Inductive In-Class Activities for Deeper Learning

Generating Knowledge for Learning

In-class activities that leverage prior knowledge and create a need to know have the potential to foster deeper, more motivated learning (Albanese & Mitchell, 1993; Ausubel, 1960). One way to accomplish both elements of learning is to employ in-class activities that take an inductive approach. Inductive teaching and learning activities prompt students to generate knowledge through inquiry, reasoning, observation, or experience, rather than receive it through direct instruction (Prince & Felder, 2006).

Taking an inductive approach to your teaching can vary in terms of the structure, complexity, and extent of activities (from a few minutes to an entire course). Approaches that can be used across disciplines include:

  • Questions first: Lead off a new lesson or course by asking your students to share what they already know about a concept or topic or draw conclusions based on their prior knowledge. You can also ask questions that will drive students to the need for new content, skills, attitudes, or ways of thinking.
  • Just-in-time teaching: Before class, ask conceptual questions based on a reading or students’ prior knowledge. Then you can tailor in-class instruction to helping your students revise specific misconceptions revealed by these questions, or explore areas in which thinking is more nuanced or complex.
  • Case-based: Provide a historical or hypothetical scenario relevant to the discipline, then challenge your students (individually or in teams) to explore new knowledge or apply somewhat familiar material in the context of this case.
  • Problem-based: Provide student teams with an ill-structured, open-ended, real-world problem to solve or an issue to explore. Students then work to clarify the problem or issue itself and seek ways to solve or better understand it.


As you consider which specific inductive approach can be implemented most effectively in your teaching, be prepared to (1) orchestrate your students’ learning, rather than transmit content, and (2) provide coaching and feedback to your students in real time.


Albanese, M. A., & Mitchell, S. (1993). Problem-based learning: A review of literature on its outcomes and implementation issues. Academic Medicine: Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 68(1), 52-81. 

Ausubel, David P. (1960). The use of advance organizers in the learning and retention of meaningful verbal material. Journal of Educational Psychology, 51(5), 267-272.

Prince, M. J., & Felder, R. M. (2006). Inductive teaching and learning methods: Definitions, comparisons, and research bases. Journal of Engineering Education, 95(2),123-138.