If You Can Dodge a Wrench You Can Dodge a Ball: Students Enjoy Throwing Things!
Turns out, students enjoy throwing things. Especially at the instructor.
One way to engage students is to *physically* engage them. I have done this with small groups of 10-12 up to 50+.
One easy way is to bring them to call on students to answer questions during your discussion. Since my background is in infectious disease, I usually bring giant microbes. I’ll throw one to one student to have them answer the question. If it is a group who knows each other well, I will have the initial student throw the item to the next student to to answer the next question.
This can also be a great way to come up with ideas in a brainstorming session. For example, let’s say you are asking the group to come up with causes of common complaints such as “chest pain” or “altered mental status.” The students can throw the toy to each other and each person has to come up with an accurate and unique addition to the ones that have already been mentioned. They have to listen to what others have already said and be reviewing potential possibilities as the ball is thrown.
Ball toss: “This semi-review and wake-up exercise is particularly useful for re-energizing students when they have been working with material that requires heavy concentration. Craft an open-ended prompt (such as ‘In my lecture, what did you find particularly interesting?
Important? Still unclear?’). Then have students stand up and form a circle facing each
other. Toss a nerf ball or bean bag to a student and have him or her respond and then toss
the ball to another student who also responds. Continue the exercise until everyone has
caught the ball at least once and explained an important concept from the material just
I once went to a teaching and learning session. The instructor asked us to brainstorm ideas around a topic. We went around the room and gave our idea to the group. We then threw it towards him as he was carrying a large trash can. The session was at the end of a long conference session and I found it SO memorable.
I incorporated this idea into my selfcare talk on ophthalmology. Students were required to evaluate a real selfcare product from the OTC aisles in their groups. They had to discuss aspects such as indication, precautions/contraindications, and patient counseling points. When they finished, they threw the Ziploc bag containing their product into a large bin at the front of the room. Students were surprised at the opportunity to chuck an item across the room and it livened up the end of class.
Another activity I read about, but have not done myself, is “Snowballs.” The instructor forms several blank pieces of paper into balls and throws them around the room. Each time a “snowball” lands on a desk, the recipient must write three takeaways from today’s (or yesterday’s) class, and then throw it onward. After nine ideas are on each page, pause for students to debrief the pages in groups.
A couple of tips for making this successful:
Know your audience-do they know each other well? Will students feel comfortable answering questions individually? Or calling on others?
Use soft items. This should be a given, but you definitely don’t want to cause any risk of harm to the students or yourself or the building.
Know your time limit. Like all active learning, know when too long is too long. Plan in advance and then stop if needed.