Center for the Advancement of Innovative Teaching

Quick Thinks - The Interactive Lecture


This item was contributed by Barbara Millis and Jose Vasquez, Teaching and Learning Center, University of Texas at San Antonio, in a weekly Teaching Tip, 2/8/11 (email); used by permission.

Many instructors feel pressured to cover a great deal of information in their courses. For the class sessions that are especially content dense and seem to call for a traditional-lecture format, an active-learning strategy provides a viable alternative to more time-consuming group tasks. We have named the strategy Quick-thinks: they are designed to be easily inserted into lectures so that students are given an opportunity to think about important content as the lesson unfolds. When students are asked to participate instead of passively receive information, they stay more focused, they can check their own understanding, and they are cued to content that has been selected for emphasis.

At the first class meeting in which you plan to use Quick-thinks, you will need to explain to your students how you will be using this strategy and how it will positively affect their learning. There is no set formula for how often to stop and ask students to think about the content being explained. Our experience and some quantitative evidence suggest that every fifteen minutes or so results in increased attention, interest, and learning. Participation options vary: students can record their responses individually and then explain their answers to a neighbor, they can verbally generate an answer with a neighbor, or they can be asked to silently think about a possible response. The instructor then needs to provide feedback so that students can hear or share correct or possible answers. Following are specific descriptions of eight Quick-thinks.

  1. Select the Best Response

This task is most similar to the traditional multiple-choice test item. Students are presented with a question or scenario and then asked to consider which one of several alternatives best answers it. This task can simply require the recall of information just covered in the lecture or the application of that information.

The original question or scenario can be:

  • an incomplete sentence that is completed by the selection of one response.
  • an incomplete sentence containing an internal blank line to be filled in by the correct answer.
  • a complete sentence followed by several; possible answers.


Course: Psychology

Content to be learned: Defense mechanism

Format selected: Incomplete Sentence

While Professor Woods was going through a painful divorce, he tended to create unnecessarily difficult tests and gave his students unusually low grades. A psychoanalyst would be most likely to view the professor's treatment of his students as an example of:

a. repression

b. projection

c. displacement

(Correct answer: c. displacement)

  1. Correct the Error

For this task, the instructor creates an intentional error based on important content just discussed. Students are then asked to correct that mistake. This active-thinking task requires a basic level of comprehension and some immediate processing of content just heard or observed.

The intentional error can contain:

  • inaccurate or illogical statements, conclusions, predictions, or  implications
  • weak arguments
  • unlikely quotations



Course: Teaching Methods

Content to be learned: Learning outcomes

Format selected: Inaccurate Statement

A learning outcome in a lesson plan describes how the teacher will present the new content.

(Correct answer: A learning outcome is a description of what the students will do to demonstrate their understanding.)

  1. Complete a Sentence Starter

For this task, instructors create a sentence stem that needs completion to reflect an accurate statement. In order to complete the statement accurately, students need to understand the information that was just explained, discussed or read. The content described can be presented in a way that requires only a rote level of understanding where students simply recall information just described by the instructor. In order to elicit a deeper level of understanding, the sentence starter would require reflection that goes beyond recall to levels of application, analysis or evaluation.

The sentence starter can focus on:

  • a definition
  • a cause/effect relationship
  • an implication
  • a rationale
  • a controversy


Course: Criminal Justice

Content to be learned: California's "three-strikes" sentencing policy

Format selected: Cause/effect Relationship

"The `three strikes' mandatory sentencing laws might result in _______________________."

(Correct answer might include: prison overcrowding, increased pressure on judges to make exceptions, increased employment opportunities in prisons, new prisons built, and/or reduced crime rates.)