By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Sometimes, it’s easy to fall back on lecture or other teacher-centered instructional methods when crunch time comes. You’ve got a ton of grading to do, reporting deadlines to meet, and 1,001 emails waiting gloomily in your inbox.

There’s just no time to plan an engaging lesson.

Well, if you find yourself in such a situation, or if you are just looking for inspiration, here are five student-centered strategies that take very little prep time and can make a traditional lecture much more effective.


Instead of asking a question to the class and staring at blank faces until you call on that one go-to student at the front of the class who always has the right answer, try this.

  1. Ask a question or give a problem.
  2. Give everyone a chance to write down the solution on their own for a few minutes.
  3. Give students a few minutes to discuss their thoughts with a peer.
  4. Ask a few students to share their answer with the class.

Think-Pair-Share transforms an awkward Q&A into a chance for the entire to class to participate in the type of wrestling with a problem that your discipline involves. As an added bonus, students will share more deeply and more freely in front of the rest of the class if they’ve had time to think on their own and confirm their answers with a peer first.

The Minute Paper

It doesn’t have to be exactly one minute, sometimes two or three are okay. But the idea is that at the end of a lesson (or even in the midst of it) you give students a small amount of time to write down everything they know about the topic of the day in a focused manner.

For example, at the end of a lecture on the difference between summarizing an article and analyzing one, I might tell students “You have two minutes to explain to me how your approach to reading this article will be different if I am asking you to analyze it. Go!”

The Minute Paper serves as both an assessment for you (to gauge how well students absorbed the lesson) and also as summarizer for students (to solidify skills in their memory).

Concept Maps

A concept map is a visual depiction of how different ideas relate, like this:


Before a lesson or lecture, give students a list of 10 or so key terms, ideas, etc. that you’ll be working on today. Write them on the board or put them on a handout so that everyone can see them. During the lesson, have students draw a concept map to show the relationship between all of these terms. Encourage them to take other important notes in the white space on their map as well.

Priming Questions

If you are going to be lecturing or providing direct instruction, it’s a good idea to prime your students for the material by activating their prior knowledge. One way to do this is to use the first 10 minutes of class to allow students to think through a problem that the lecture material will help solve.

Think about why this material matters and pose a stimulating question to students. Give them a few minutes to write about their thoughts (even better, do a think-pair-share).

For example, if you are planning a lecture on capitalism for a political science class, you might ask students What do you think our society would look like if everyone was paid the same amount? Would you want to live in it? Why or why not?


A full scale debate might take a lot of prep, on your part and the students’. But, you can replace parts of a traditional lecture with a short mini-debate. Instead of lecturing on a topic that might normally take 20 minutes, pose the question addressed by your lecture to the class.

Then, divide them into two or more teams, and assign each team a different perspective. Give them 10 minutes to research (in the textbook, on Google, etc.) all of the evidence that supports their assigned position on the topic. Then give each team 3 minutes to defend its position.

For example, if this blog post were a class, I might pose the question Is student-centered learning worth your time?.

If your last name starts A – M, your on Team Red.

If your last name starts N – Z, your on Team Blue.

Team Red = Student-centered learning IS NOT worth your time.

Team Blue = Student-centered learning IS worth your time.

Defend your position in the comments. Go!

See what I did there.


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