University Learning Center

Planning an SI Session

  • Running a successful session requires careful planning. Never go into a group intending to "play it by ear" or "answer questions."
  • Personally invite students to the sessions. Don't act insulted if they offer an excuse for not coming.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Build flexibility into the organization of the SI.
  • Don't feel tied to keeping up with the content. You don't have to "do something" with every bit of content provided by the instructor and the text.
  • It is more effective to model how successful students learn a particular subject than it is to "tell" students what they need to know.
  • Make use of the language of the particular discipline, course, and instructor.
  • Waiting for students to volunteer a well-developed answer takes time. If you are uncomfortable waiting for 30 seconds, join students in looking through notes or text.
  • If students are unable to answer the question, ask for the source of information. For example, ask for the date of the lecture that contained the information and search for the answer together. Avoid taking on the responsibility of always providing answers.
  • Encourage students to summarize the major concepts of the lectures. Let other students fine-tune the responses. If information is incorrect, ask students to find specific references in the text or notes that will clarify the correct answers.
  • Avoid interrupting student answers. SI should provide a comfortable environment for students to ask questions or attempt answers. Protect students form interruptions, laughter, or form those with louder voices.
  • Refer to the syllabus regularly. Check that students understand the requirements and dates of reading assignments, projects, and tests.
  • If your group has more than 12 students, divide into subgroups. Provide discussion topics that the groups can explore. Move from group to group, participating from time to time, reassuring the group that you are still there for them.

The SI Shuffle Tool

The following tool is available in booklet format for you to bring to SI Sessions. Below is a summary of these activities.

Reading Quiz / Notes Quiz

The reading or note quiz will include questions from the most recent reading assignment or lecture notes. You can facilitate the quiz verbally by having a few questions ready (approximately five to seven, since you want to make sure you have time to review the answers) or you can create a short paper quiz. You can have the students work on the paper quiz individually or in pairs.

Create a Calendar

This "Study Skill" activity can be especially helpful to students at the beginning of the semester, and may encourage students to manage their priorities effectively throughout the semester. Have the students review their syllabi and create a timeline for studying for an upcoming quiz, completing assigned reading, or completing homework of other assignments. Since you only have 15 minutes for a warm-up, you will probably have to work on one timeline per session. In the best case scenario, each student will bring his calendar and syllabus with him, and will be ready to create his own timeline for completing the tasks. If some come unprepared, ask them to work on a timeline anyway and they can transfer dates to their calendars at a later time.

Summarize Lecture

As a group, summarize the lecture from the previous class. You may have to provide prompts for the students. For example, "The first concept discussed was Civil Liberties and Public Policy. What did the professor highlight regarding this?" You may want to ask them to try summarizing without looking at their notes; however, if they are having a difficult time remembering, tell them to refer to their notes.

Rainbow Brain Dump

This activity does a quick review of the lecture and at the same time gets the students up and actively involved. As the students are coming in, put 4-5 main topics from the lecture on the board. Give different colored markers to each student and ask everyone to write anything remembered from the lecture about each topic. They should be allowed to "feed" off of information written by others. A rainbow of colors should result. When everyone sits down, start the discussion from what is on the board.

Concept Maps

This will look like a big spider web on the board when you are finished. Start with a circle in the middle of the board and put the main subject of the chapter in it. Extend other circles out from the primary circle with all of the subtopics from the main idea. Then more circles are added from each subtopic to include related ideas from each of these. This mapping of the main concept helps students to see the overall ideas presented in the lecture before the big discussion begins.

Vocabulary Review

Reviewing exact terminology for the course is imperative. Therefore, using technical terms rather than a translation will encourage better understanding of the material. Pick the key terms from the lecture and compare them with other terms in the same topic. Ask for a parallel example to the one given in the lecture or text.


The purpose is to integrate lecture notes with the textbook or other resources such as lab work. Primarily this is a reorganization of notes in a more systematic manner including references such as page numbers of brief explanations about information presented elsewhere. Start by making sure everyone has a reasonably equivalent set of notes by doing a notes quiz for a warm-up. List the notes' major topics across the top of the board and the resources down the left side. Invite participants to create this on their own and fill in the information presented by each resource.

Make/Take a Practice Quiz

Find sample questions (from the study guide, the textbook, another textbook, make up your own, have students make them up, divide students into two teams and have one team make up questions for the other team, etc.) and compile a practice quiz. Give students time to take the quiz on their own and then have them compare answers with another student. Bring the whole class together at the end to discuss any questions that remain unclear.

Note Cards

Note cards can be used for vocabulary, formulas, concepts, questions, etc. Determine a use for note cards for your class and show the students how to make them and how to use them. Take a stack of index cards with you and actually have students make note cards during the session Write the cue or question on one side of the card and write the definition, description, or answer on the other side.

