Active Learning

Making active learning work!

Dr. Mark Winterbottom

Dr Mark Winterbottom, from the Cambridge University Faculty of Education shares his top 6 questions to help you bring active learning into your lessons. If you’re not familiar with active learning and you’d like to find out more first, our previous blog post is a great introduction.

All lessons should be planned to help students to learn. That learning should be expressed in learning objectives (what you expect them to learn) and learning outcomes (what the students will be able to do, once they’ve learnt). It should also build on prior learning and be broken down into smaller steps (almost in a storyline) during the lesson.

But how do you know what kinds of activities or resources to employ? Well, many of us look for resources on the internet, or invent our own. In both cases, use the following questions to help you evaluate a resource or activity.


You’ll see the word ‘think’ a lot in the above. If you make students think, they will learn and if you make them think together, they will learn even more effectively. Compare these three instructions:

1. Draw a concept map
2. Compare the two concept maps
3. Justify the links between the concepts in a concept map

Even drawing the concept map requires students to think. But comparing concept maps, and justifying the links between concepts really forces students to critically engage with their own understanding.

If you’d like some inspiration for active lessons, take a look at Mark’s active learning ideas generator – it’s a simple way to bring some fresh ideas into your lesson planning.

About the author:

Dr Mark Winterbottom is a Senior Lecturer in Science Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Mark co-leads the secondary PGCE course, teaching on the science and biology programmes.

His research interests are in learning through inquiry, and in ‘out-of-the-classroom’ approaches to science education. He’s also appeared as a special guest on our active learning episode of the Brighter Thinking Pod!