the class will be more active and lively. The teachers should improve and upgrade  their knowledge and understanding about many kinds of active  learning strategies in order their class does not seem monotonous. Above all, active learning should not be implemented for its own sake, but for its ability to engage students in the learning process.



Astuti (2004). Cooperative Learning in Improving Paragraph Writing of Third Year Students at SLTP Lab. State University of Malang. State University of Malang: Unpublished Thesis.

Active Learning. ITRC Journal Template (online) Updated Jan 19, 2012 . Accessed 29 September 2012

Armstrong, J.S (1983). “Learner Responsibility in Management Education,  (http://marketing.wharton.upenn.edu.documen/) accessed September 29 2012

Bahri, S.Ys, Mara, N.M, Dhin, C,N (2011) Action Research on the Implementation of Active Learning at an Elementary School in Aceh. Excellent in Higher Education. Volume 2 No 2. Dec 2011

Bonwell, C.C. & Eison, J.A. (1991). ‘Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom’. ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. Accessed on September 29  2012

Cahyaning (2011). Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC) strategy to improve the students’ reading achievement. State University of Malang: Unpublished Thesis.

Paulson & Faust. “Active Learning For The College Classroom”. http://www.calstatela.edu/dept/chem/chem2/Active/index.html, accessed  September  28 2012

Ranjana (2011). Use of advanced teaching methods in senior. Golden Research Thought. Vol 1issue IX/March/

Some Basic Active Learning Strategies. http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/tutorials/active). Accessed  September 29 2012

Sabarun (2006) Improving The Writing Ability Of The Fifth Semester  Students Of The English Department Of Malang Muhammadiyah University Through Cooperative Learning. State University of Malang: Unpublished Thesis.

Stern, D. & Huber, G.L. (Eds.), Active Learning for Students and Teachers: Reports from Eight Countries. Frankfurt & New York: Peter Lang.

 (http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/tutorials/ )  accessed  September 29 2012

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/active_learning), accessed  September 29 2012

(http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/tutorials/)  , accessed  September 29 2012

(http://cte.udel.edu/publications) , accessed  September 29 2012


accessed 29 September 2012

Zutell. Students active learning approach spelling instruction in (http://www.zaner-bloser.com/news/student-active-learning-approach-spelling-instruction), accessed  September 29 2012


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