Divide and Conquer

Sometimes when you arrive at your session expecting to discuss information from either an assigned reading or the text, NO ONE has read it. What do you do? Divide up the material into smaller sections and assign one to each student. Give them 10 to 15 minutes to read, absorb and outline the content. Then give them each an appropriate amount of time to report on the assigned section with questions and, of course, discussion to follow.

Venn Diagram

A Venn Diagram can be used to compare the similarities and differences between two concepts, systems or theories. Two overlapping circles are drawn on the board with each circle labeled as one of the two concepts. Students will then write the similarities in the overlapping portion and the differences in the outer portion of the circles. This is a good visual technique for reviewing similar yet contrasting concepts.

Grab Bag

This started out as a MLA grab bag where each student had to pull out a magazine, a paper or a textbook, etc. and reference it properly as if they were writing a theme paper. Other leaders realized that this idea could be adapted to objects that had to be identified and explained in a Biology session or word problems on cards in a hat for Math sessions. The options are bound only by your imagination. The intrigue, of course, is not knowing which one you will pull out.

Outline Text Chapter

Have students make an outline using the headings from the chapter. Be sure to point out that the size and the placement of the heading is important for determining the main ideas and supporting details. After you have this "skeleton" outline of the chapter, have the students read to determine the important points under each heading. If the students have trouble determining the important points, have them turn the heading into questions and then read to find the answers. The answers are (more than likely) the important points. Who, what, why, when, where and how are good questions with which to begin. Have students compare important points with other students.

Daisy Chain (oral reading)

Have participants take turns reading a portion of their notes aloud beginning with the start of the lecture. Students should pick up where their peer left off. Pause between switches and ask participants if the student missed anything. Give students time to add this to their notes before proceeding. The SI Leader can participate as well. Continue until you have a complete set of notes and have a short discussion in which participants share what note-taking strategies they find effective.

Predict Test Questions

Put students in groups of two or three and assign them to write a test question for a specific topic, ensuring that all topics have been covered. Ask students to write their question on the board or on an overhead for discussion (would the professor ask this question, what is the answer, etc.) Students will have the benefit of learning to think like the teacher and they'll be able to see additional questions that other students have written.

Cornell Method of Note taking

Have students make several sheets of paper using the following directions.

  • Create a Recall Column by drawing a vertical line down the page about 1" from the left margin.
  • Create a Summary Area by drawing a horizontal line across the page about 1: from the bottom.

Have students take notes in the main area of the page, leaving the left and the bottom blank. Assign them to take notes, using this format during the next lecture. At the next session you could use the daisy chain to ensure that all students have the same important information in their notes. Then have the students make up cue questions to put in the Recall Column. These questions should get at the important information in the notes to the right. Be sure students include both general and specific questions in the Recall Column so that they can test themselves on all of the information. Finally, have the students write a brief summary (in their own words) of the important material on the page of notes.


This is a fun way to check to see if students know the material well enough for a test or quiz. The key is being well prepared with about 30-35 "answers" at different levels of difficulty and in different categories. Form small groups and let them know the rules: No books or notes. Designate a different person to answer each question but the team can discuss the concept before giving the answer. If the question is missed, other teams can steal. Teams keep control of the board with correct "questions" or alternate from group to group.

Peer Lessons

Select several problems over related material. Divide the students into 4-5 groups. Give each group one problem and have them write out the solution, using their books and class notes, on a transparency or at the board. Have each group come up and explain the problem in as much detail as they can. Have them show their thought process and methods used in finding the solution. The SI leader adds or corrects anything he/she feels necessary.

Incomplete Outline

Create a set of incomplete lecture notes by presenting the group an outline with some of the parts missing. Example: Events that led to the start of WWI

The group must then work through their notes to figure out how to fill in the outline. The incomplete outline is an excellent means of helping students recognize the main points and the organizational pattern of information given in lecture. It can also be used for textbook information. Determining the major points can help to sort information and locate the ideas being communicated, making connections easier to find and understand. It helps the students figure out what's important.

Taking Lecture Notes

Discuss lecture notes in the course. If possible, look around the room during the lecture to see how students are reacting to the material being presented. For example, if the professor is discussing graphs, the students may have difficulty copying the graphs while taking notes about them. During the discussion on note taking you can suggest that they use the Cornell Method of note taking.


This is a great in-depth strategy. Students are divided into two groups, A & B, and each group is assigned a comprehensive concept or section to research and illustrate on large paper or on the board. Then half of group A (A2) goes to group B and vise versa. The remaining half of group A (A1) then explains the concept to half of group B (B2) while the remaining half of group B (B1) explains the concept to A2. Then the remaining groups exchange places and both A groups are at the B paper and the B groups are at the A paper. A2, who has learned from B1, can explain the concept to A1 and B2 explains to B1. Those who moved first must understand well enough to explain to their teammates.

