Inspiring Active Learning: A Complete Handbook for Today's Teachers

Inspiring Active Learning: A Complete Handbook for Today's Teachers

Inspiring Active Learning: A Complete Handbook for Today's Teachers

Inspiring Active Learning: A Complete Handbook for Today's Teachers


How can we structure class time efficiently? How can we explain and lecture effectively? How can we help students master content? How can we make learning more real and lasting?

In this revised and greatly expanded 2nd edition of Inspiring Active Learning, educators Merrill Harmin and Melanie Toth provide answers to our fundamental teaching questions and show us how to transform our classrooms into communities of active, responsible learners. The authors present an array of research-based, teacher-tested strategies for managing our everyday responsibilities--from beginning a class to grading homework, from instructing large groups to promoting diligent seatwork, from motivating slackers to handling disrupters. These strategies focus on mutual respect, not bossiness; collaboration, not isolation; commitment to learning, not fear of failure; and the dignity of all, not praise or rewards for a few.

Regardless of our level of experience or the grade or subject we teach, the active-learning approach helps us

• Perform routine teaching tasks more easily.

• Discover a higher level of teaching success and personal satisfaction.

• Establish a class climate of full participation and cooperation.

• Prepare engaging lessons that keep students productively involved.

• Encourage students to work energetically, willingly, and intelligently each day.

• Inspire all students, even the most challenging, to strive for excellence.

With its detailed classroom examples and more than 250 practical strategies, Inspiring Active Learning is a comprehensive reference for solving almost any teaching problem.


A foreign dignitary visited President Clinton in the White House. Because the dignitary hardly spoke English, he was carefully coached beforehand. “When you meet the President,” his coach explained, “simply shake hands and say, 'How are you, Mr. President?' After he replies, you say, 'Me, too.'”

Unfortunately, when the time came, the dignitary asked, “Who are you, Mr. President?” Gracefully, Clinton smiled and answered lightly, “I'm Hillary's husband.” The dignitary then also smiled, gave a slight bow, and said, “Me, too.”

The moral: It's easy to make mistakes when trying something new. And because we don't like to make mistakes, especially when we risk being criticized, we often don't explore new ways. We would rather stick with the familiar.

That reality became strikingly clear to us early in our workshops with teachers. We would demonstrate new motivation strategies, and the teachers would role-play those strategies. They would experience the power of the strategies and understand their value. The teachers said they planned to use some of the strategies, those they thought would work well in their classrooms. But guess what? Many did not do so. Apparently, breaking free of established routines was harder for those teachers than even they realized.

That, of course, is the classic problem in professional development. Despite all the graduate courses we take, despite the many inservice programs we attend, despite the best exhortations of education leaders, many of us end up taking the path of least resistance and repeating this year what we did last year. Thus can we become stagnant in our teaching, unable to take advantage of the best ideas available.

In working with teachers, we wanted to make it easier for them to move beyond their existing habits. And we wanted teachers to feel strong, not anxious . . .

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