Real and virtual lineup activities for active learning classrooms


Active learning is an approach to instruction involving a broad range of learner-centered instructional strategies, which encourage learner responsibly for their learning and engagement with course elements, including what they should learn, why they should learn it, how to learn it, as well as how to achieve the course learning outcomes. Engaging students with course elements is where they get busy doing meaningful and thought-provoking learning experiences that stimulate and maintain motivation to learning (Shawer, 2022; Shawer, 2017). Prior research findings indicate that active learning improves critical thinking skills, learning retention and transfer, motivation, and interpersonal skills. Prior research also indicates active learning decreases course failure and dropout rates. Moreover, results from active learning multidisciplinary classrooms show student learning outcomes (LOs) dramatically improve (Prince, 2004). The ability to run active learning classrooms, including face-to-face, online, and hybrid, is essential to course and program quality and effectiveness. As a result, “the ability to engage students with course components through a variety of active learning strategies is a basic competency for all teachers to demonstrate” (Shawer, 2022). Below, based on actual classroom experiences, I demonstrate how to conduct the lineup activities:

  • Face-to-face lineup activities
  • Online lineup activities

Face-to-face lineup activities

 Lineup strategy activity modes

  • The lineup strategy can be carried out using a mix of whole class and small group discussions. Teachers should play the facilitator’s role throughout.

 Why to use the lineup strategy?

  • To identify different opinions so that an agreement or decision on an issue is reached.
  • To generate, develop, and refine ideas.
  • To help learners refine prior learning through changing position for those who have one or embrace others’ position for those who do not have a position in light of peer evidence.
  • To promote communication, critical thinking, analysis, and evaluative skills through arguments and counter arguments.

 How to conduct the lineup strategy?

1. Lineup Topic 

  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Activity mode: whole class

Fig 1 shows instructors should first present an issue for students to take a position. Applying Merrill’s (2002) first principle of instruction (learning is promoted when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems) helps teachers to engage students with the topic through problem-learning. So is Merrill’s activation of prior learning principle. This means the lineup topic should involve a real-world problem or a simulated situation that poses a problem. Applying Gagne et al.’s (1992) first two events of instruction are also helpful to engage students with the lineup activities. For example, in a course design class, instructors could ask students to express their position on whether instructional designers create course assessments or course modules first. They would later justify why they took one position rather than the others. Students who are confused or unaware of the process may also take the undecided position. During group and class discussions lots of ideas and evidence would be brought forward. This allows students to learn new concepts, correct misconceptions, critique positions, and draw conclusions.

2. Lineup Activity

  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Activity mode: whole class

After asking the whole class to take a position on the issue, instructors ask students to join one of three lines (Fig 1).  Students who chose to start with designing the course assessments (first position) are asked to join line 1. Students who chose to start with designing the course modules (second position) join line 2, whereas undecided students (third position) join line 3.

Fig 1. The lineup strategy

3. Small Group Discussions 

  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Activity mode: small groups
  • Group number: six or three students, equal or unequal position number

Six students representing each of the three lines would then form a group to justify their positions. Every group must comprise the three different positions. Two students represent line 1, two represent line 2, and two students represent line3. Alternatively, at least two positions must be represented in every group in case there were no undecided positions. This means each group comprises two students who chose to start with designing the assessment tasks first (line 1), two students who chose to start with designing the course modules first (line 2), and two undecided students (line 3). It is possible to have three-member groups, one student from line 1, one from line 2 and one from line 3. Although it is also possible to have unequal number of students, at least one student from each line must be part of the group. For example, you could have two students from line 1, one student from line 2 and two students from line 3. The students in each group would then explain to one another why they took that position. Group members ask and answer questions and take notes to justify why they stuck to or changed their original position. They also need to show what they learned from the discussion, as well as what remained confusing and unanswered.

While this activity aims to encourage students who had a position to generate and clarify information about the topic, as well as to challenge others’ ideas, it allows undecided students to learn about the topic from group discussions and to form an informed position. As expected, while some group members present their position and evidence to the group, opposing group members would challenge it. In this context, undecided students, who observe opposing views and evidence, analyze information, learn new concepts, and draw conclusions relating to the lesson topic.

