The snowball strategy for real and virtual active learning classrooms

Introduction

Based on actual classroom experiences and Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (2021), I demonstrate how to conduct the snowball strategy:

  • Face-to-face snowball strategy
  • Online snowball strategy

Face-to-face snowball strategy

Activity mode: Mixed: Solo, pairs, small groups, pair groups, and whole class

Instructor and learners’ roles: Instructors guide and facilitate learning activities. Learners actively carry out learning activities under instructors’ guidance.

Why to use it?

  • To generate ideas or solutions and develop and refine ideas.
  • To promote communication, critical thinking, analysis, and evaluative skills through arguments and counter arguments.
  • To help students learn new concepts, correct misconceptions, and draw conclusions during group and whole class discussions.
  • To help learners refine prior learning and construct new learning through discussions.

 How to conduct the snowball strategy?

 1. Present Snowball Topic

    • Time: 5 minutes
    • Activity mode: whole class
  • Present the question or issue you need to address (Fig 1).
  • For example, ask students to review the methodology section of a paper.
  • In light of the paper’s purpose, context, and research questions, ask them to address these questions:
  • What alternative research strategy or strategies could be used? Why?
  • Suggest alternative sampling strategy for the paper. Why?
  • Suggest alternative data collection and analysis methods. Why?
  • Provide students with the following:
    • The research context, purpose, and research questions.
    • The methodology section of the paper.
    • Make three hard copies of the whole article available in case students need additional information to address the issue.

2. Solo Brainstorming

    • Time: 10-15 minutes ( Adjust activity timing according to topic and class time).
    • Activity mode: solo
  • As shown in Fig. 1, ask each student to read the Methods Section to address the above questions.
  • Each student must do this activity individually and silently.

3. Pair Discussion

    • Time: 5-10 minutes
    • Activity mode: pair
  • Ask each pair to discuss their answers to agree on a joint answer (Fig 1).
  • Every student must be prepared to answer what they learned from the discussion and what remained confusing and unanswered.
  • Every student would therefore take notes on what they learned.
  • Join (instructor) each pair to observe and facilitate discussions.
  • Output: a joint answer.

Fig 1. The snowball strategy

4. Small Group Discussion

    • Time: 10-15 minutes
    • Activity mode: small group
  • Ask every two pairs of students (4 students) to form a group.
  • Group members discuss answers to prepare a joint answer.
  • Assign group leader to watch time, facilitate discussion, encourage and invite contributions, and record the group joint answer.
  • Students analyze information, learn new concepts, and draw conclusions.
  • Every student must be prepared to answer what they learned from the discussion and what remained confusing and unanswered.
  • Every student would therefore take notes on what they learned.
  • Join (instructor) each group to observe and facilitate discussions.
  • Output: a joint answer.

5. Pair Group Discussion (half-class)

    • Time: 10-15 minutes
    • Activity mode: medium-size group
  • Ask every two groups (8 students) to come together to discuss ideas or solutions (Fig 1).
  • Group members discuss answers to prepare a joint answer.
  • Assign group leader to watch time, facilitate discussion, encourage and invite contributions, and record the group joint answer.
  • Students analyze information, learn new concepts, and draw conclusions.
  • Every student must be prepared to answer what they learned from the discussion and what remained confusing and unanswered.
  • Every student would therefore take notes on what they learned.
  • Join (instructor) each pair group to observe and facilitate discussions.
  • Output: a joint answer.

6. Whole Class Discussion

    • Time: 20 to 30 minutes
    • Activity mode: whole class
  • Bring all students to the main discussion board (Fig 1).
  • Write group answers on the board.
  • Ask each group to justify their solutions/ ideas.
  • Invite reactions from other students.
  • While facilitating this discussion, develop ideas, correct misunderstanding, and provide necessary information.
  • You can vote on a summarized list or on each group input.
  • With your class and as appropriate, try to address these points:
    • 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 (Shawer, 2022).

Online snowball strategy

The snowball strategy can be used online with adaptations to keep discussions focused and students engaged with the activities.

