Norwegian version of this page

Terms and concepts

Exercises to support students using terms and concepts.

Students learn to use their knowledge when collaborating with each other. They learn that writing and discussions are important tools to master the course content.

By using these exercises students can test if they have sufficient scientific understanding to describe and use the terms and concepts. The exercises can be a good entry point to discussions about the course.

Students are encouraged to also use the resources found at Search and Write


What: Explanations in pairs

When: In lectures and seminars

How: Prepare a list of terms and concepts that are central to the course, lecture or seminar. Students get access to the items one by one. One student sees the concept and shall explain the concept without mentioning the actual concept. The other student is supposed to figure out what the concept is. The goal is to practice talking about new concepts to enhance learning. It is important to emphasize that time IS NOT an issue (as opposed to the real Alias-game). Learning is a slow process, and the point is to get familiar with new concepts and talk about them. 

Example: “For each new term you will swap being the 'explainer' and the 'guesser'. Use scientific terms in your explanations. The 'guesser' can wait until the 'explainer' is done giving his/her description. There is no need to rush, so spend the time practicing and becoming familiar with using scientific terms and concepts." 


  • Write a number of terms and concepts on the blackboard and let the students choose freely. 
  • Ask the students to write down key terms and concepts during the lecture, and end the session with the students explaining what they think are the key concepts to each other. 

Micro writing

What: Short writing exercises (3-5 minutes) to practice writing skills.

When: In a lecture or a seminar (for students: also when working independently).

How: Give clear instructions, everybody in the room participates. Set the timer to three to five minutes. Everybody writes about a given topic until the time is over. The teacher gives a signal for discussion in pairs or small groups, and coordinates a plenary discussion at the end.

Example: “Before the break, let's do a short writing exercise. I will set the clock at three minutes, and everyone spends the time writing a short definition of a maximum of three sentences explaining the term 'periodic movement'. The most important thing is that you write something, not that you write a correct and perfect definition. Write a maximum of three sentences, without looking at notes and in the textbook. After the three minutes are over, we will discuss the definitions with each other. Is everyone ready? "


  • Definitions of subject terms
  • Compare two or more concepts
  • Write explanations of code, figures, tables or graphs
  • Write code, draw figures or graphs


What: Exercise to activate all students in discussions about the subject.

When: In lectures and seminar groups

How: Ask students a question relevant to the lecture. First, students get one to two minutes to think on their own, preferably by writing down key words or drawing mind maps. Then, students discuss in pairs or small groups for two to three minutes before sharing their findings with the whole group. This exercise ensures that both the active and the cautious students get an opportunity to contribute.


  • See the discussion assignment and the multiple choice assignment below. 


What: Exercise which activate students to generate a number of ideas or possible solutions to a particular problem, using terms and concepts.

When: In seminars and smaller groups

How: Prepare a problem or topic as a question which is concise and to the point. The problem should be new to the students and challenge their current knowledge on the particular issue. The question might be like:

  • In what ways might we improve product X?
  • What are the characteristics of X?
  • What is it about X that sets it apart from other Xs?
  • How can we do A and B?

Tell the students that all ideas are welcome, they are not allowed to evaluate or judge, just be open to all suggestions. After a time frame (depending on the problem), ask the students to evaluate and rank the possible solutions. The students should agree on the most plausible solution to the problem.


What: Using terms and concept for discussions

When: In lectures and seminars.

How: Prepare topics that students can discuss in pairs or in groups. Topics may be major trends in the course, how the topic is related to other courses, or why the topic is relevant to understanding recent research results. Vary between questions that begin with "what", "in what way", "how" or "why". Specify what you want the students to focus on, such as discussing the relevance of the lecture and a given topic, or comparing two central theories. The goal is to practice talking about the subject and listening to fellow students.

Example: “Today we will start with discussing the relationship between chemical analysis and antibiotic resistance. First, I want you each to create a list of three methods from chemistry that you think is relevant to research projects related to antibiotic resistance. Make a list of three things you think about. You have two minutes. Then, I want you to discuss your lists in pairs. Share your lists and discuss the pros and cons of each of the methods. You get 5 minutes to discuss together."


  • Present statements about the subject that are partially correct, ask students to discuss what is wrong or inaccurate.
  • Present previous exam questions and use them for discussion in groups.
  • Students work in groups of two pairs. Each pair receives a different task, and prepares a short presentation for the other pair to discuss their solutions.

Multiple choice and discussion

What: Exercise to assess progression in the course

When: In lectures and seminars

How: Students use a response system to answer a multiple-choice assignment with questions from the lectures.

  • If more than 70% of the students answer correctly, the teacher or a student gives a review of why the answer is correct.
  • If less than 30% of students respond correctly, it may indicate that they need more time to understand the concept.
  • If between 30 and 70% of students answer correctly, you can let them discuss in pairs or small groups before answering the same question again.


  • For course coordinator: Use multiple-choice assignments to get an overview of the students' progress in the course.
  • For students: Use multiple-choice assignments to map prior knowledge at the start of a semester or a new section of a course.  

Participatory live coding

What: A technique to teach elementary syntax for programming (coding).

When: In seminars

How: The seminar teacher writes and runs code on a big screen while students write and run the same code on their own computer. The seminar teacher reads aloud what he or she writes and explains the various elements and principles that are relevant for students to understand the code. The main focus is the syntax itself. Participatory live coding can help to make the technical aspects of programming more harmless and is suitable for beginners and student groups who think programming is challenging to learn.

Variants: see Live encoding with exercise and discussion (below)

Live coding with exercise and discussion

What: A technique for modeling reflections and thought process for programming (coding).

When: In lectures and in seminar groups.

How: The lecturer describes and solves a problem by writing and running code on a big screen. The demonstration highlights the process of finding a solution, and as a lecturer you can talk out loud about strategies you use to arrive at the relevant solution and code. After the demonstration, the students receive a new problem related to the same theme. Students must try to devise a solution (using pen and paper) before discussing with a fellow student. Live coding can work well as part of a 10-minute presentation for a topic, 5 minutes for live coding demonstration, and 5 minutes of independent work on a problem.

Variants: see Participatory live coding (above)

Practicing for oral exam

What: Group discussion between students

When: Before an oral exam, groups of three to ten students

How: Prepare a list of difficult and open questions related to the specific learning objectives in the course. The group meets in a room with a table and a blackboard.

  1. A student draws a question, reads it aloud, and begins to give an answer (explanations and drawings using a blackboard).
  2. The other students complement and expand, and help to discover and fill knowledge gaps.
  3. After the assignment is completed, the next student draws a new question and answers it with the help of the others.

As the students become comfortable with each other and their own knowledge, the form can change to a more exam-like situation where the fellow students ask follow-up questions and assume the role of examiners.

Example: The students of nuclear physics at the physical institute have developed and used the method for several years, with great success. Read more in about Success with open discussion assignments (in Norwegian).


  • Discussion assignments can also be part of seminar groups or for discussion in lectures.
Published Apr. 21, 2020 2:23 PM - Last modified Apr. 14, 2022 10:20 PM