Engaged Learners in the Lecture Hall

Incorporating active learning into large lecture halls can be challenging. How exactly do you split a lecture hall into groups? If you did a think-pair-share would you even have time for the pairs to share?  Do you use polling with a show of hands? Crystal Goldman, the Instruction Coordinator at UCSD, shared a technique that encourages engagement in large groups called the Cephalonian Method during a recent Lunch and Learn workshop.

The Cephalonian Method was created by librarians Linda Davies and Nigel Morgan at the Cardiff University in Wales.  It is a technique that uses colored index cards with questions written on them to stimulate a guided conversation about a topic in the place of a traditional lecture. The best way to explain the method is to walk through an example.

Prior to my lesson, I would create a series of questions about the topic we will be discussing that are designed to illicit the information I would want to present.  I would write these questions on colored index cards using different colored cards to provide topical groupings.  I would also include a starting question on a card of a specific color as well as questions that help me transition from one topic to another, again using a different color.

On the day of the lecture, I would pass out these cards randomly to participants informing them that when called to do so they will need to stand up and read the question on their card aloud.  If they are unwilling to do so, I kindly ask them to pass the card off to someone who is.  After an introduction to start the lecture, I would ask for the first question that is identified by the card in orange (there should only be one orange card).  The orange card holder stands up, reads the question and the conversation begins.  Next, I would ask for anyone with a green card to stand up and read the question on the card.  There can be a number of green cards that represent a topic.  When I have exhausted all of the green cards, I would then ask for the yellow transition card (there should only be one) and then move on to the purple cards which identify the next topic.  In this way information is shared with the audience in a question answer conversational style that calls for audience participation.

What is nice about the Cephalonian method is that it can be used in any instructional setting but typically works best with a group of at least 20.  It is flexible and can be used to cover a variety of topics and concepts, answers could be simple verbal responses or require demonstrations, and cards can be modified to included numbers so that questions can be asked in order instead of randomly.  When using this technique with your audience, consider whether or not your topic can be approached in a non-linear format.  If not, you may want to stick with numbered cards.  Another tip is to actually write the color of the card on the card for members of the audience who may be colored blind.

Do you have ideas about engaging students in a large lecture hall setting?  What has worked for you?