1. Present Snowball Topic

    • Time: 5 minutes
    • Activity mode: whole class
  • From the online platform (e.g., Canvas, Zoom, Google Classroom, or Moodle), present the snowball topic.
  • For example, give students a short paper to review its methodology section.
  • In light of the paper’s purpose, context, and research questions, ask them to address these questions:
  • What alternative research strategy or strategies could be used? Why?
  • Suggest alternative sampling strategy for the paper. Why?
  • Suggest alternative data collection and analysis methods. Why?
  • On your online platform, post the following:
  • The research context, purpose and research questions in bullet points.
  • The methodology section of the paper with individual access for every to navigate the paper easily (e.g., scroll up and down).
  • The whole article for students to access extra information.

2. Online Solo Brainstorming

    • Time: 10-15 minutes ( Adjust activity times to topic and class time.)
    • Activity mode: solo
  • From the online platform, ask each student to individually read the Methods Section to address the above questions.

3. Online Pair Discussion

    • Time: 5-10 minutes
    • Activity mode: pair
  • From the online platform, assign pair discussion. For example, move every two students to Zoom Breakout Rooms or Canvass Groups.
  • Ask each pair to discuss their answers to agree on a joint answer.
  • Every student must be prepared to answer what they learned from the discussion and what remained confusing and unanswered.
  • Every student would therefore take notes on what they learned.
  • You (instructor) join each pair Breakout Room to observe and facilitate discussions.
  • Output: a joint answer.

4. Online Small Group Discussion

    • Time: 10-15 minutes
    • Activity mode: small group
  • From the online platform, assign discussion groups/rooms.
  • Move every two pairs (4 students) to a Zoom Breakout Room or Canvass Group. Each two pairs would then form a group of four members.
  • Group members discuss answers to prepare a joint answer.
  • Assign group leader to watch time, facilitate discussion, encourage and invite contributions, and record the group joint answer.
  • Students analyze information, learn new concepts, and draw conclusions.
  • Every student must be prepared to answer what they learned from the discussion and what remained confusing and unanswered.
  • Every student would therefore take notes on what they learned.
  • Join (instructor) each small group Breakout Room to observe and facilitate discussions.
  • Output: a joint answer.

Let’s give one example on Canvas (an LMS platform) of how to form and manage these groups online. You can use the Group feature to manually or automatically create groups and view activities within each group, assign students to different groups, and assign each group leader. You can also let students sign up for groups while you can still control moving students into different groups for inside classroom work alongside setting groups for graded and ungraded assessments for in-class and term projects.   You also need to keep discussions within 10 minutes. Split a 20-minutes activity into two activities, 10 minutes each, to manage discussions, introduce concepts, correct misunderstanding, and keep discussions focused.  Task instructions must always be posted on the discussion boards/ rooms to avoid distractions and confusion. You must set the time for the activity and possibly the time allowed for each group member contribution. The maximum number of students allowed to join a group must be kept as small as possible. Moreover, groups or rooms must be approved by you before starting discussions.

5. Online Pair Group Discussion (half-class)

    • Time: 10-15 minutes
    • Activity mode: medium-size group
  • From the online platform, assign pair discussion groups/rooms.
  • Move every two groups (8 students) to a Zoom Breakout Room or Canvass Group. Each two pair groups would then form a group of eight members.
  • Group members discuss answers to prepare a joint answer.
  • Assign group leader to watch time, facilitate discussion, encourage and invite contributions, and record the group joint answer.
  • Students analyze information, learn new concepts, and draw conclusions.
  • Every student must be prepared to answer what they learned from the discussion and what remained confusing and unanswered.
  • Every student would therefore take notes on what they learned.
  • Join (instructor) each pair group Breakout Room to observe and facilitate discussions.
  • Output: a joint group answer.

6. Online Whole Class Discussion

    • Time: 20 to 30 minutes
    • Activity mode: whole class
  • From the online platform, bring all students to the main discussion board.
  • Present every group answer on the discussion board.
  • Ask each group to justify their solutions/ ideas.
  • Invite reactions from other students.
  • While facilitating this discussion, develop ideas, correct misunderstanding, and provide necessary information.
  • You can vote on a summarized list or on each group input through Google Surveys, oral votes, or the platform chat box, for example.
  • Advise each group to post their answer using, for example, Google Docs, Google Sheets, or Zoom chat window when they return to the main session.
  • With your class and as appropriate, try to address these points:
      • 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 (Shawer, 2022).

References

Shawer, S. F. (2022). The 3C strategy for traditional and online active learning. novapublishers.com.

Teaching &Learning in Higher Education (2021). Examples of active learning activities. Examples of Active Learning Activities (queensu.ca).