Active Learning

Active learning (AL) has been identified by numerous scholars as a way of effectively engaging students in the learning process. Thomas (1972) identified that the amount of information retained by students declines significantly after ten minutes. McKeachie & Svinicki (2014) and Bligh (2000) observed that student attention declines after 15-20 minutes. It is therefore important to find ways to keep students actively involved in the learning process to maximize their learning potential.


I have adapted a number of generic AL activities for a fashion curriculum as a way to encourage students to engage more deeply with course content, as well as to provide alternative methods of content delivery in traditionally lecture-dependent classes. Activities are listed below, along with variations for application in different courses.


This activity was introduced by Felder & Brent (2003) as a way for students to engage with material in a collaborative manner to solve or brainstorm a problem in a limited time-frame and then share their results when called upon. It is an excellent way to transform students from passive listeners (i.e. in a lecture) to active participants in their education. Short time frames are set for each phase of the activity to keep them on task; this is an important factor of planning as too much time will result in distractions and loss of attention, and too little time will result in anxiety and stress. Students can pair up on their own, or they can be put in assigned pairs or small groups. If assigning pairs, it can be beneficial to put high performing and struggling students together; the high performing students gain an opportunity to teach the material themselves, which results in a deeper understanding of the content on their part, and the struggling students gain the opportunity to learn the material from both a different source (instead of the instructor) and may feel more comfortable asking a peer questions about the material if they do not understand (instead of asking the instructor in front of the class, which may feel intimidating).


Once students are in pairs, they are assigned roles by the instructor. Assigning roles gives the instructor the opportunity to change the task for each student (so that students aren't self-appointing themselves to the same task every time this activity is used) and saves time in class, but in larger groups this may not be practical and students may self-assign. In a basic version of this activity, one person is the recorder (note-taker) and the other person is the presenter. Students are informed that at the end of the activity, they will be called upon to share their results; this ensures that all students are invested in the activity because they may need to share in front of the class. A note on group size: as noted by Felder & Brent (2003) , groups over four are the maximum size that students can effectively work together without someone feeling left out and disengaging from the activity. I have aimed to keep my maximum at groups of three, because it allows for an odd-numbered class to have a couple groups of four if necessary, but will not get up to five. 


This activity has worked brilliantly each time I have used it. Examples of how I have adapted it for different classes are below:


FSN 120


Two pattern designs are displayed on the screen at the front of the room. Students, in pairs, are assigned one of the two designs to work on. They are given two minutes to evaluate the design, and 10 minutes (depending on design complexity) to manipulate their basic blocks (in 1/2 or 1/4 scale) to match the design on the board. One person is assigned as the pattern manipulator to develop the draft, the other person is the note-taker who writes down the step-by-step "recipe". If there is a third person in the group (depends on class size, this might be necessary or even beneficial) then they are the presenter who shares their result (or part of it) with the class. If there are only two in the group, the note-taker is also the presenter.


FSN 101 & FFD 200


This activity has not been tested yet, but will be used in FFD 200 in winter term, 2018. In lecture, students put themselves into groups of three. They then self-assign a recorder and a presenter and are given 5 minutes to collectively discuss among the three of them the recently assigned article (homework from the previous class) and come up with a list of the five most important points from that article. Students will then be called upon to share one of their top five points with the class. 


FSN 707


In tutorial, students are organized in groups of two or three. A recorder and a presenter are assigned. Two questions related to a recent topic covered in the lecture are posed to the class; each group is assigned one of the two questions to consider and discuss. The examples I used in tutorial this year were: "What is the importance of having a Research Question?" and "What makes a good Research Question?". Student were given five minutes to discuss and then we spent another ten minutes sharing the responses to each question. This helped them frame, in their own words, the concept of a research question and how they might develop one for their own research topic.

In-Class Games

I began incorporating game show style games into the FSN 101 and FFD 200 lectures as a way to break up the lecture and bring some humour to the class. These activities invove adapting a popular game show to Textiles content and inviting participants to come up "on stage" to play the game in front of their classmates. They are notified in advance so that they can prepare during the week and review their notes, and students who collect enough correct answers gain an extra point on their upcoming midterm or final exam. I have adapted the following games for use in both Textiles I and Textiles II lecture over the years:​

Who Wants to be a Millionaire

For this game, I prepared slides in advance, using screenshots from the actual TV show and photoshopping questions based on class content. I chose the funniest screenshots I could find to catch the attention of students who are not direct participants at the front of the classroom.


