Strategies that facilitate active learning are
instructional activities that “involve students doing
things and thinking about what they are doing”
(Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Various strategies and
methods that claim to aid active learning have been
documented in the literature (Silberman, 1996).
However, due the physical constraints of a lecture
theatre, many of these suggested approaches are
either difficult or impossible to implement in a
large class setting.
Nevertheless, I have found that modifying the
traditional lecture method using simple approaches
that do not deviate very much from conventional
classroom methods have been well received by
students. These strategies are interwoven with and
incorporated into the typical 2-hour lecture in NUS.
One of the more popular strategies I have tried is
the bingo-like game for the topic “Energy and Life”
under the module LSM1301 “General Biology”.
LSM1301 is designed for students with no prior
background in Biology and had an enrolment of 577
students in Semester 1, Academic Year 2008/2009.
Instead of utilising it for reviewing purposes as
suggested by Silberman (1996), it was used to
introduce the class to the terminologies that would
be covered in the topic. A five-by-five matrix table
of 24 blank cells with the middle cell labelled
“FREE”, similar to Figure 1, would be distributed
to each student at the start of the class.
Figure 1. Sample of the matrix table used in the game
The students would then be shown a list of 24 terms
and instructed to randomly fill each of the table’s
blank cells with a different term from the list. The
students were also told that they could use each
term only once. Once the students had completed
their task, the definitions of the terms would be
read aloud and they would cross out the terms
on their tables that they thought would match the
definitions that were called out.
The first student to cross out five cells in a row either
horizontally or vertically would raise his or her
hand and the game would be temporarily stopped.
The crossed-out terms would then be checked to see
if they were correct. If the terms were incorrectly
crossed-out, the game would resume with more
definitions being read out until the next student
raises his or her hand. If the five crossed-out
cells were correct, the student would be declared
the winner and he or she would be rewarded with
either candies or chocolates. After the game, each
of the terms and their correct definitions would be
The choice of giving out something sweet as a prize
serves as an illustrative tool to connect glucose to
cellular respiration, which is the subject matter of
“Life and Energy”. The game also reminds students
to come to the class prepared—a trait that seems to
be lacking among most of them. Furthermore, when
the terms appear later during the lecture, students
would have already seen the them and I would need
less time to explain them.
Another well received strategy is the use of crossword
puzzles, which I had tried out in both LSM1301
“General Biology” and LSM1401 “Fundamentals of
Biochemistry”. Unlike other biochemistry modules,
students enroling in LSM1401 do not need to have
a pass in A-level Biology. Thus the class is often a heterogeneous mix of students, including those
who have read A-level Biology. Just like LSM1301,
LSM1401 has a relatively large enrolment and in
Semester 2, Academic Year 2008/2009, there were
420 students in the class.
Unlike the bingo-like game, crossword puzzles
were utilised at the end of a series of related topics
to help students review the terminologies used. The
crossword puzzles (see Figure 2 for an example),
were distributed towards the end of the class and
students were given sufficient time to complete
It is probably not critical but lecturers could decide
if the first student who correctly completes the
puzzle should be rewarded. There were occasions
where I gave out a reward and times where I did
not. Although the responses were not significantly
different in both cases, students generally love
freebies. What is important, though, is to allocate
sufficient time to provide and explain the solution
to the class.
Figure 2. Sample of the crossword puzzle used in LSM1301.
A similar crossword puzzle was used in LSM1401
Did the bingo-like game and crossword puzzle
facilitate active learning and enhance the
effectiveness of the teaching process? The following
are samples of comments from student feedback on
the use of these strategies:
“[He] supplements the lecture notes by
providing…a crossword puzzle and a bingo sheet, which enhances learning as it is
something out of the norm, allowing students to learn terms and facts in a new manner…”
“…very good that he used the game BINGO
in one of the class to make the lecture more
fun and interesting and also facilitate our
understanding in the topics…”
“…crossword puzzle and ‘bingo’ game for us
to know our terms better which I think was
||“…well engaged through various activities
such as the crossword puzzle…to reinforce… or encourage reading ahead despite the large
Both strategies did not incur considerable cost and
did not result in major changes to the traditional
lecture method. However, the strategies resulted in a significant change in the learning process as
perceived by the students.
Bonwell, C.C. & Eison, J.A. (1991). Active learning: creating
excitement in the classroom. ASHEERIC Higher Education
Report No. 1. Washington DC: School of Education and
Human Development, George Washington University.
Silberman, M.L. (1996). Active learning: 101 strategies to teach
any subject. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.