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10 Active Learning Exercises to Engage Students and Stimulate Learning

Fundamentals of Nursing Co-Author Barbara L. Yoost, MSN, RN, CNS, CNE, ANEF shares ten ideas for infusing active learning into your classroom lessons.

  1. Patient Teaching Pamphlets
    Create a sample patient that has an illness or injury related to what you’re currently covering in class. Then ask each student to develop an educational pamphlet, flyer, or mini brochure for that patient. Make sure students cover all the necessary information in their pamphlet such as: risk factors, signs and symptoms, when to call the primary care provider, treatments, prevention strategies, and online and community resources for further information. Encourage students to be creative with the design and writing of the piece to make the information engaging and understandable for the patient.
  2. Ace® Wrap Relays
    Divide the class into teams (2-4 teams depending on size of classroom and number of available patient mannequins or body parts). In the relay, each member of a team takes a turn at wrapping and unwrapping a specific body part of a “patient”. The actual ace bandage serves as the baton as it is handed from one team member to the next. The team that finishes all of their wrappings effectively in the fastest amount of time wins. You may decide to have each student complete their bandage wrapping on the same body part for the same problem (e.g. every student performs a wrap on an amputation below the knee), or you can vary the body parts, problems, and wrap style depending on the relay round (e.g. student 1 from each team does a figure 8 wrap on a right leg with edema, student 2 does a spiral wrap on a sprained left ankle, and so on). For an extra challenge, have each student assess the wrapped extremity for circulation, sensation, and movement. You can even have students document their care electronically before moving on.
  3. NCLEX Exam Authors
    Break students into pairs and have them write ten different NCLEX exam-style questions on a specific nursing concept or class topic. Make sure students include a variety of wrong responses along with the correct answer. Then have students present their questions and response options. After classmates vote on which answer is correct, have the presenting pair reveal the correct answer and explain their rationales for both the right and wrong responses.
  4. O2 Bingo
    Introduce your class to O2 Bingo by creating bingo boards with oxygenation terms (think oximetry, CPAP, hypoxia, etc.). Then ask students questions and have them mark the answer on their boards. The bingo game can also be developed to cover a variety of different nursing concepts and related exemplars. For a creative end-of-the-year review idea, have each of your students develop their own bingo cards and questions surrounding a specific nursing concept. Then have the entire class play a round of bingo to review the concept.
  5. Medication Commercials
    Divide students into groups of two or three and have them write and perform medication commercials. You can have the entire class cover the same medication or have each group cover something different. After each group performs their commercial, have the class compare and discuss what they experience in the clinical area versus what they read about in research.
  6. Unfolding Case Studies
    Bring the subject to the center of your classroom by incorporating unfolding case studies into your lesson. Start off by providing basic assessment data on a patient. As class progresses, continue to reveal more information about that patient and their disease/disorder. Make sure students have their smartphones, tablets or laptops on hand to reference medication, diagnostic testing, and care planning point-of-care software.
  7. Reading Reflections
    Assign a particular section of the text to read for homework. Then at the beginning of the next class, have students write down: 1.) three things they learned from the reading, 2.) one way that learning might affect them in clinical practice, and 3.) one question they hope to have answered today in class. Have students hand in their written reflections, and then discuss the various takeaways as a class. Ask students to help answer their classmates’ questions from the reading. This short exercise is a great way to ensure students complete the assigned reading ahead of time.
  8. The Sensory Deprivation Experience
    When covering nursing concepts such as functional ability or sensory perception, have students take turns experiencing the blind or deaf patient’s point of view during simulation or a classroom activity by having the student wear a blindfold or earplugs respectively. Afterwards, have students discuss what they felt and learned from their sensory deprivation.
  9. Name That Personal Care Item
    Use this identification game to familiarize fundamentals students with the patient care items they will frequently encounter on the job. Start by collecting a variety of personal care items, such as a fracture pan, regular bed pan, catheter, etc., and set them on a table. Give each item a number and hold them up one item at a time. Then have students write down what they think the item is. This game can be used in place of a quiz where students individually write down the answers on a piece of paper to hand in. Or for an interactive review, divide the class into four teams and carry out the activity as if it were a round in a game show (first team to ring the bell gets to guess, and so on).
  10. Clinical to Classroom
    Each week, assign one student to write a case study based anonymously on a former clinical patient whose diagnoses relate to concepts being covered in readings and class. Have the student present his/her case study. Then allow classmates time to discuss their possible answers to the questions provided in the case study. Finally, have the author lead a discussion about the clinical patient case study and provide the “correct answers” that the authoring student prepared from required class readings, preparatory research, and his/her actual clinical experience with the patient. These can be submitted to you prior to class for review and you can then post it on the course website for all students to download prior to class.

For more resources on active learning and flipping your classroom click here.