Each participant received two lifelines in the form of laminated cards (so I could reuse on future activities) - a 50/50 lifeline (where two incorrect answers were removed from the four options displayed on the slide) and an Ask the Audience lifeline (where they could take a poll from the class audience to find out what everyone else thought was the right answer).  I added the screenshots to a slideshow, and pre-planned the slides to correspond to the use of the 50/50 lifeline by adding a slide with two incorrect answers removed, and inserted a slide with the correct answer circled in red for the final slide.


Students who answered correctly received one point on the upcoming midterm or final exam, depending when the game was played. They were then asked if they wanted to "walk away" with their one point, or "risk it all" and try for two points. If they got the second question right, they earned two points, but if they didn't, they lost both points. 

Textiles Jeopardy

For this game, I prepared slides in advance, using in-document links that interconnected areas of the slides to certain questions and answers. Topics were chosen in advance based on recently covered class content. Three student volunteers were selected to come to the front of the class ("on stage") to compete. They had to make their own "buzzer" noise by saying a pre-assigned sound out loud (either BEEP BEEP or MOOO or DING DING, something where I could differentiate who was first by the sound they made. This also brought some humour to the activity and gave the class a chuckle). The student who was first to "buzz" in had to provide their answer in the form of a question. Correct answers earned the opportunity to choose the next topic of the available trivia questions. Students earned half a point for each correct answer, up to two full points. 

Family Feud

This game took a bit of planning, but allowed students to work together in groups to earn a half-point for correct answers (applied to their next midterm or final exam). A question was posed to the participants, and they had to "buzz" in to earn the opportunity to answer first (buzzing in was done by shouting out a noise of their choosing). The team to buzz in first had the opportunity to guess at one of the answers on the board. If they were correct they could talk amongst themselves to guess the next answers. Answers were incorporated into the slideshow in white text so they were not visible until I highlighted them (depending on what students answered). Incorrect answers earned a red X - three red X's and the second team would have a chance to score.


BINGO is a popular game among the students because it is generally well known, easy to learn, and fun to play. In this rendition, instead of calling for specific squares on the BINGO card (e.g. B-6, O-64), I ask the class questions about textiles content we have covered in prior weeks. To mark a square on their card, they have to find the square that provides the correct answer to my question. For example, if I ask, "there are two types of fibres. Staple fibre is one of them. What is the other?", they would have to find and circle "Filament". Not all cards are the same, so not all cards will have the answers to every question. Also, the cards are all printed in different orders, so even if multiple people have some of the same content on their cards, they will have to collect different answers in order to gain four-in-a-row and win the BINGO. 


This game has been very successful as a review before a midterm or final exam. It gives me an opportunity to quiz their knowledge in a non-threatening environment (they do not have to leave their seats to participate, and they do not risk anything by playing even if they don't know the right answers). I typically play until I have about ten winners, with each successful BINGO earning a point to be added to their upcoming midterm or final exam.

Instructor Notes:

Student Bingo Cards:

Write Your Own Test Question

In this activity, I take five minutes at the end of class to have students form groups of two or three and develop up to three questions that they feel would be a fair assessment of their knowledge. Questions cannot be too simple or too difficult, and they must evaluate a student's knowledge of the course material. They can be in multiple choice or short answer format. I have conducted this activity with FSN 101 Textiles I and FFD 200 Textiles II, but it can be adapted to any course. For example, in FSN 120 Fashion Design I, students could work in groups to develop a pattern design they might expect to see on a test and then solve it. 

Quiz Zero

The concept for Quiz Zero has been adapted with permission from Dr. Eric Kam, director of the Learning Teaching Office at Ryerson University. The goal of this activity is to ensure that students read the course syllabus and that they all access their my.ryerson account and log into D2L to familiarize themselves with the system and the course shell. I have not practised this activity in class yet, but plan to incorporate it in FFD 200 in winter 2018.


In the first week of class, students are notified that they must complete an online quiz before they will be permitted to submit any assignments or take any tests. The quiz is posted on D2L in the course shell and is worth 0% of the course weight. It can be taken as many times as necessary, but students must get 100% on the quiz in order to proceed with the course. The quiz is based on the course syllabus, which is available on D2L, so students have access to all the resources they need in order to get 100%. This activity ensures that all students activate their D2L and email account, and familiarize themselves with online assessments.





Bligh, D. A. 2000. What's the use of lectures?, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Felder, R.M. & Brent, R. (2003). Learning By Doing. Chemical Engineering Education. 37:4. Retrieved from: (


Svinicki, M. D., & McKeachie, W. J. (2014). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (Fourteenth ed.) Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


Thomas, E. J. (1972). The variation of memory with time information appearing during a lecture. Studies in Adult Education, 1, 57-62.

Kirsten Schaefer / T 647.678.5528 / / © 2019 by Kirsten Schaefer