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Strategies for Creating Activating Events

To assist students in becoming transformative learners, that is, learners who recognize the limitations of their current knowledge and perspectives, can be challenging. It requires a variety of approaches, such as …

  • creating an activating event that exposes the students' limited knowledge,
  • providing opportunities for students to identify and articulate their underlying assumptions,
  • encouraging self reflection,
  • creating opportunities for students to critically reflect through conversations with each other and the instructor.

The following strategies can assist in creating an activating event. I.e., an event that aids students in revising their underlying assumptions and adopting new ones.

  1. Anticipate what students already know about a topic by learning about your students early on in the semester (McGonigal 2). This can be done through Bio Sheets, anonymous pretests, surveys, graded or ungraded assignments, etc. It is critical that we accurately anticipate what our students know and don’t know about our subjects.
  2. Provide oppositional viewpoints through reading assignments and/or classroom activities (McGonigal 2). Visual materials, such as video clips, photographs, etc., can be particularly effective in helping students experience cognitive dissonance.
  3. Create a disorienting dilemma through a case study or a scenario that does not fit the students’ expectations. "Hopefully, their confusion and intrigue will motivate them to learn more about what you are teaching" (McGonigal 2).
  4. Present a challenging problem that students will be motivated to learn when they recognize that their current knowledge and understanding is insufficient. In doing so, you will need to be able to convince students that they can solve the problem and create conditions that validate their success (McGonigal 2).


McGonigal, Kelly. "Teaching for Transformation: From Learning Theory to Teaching Strategies." Speaking of Teaching14.2 (2005): Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning. PDF file.

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