When incorporating active learning activities into your course, it is helpful to use a design framework. In this book, we build upon the Castle Top model, developed by L. Dee Fink in his book Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. The model calls for instructors to situate learning activities in ways that create a smooth pathway from one activity to the next, and that supports the desired learning objectives of your course and unit. Fink identifies the following sequence of activities:

Castle Top Model

Pre-Class — Present new information and facilitate the building of knowledge. Provide students with the knowledge needed to support future active learning activities that facilitate deeper learning. Often, pre-class activities test knowledge or facilitate reflection in ways that guide instruction that follows.

In-Class — Build on foundational knowledge developed in pre-class activities. Active learning activities may address misunderstandings, questions, or reflections that preceded it.

Post-Class — Provide student feedback, facilitate student reflection, application, evaluation, and synthesis of learning that has taken place. Evaluate effectiveness of the activity.


When selecting an active learning activity, focus on the following questions:

  • How will this activity support your course outcomes?
  • How will this activity support your unit objectives?
  • How might this activity help address your students’ learning challenges around the content?
  • How might this activity prepare students for future learning activities?
  • What skills might students need to develop to be successful in the activity you are considering?
  • How would you explain/defend your use of the activity you are considering to your students?
  • What would you do with the results of the activity you are considering?