Informal Quiz

This strategy helps students put all of the important ideas together as a review. Five to seven questions should be sufficient. Questions should not be difficult, but should emphasize recall of key points of minor points related to key points. Use questions that require short multiple answers and focus on current material and include two or more concepts the instructor wants the students to understand. Review the answers, restating the question before the answer is given. Don't feel that you have to start with number 1 and go down the list; feel free to jump around. Don't let wrong answers stand, but try to see why they may have gotten that answer.

Identify the "Big Idea"

Ask each student to tell what he or she thought was the most important concept, idea or new understanding they learned during the session. "If you could only take home one thing from the information presented, what would it be?" Ask each student to offer a different "take home." Students often feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information they have to deal with and this technique helps them identify and organize the information presented.

Review, Review, Review

This is the time to review the student's timeline regarding their homework, upcoming quizzes and tests and long-term projects that may be coming due soon. Reminders, along with suggestions on how to get ready for and complete the tasks, are good ways to train them to think ahead to their overall responsibilities for their education.

Predict the Next Lecture Topic

This technique helps students prepare for new material, especially if it can be connected to information they have just mastered in the SI session. Have students predict the next lecture topic. Help them see new connections between the last lecture and the next one.

Summarizing the Procedure/Steps

This technique reviews the process of the learning that has taken place. It is important to cover how an answer was obtained rather than just making sure the answer was correct. This technique will assure that they will be able to satisfactorily complete more of the same type of problems in their homework.

Assess the Session

Occasionally getting feedback from your group can be very helpful. Ask them how they feel the session went. Were all of their questions answered? Did they feel comfortable during the session? Were there aspects of the session that could have been improved or done differently? What suggestions would they make for being able to cover more material or to cover it more thoroughly? They may have valuable ideas that you may be able to utilize in your next session.

Study Plan Timeline

This is the time to review the student's timeline regarding their homework, upcoming quizzes and tests and long-term projects that may be coming due soon. Reminders, along with suggestions on how to get ready for and complete the tasks, are good ways to train them to think ahead to their overall responsibilities for their education. Utilize the syllabus after seeing how many dates/assignments students can remember.

One-Minute Paper

Ask students to take out a sheet of paper and write continuously for one minute about things discussed in today's session. They can include questions they still have, formulas and definitions you've covered, concepts/topics discussed, etc. Ask them to be as specific and detailed as possible. You can close by having students share with others one or two things they wrote on their paper. You can compile this list on the board. You might also state, before letting students begin, that you will have them switch papers after the time is up.

One Thing

Go around the room asking each student to describe the one thing they picked up from today's session and possibly how they will use or apply that information. Follow up their statement with some open-ended questions directed to the entire group. Tell students at the beginning that answers cannot be repeated, so whoever goes first will have more things to choose from. Make a list of these things on the board. Make sure students write down what their classmates say.

Prepare for the Next Class

Many students do not read ahead or even know what an instructor will discuss in the next day's class. Use this session and the course syllabus to help students determine what material will be covered in the next lecture. Have them use their textbook (or online notes, if available) to make an outline of this material. Point out bold and highlighted text. While they do this (primarily without your help), they should be making a list of questions they have. This activity works well right after a test.

Boardwork Model

When working a specific problem at the board, use four columns to divide the 1. needed prereq knowledge, 2. the solution, 3. the written description of the steps in the solution, and 4. identification or solution to a similar problem.

Pass the Problem

Having a difficult time getting all students involved and getting them to communicate with each other? Try giving each student or pair of students a problem with several steps. They should for a circle, solve step 1 of their problem, and pass their paper to the next group. Group 2 should check the work of the first group, and complete step 2. This should continue until everyone has their original paper back. For a variation, tell students they can't correct the previous group's work - this will allow you to highlight common mistakes.

Syllabus Quiz

All information asked about on the syllabus quiz is contained on the course syllabus. Ask such things as due dates for homework and projects, grading policies, attendance policies, exam dates and material to be covered on the exams. Make the quiz short enough so that there is time afterwards for students to use their syllabus to go back and check/correct their answers.

A Running List of Questions?

This is just a fun way of taking notes and can often be combined with other techniques. At the beginning of the session, ask students to take out a clean sheet of paper and write "Questions" at the top. Tell them to write down any questions they may have as t he session progresses. As students ask questions throughout the session, remind everyone to write them on their list, along with brief answers in their own shorthand. Instruct students to refer back to their list towards the end of the session for closure.

Leader Resources