Appropriate teaching activities to submit for inclusion in

"Learner-Centered Teaching Activities for Environmental and Sustainability Studies"



      (Note: Examples of activities that are outside the scope of this volume, including laboratory, field and exclusively homework activities, are listed at the very bottom of this page.)

What kind of teaching activities are appropriate for this volume?

       The short answer is: any one, suitable for in-the-lecture-classroom settings, that requires students to do something other than passively take notes from a lecture. This includes active critical thinking and self-reflection that are prompted by thought-provoking statements, questions, tasks or scenarios that cause them to “wake-up,” pay closer attention, cognitively “see” a topic from new perspectives, and perhaps re-evaluate their own attitudes, values, and behaviors. A longer answer is provided in the text below, with general types of activities and published examples at the end. 

         If the descriptions below bring to mind something you and your students have done in your class, please consider submitting the activity for consideration (details here).         

         Lots of great learner-centered teaching methods exist, including writing assignments, laboratory experiments, field trips, problem-based learning, worksheets, discussion, presentations, service learning, study abroad, and other types of hands-on experiential approaches. These vary in many ways that influence how easily each can be implemented. Often the materials, money, and/or time for preparation and completion of such activities can be limiting and prevent instructors from adopting more learner-centered practices into their courses, especially into traditional lecture settings (i.e., 50-80 minute sessions in rooms with desks and chairs in rows, possibly with many students).

           This book project seeks to help instructors of college and advanced high-school environmental and sustainability studies courses overcome such limitations by publishing teaching activities for traditional in-the-classroom settings that are relatively simple, inexpensive, and easy to implement, yet are engaging, meaningful and rigorous. Such activities can lead to our most memorable class moments such as the wide-ranging discussion that followed from a provocative question, or the A-HA! moments generated by interactions in small-group work. (For information about the use of "learner-centered" for this volume, see here.)

            Many, if not all, instructors have probably developed a favorite short, simple-but-powerful teaching activity. Although we may discuss them with close colleagues, few outlets exist for disseminating these more widely, especially in concise formats that are quick and easy to prepare. This book project seeks to fill such a gap by collecting novel, creative and high-impact pedagogies in one place.

            In particular, teaching activities are desired for this volume that foster deeper self-reflection (or metacognition), especially about students' affective dimensions (i.e., attitudes, values, behaviors). Instructors sometimes shy away from these personal and personality domains in the classroom for many reasons. However, allowing students opportunities to reflect on their own thinking and feelings, sharing them, and hearing the personal views of others provide powerful learning moments that are truly learner-centered. Effective ways to facilitate this type of learning in the classroom can be challenging but should not be ignored. Submissions that describe ways to engage students in self-reflection in the context of environmental and sustainability issues (see possible topics here) will be given special consideration for inclusion in the book.

            Contributions that will be considered for this volume include, but are not limited to, those that briefly describe adaptations of the types of pedagogy listed below. Their commonality is that they engage students to become active participants in the classroom. Any activity that fosters such "minds-on" learning will be considered for the volume, even if it does not fit neatly into an existing pedagogical framework.

  • Discussions prompted by novel, thought-provoking open-ended questions

  • In-class writing exercises (e.g., minute papers, group essays)

  • Hands-on demonstrations

  • Socratic questioning

  • A series of clicker questions

  • In-class group projects (e.g., jigsaws, data set analyses)

  • Flipped-classroom activities

  • Case studies that integrate student engagement

  • Structured debates

  • Worksheets or other guided reviews and reflection

  • Problem-based learning

  • Think-pair-share exercises

  • Student-given presentations

  • Model or diagram construction (e.g., concept/mental mapping)

  • Role-playing activity

  • A new type of activity that only you have used!

  • A longer list and descriptions of some activities is provided at the "Starting Point-Teaching Entry-Level Geoscience" website


Two example activities that exemplify the types appropriate for this volume have been prepared: one on worldviews and one on conservation triage.

In addition, the following published activities and resources reflect the types sought for this volume (although their formats and length differ from what this volume will use):

Borsari, B. 2009. The ecological footprint dilemma. Online Resource with the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. Available online here.

Byrne, L.B. 2012. Complexity in conservation: The legal and ethical case of a bird-eating cat and its human killer. Online Resource with the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. Available online here.

Byrne, L.B. 2013. An in-class role-playing activity to foster discussion and deeper understanding of biodiversity and ecological webs. EcoEd Digital Library. pdf

Meyer, M.H., P. Allen. 1994. Dandelion Dilemma: A Decision Case in Turfgrass Management. HortTechnology 4: 190-193. (link to abstract and pdf)

Nuding, A, and S. Hampton. 2012. Investigating human impacts on stream ecology: locally and nationally. Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology 8: Available online here.

Vorhees, D. The Oil Game: Problem-based learning exercise in an Environmental Geology lecture-format class. Available online here.


More case studies related to environmental science are published by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science  here.

The Ecological Society of America publishes teaching resources through two online resources: Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology and EcoEd Digital Library.


On the flip side, what types of activities are not appropriate for this volume? These:

  • Traditional laboratory activities and experiments

  • Activities that require extended time across 3 or more class sessions

  • Homework or library projects that are primarily or wholly completed outside of class

  • Elaborate case studies

  • Ones requiring expensive, many and/or hard to obtain resources/materials

  • Complex ones that require extensive text to describe them (more than 3 pages)