Remembering My Hat

5th July 2011

Skeleton Activity

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 22:00
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(cc) Blind Grasshopper

I wrote what follows for a colleague this morning, to try to make explicit some of what I have picked up about how to design Activities within distance learning materials, at least within my discipline, and for the kinds of courses I have worked on.

You could call it an empty box, ready to fill with the exciting activity of your design, or a shell, but I think I prefer ‘skeleton’ because the bones run all through the Activity, not just round the edges.

I’m sure I’m reinventing the wheel here, but since I couldn’t myself easily find someone else spelling this out, I thought I’d post it up anyway, in case it’s useful or people want to disagree or amend or otherwise comment:

A paragraph leading up to the Activity and (hopefully) making them want to bother doing it. Perhaps making a bridge between what they have just been doing and the focus of the Activity (although this might have been in the preceding paragraph). Explaining any context that they need to understand before doing the Activity (who is it they are going to be reading/watching/listening to? Where does this clip/reading/resource come from?) So that when they come to start the Activity, they already know what kind of a thing they are looking at.

Activity name

Approximate Timing

Instructions – what does the student need to do?

  • Read this
  • Watch this,
  • Make some notes
  • Answer these questions,
  • Fill in this poll, etc.

Any sub-instructions – the actual questions to answer, headings under which to make notes, grid to fill in, etc.

Check that what you want the students to do is crystal clear and is written in simple direct language. Baffling or confusing looking instructions just make most people skip the Activity. Direct questions – ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘what’ – are usually better than the more vague ‘consider’ or ‘critique’ or ‘analyse’.


Write as if a very good student had followed the instructions. So that time-pressured students can, if nothing else, read the ‘discussion’ and get a sense of what they might have discovered if they had done the Activity themselves. And so that students who do do the Activity can check their own understanding and reactions.

Just answering the questions / doing the tasks set. Keeping new material and citations to an absolute minimum.

If your instructions have a structure (e.g. 3 questions) it’s usually a good idea to mirror that structure in the discussion, so they can easily see how they relate.

Does it seem plausible that students could get from your instructions to the discussion you provide? If not, either rewrite the instructions to more directly address where you want them to end up, or rewrite the discussion so that it is something that they could (on a good day, with a following wind) produce having followed your instructions.

Then, once you are out of the Activity ‘box’, a more academic voice in the paragraphs between activities, with citations and full license to introduce new ideas.

I bet Derek Rowntree said this better. One day, in my copious spare time, I will read some Rowntree.

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