4. Whole Class Discussions

  • Time: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Activity mode: whole class

As Fig 1 shows, when the time for small group discussions expires, instructors bring all students to a whole class discussion. They ask students holding the same position to sit together in groups. This is necessary because some of the students might have changed their positions as a result of group discussions. Teachers then ask each group (students holding the same position) to justify why they had that position by inviting each group to clarify their position. Other students are invited to challenge the position, but they have to provide counter evidence. Next, instructors ask questions similar to these: Who changed their position? Why did they change it? While facilitating this discussion, instructors develop ideas, correct misunderstanding, and provide necessary information. Finally, the class may agree on a number of things:

  • Make a decision on or reach a conclusion about X.
  • List the facts, concepts, and theories underlying X and Y.
  • Explain how the information learned can be used in other situations.
  • List the skills required to do X and Y.
  • List the elements of X and Y.
  • Compare and contrast X and Y.
  • Justify why X should come before Y.
  • Explain the impact of X on Y and vice versa.
  • List the consequences of X and Y for Z.

Online lineup activities

The lineup activities can be easily and effectively run online. Instructors would follow the same steps they followed in carrying out traditional lineup learning. However, they need to make adaptations and follow extra protocols to keep discussions focused and students engaged online.

1. Lineup Topic 

  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Activity mode: whole class

From the online platform (e.g., Canvas, Zoom, Google Classroom, or Moodle), instructors present the topic in the same ways as in actual classrooms. Merrill’s first two principles of using problem situations and activating prior learning are essential to engage students in virtual classrooms.

2. Online Lineup Activity

  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Activity mode: whole class

From the online platform, instructors ask students to take position 1, 2, or 3 by either raising hands in the virtual classroom or by sending a message into the chat box. On a printout of the students’ list, instructors would mark positions for grouping purposes.

3. Online Small Group Discussions 

  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Activity mode: small groups
  • Group number: six or three students, equal or unequal position number

From the online platform, instructors ask students to join small discussion groups. For example, students might be assigned to Zoom Breakout Rooms or Canvass Groups. Let’s say the virtual classroom would have three groups. As instructor, you would move two students who hold position 1, two students who hold position 2, and two students who hold position 3 into group 1 (six members). Instructors continue to form groups in the same way until all students are assigned to separate groups. Then, each group connect together in a discussion room. Instructors would ask students to follow the same real classroom task requirements during online discussion rooms. Instructors can join each group to observer and facilitate.

Discussion groups or rooms allow students to interact with the materials, among themselves, as well as with instructors when they do the lineup activities. Let’s give one example on Canvas (an LMS platform). Instead of asking students to lineup as in real classrooms, instructors use the Group feature to create and view activities within each group, assign students to different groups, and assign each group leader. Instructors would be able to do this both manually and through the automatic group assignment option. Alternatively, instructors may allow students to sign up for groups to choose whom to work with. Instead of assigning students randomly into groups, instructors can allow students to create and join groups. However, instructors are still able to move students into different groups for inside classroom work alongside setting groups for graded and ungraded assessments for in-class and term projects. Moreover, students can create their own groups to continue after class discussions, where they can post questions and answers.

Unlike traditional classrooms, written instructions must be posted on discussion boards during online lineup activities. For example, instructors may post the three positions for discussion, questions to be answered, as well as the time set for each group member to present their case and counter argument. Instructors also need to indicate the maximum number of students who are allowed to join a group (six students), two holding position 1, two holding position 2, and two holding position 3. It should be noted that same position or expert grouping is suitable for other strategies (e.g., jigsaw) rather than the lineup strategy. Groups or rooms must be approved by instructors before students start discussions. Instructors should also keep discussions within 10 minutes. For example, instead of having a discussion activity for 20 minutes, split it into two activities, 10 minutes each, so that you can manage discussions, introduce concepts, correct misunderstanding, and keep discussions focused.

4. Online Whole Class Discussions

  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Activity mode: whole class

From the online platform, instructors bring all students to the main discussion board, where they ask students to say their position again and record the names of students having the same position on a sheet of paper. As in actual classrooms, this is necessary because some students change their positions as a result of group discussions. Instructors would then invite individual students to clarify their position without interruption by others and within the set time. Instructors would invite other students holding the same position to add details in support or clarification of the position. Having presented their position, other students virtually raise hands to challenge the position following the same rules as in real classrooms. Moreover, each group may post their position through, for example, Google Docs, Google Sheets, or Zoom chat window when they return to the main session.

Online lineup tip:

Lineup activities should be conducted as iterations (repeated cycles) when lineup is used to teach a whole lesson, or as a single cycle when lineup is used to carry out a single activity or unrelated activities of a lesson.


Gagné, R. M., Briggs, L. J., & Wager, W. W. (1992). Principles of instructional design (4th ed.). Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

Prince, M. (2004) Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education 93 (3) 223-231.

Shawer, S. F. (2017). Teacher-driven curriculum development at the classroom level: Implications for curriculum, pedagogy and teacher training. Teaching and Teacher Education, 63, 296-313.

Shawer, S. F. (2022a). Active learning strategies: How to run online and traditional active learning classrooms? Nova Science Publishers (