Summer of Strategies: Active Learning with Layered Ball Questions

Summer of Strategies: Active Learning with Layered Ball Questions


A classroom where active learning takes place is one that includes time for collaboration, various forms of communication, and the freedom for movement. This type of classroom demands that students be engaged learners who create knowledge—as opposed to passive ones who only receive information. It also changes the role of the teacher from one who bestows knowledge to a teacher-coach and mentor who acts as a facilitator and provides support and guidance for learning.

We are familiar with “hands-on” activities, which much of active learning requires. But active learning also requires “heads-on” activities, meaning the brain is engaged in thinking and creating knowledge through appropriate challenges and peer discussions.

Here are some examples and non-examples of what an active learning classroom looks like:


Active Learning



Students are out of their seats, collaborating with peers on a project.

Students listen to a lecture.

Students use various forms of communication, like podcasting, to share their ideas with others.

Students quietly write responses to questions, using complete sentences.

Students use manipulatives to build models to demonstrate what they learned.

Students work written problems on a worksheet to show what they have learned.

Students create movie trailers to summarize a book they just read.

Students write a one-page book report.

Students participate in small-group discussions in efforts to produce ideas for solving a problem.

Students individually read research material and take notes.

Students use their bodies to act out a scene and demonstrate a newly learned concept.

Students give a two-sentence ticket-out- the-door reflection on what they learned.

Students are presented with higher-order questions that challenge their views and must consult other documents before answering.

Students answer lower-level questions over material they read to ensure basic comprehension.

Students work with primary-source documents to piece together details and clues about an event in history.

Students read a textbook to understand an event in history.

Students design an experiment to test a hypothesis.

Students read a newspaper article about a science breakthrough.


The Layered Ball Questions is one active learning strategy that can help provide engaging opportunities for student discussions. This strategy begins with the teacher selecting a handful of questions about a topic. The questions can be based on any topic or text. They can be random questions or questions that build from one another, going from basic on the outside to more complex on the inside. Here are steps for the strategy:

Strategy Steps:

  1. Write a question on the middle of a sheet of colored paper.
  2. Crunch that paper into a tight ball.
  3. Write the next question on a different sheet of paper and crunch that question paper around the previous paper ball. The ball will be a little bit larger.
  4. Repeat this process until all of the questions have been written and wrapped around the paper ball. Six questions are ideal.
  5. If the questions build on one another, the most-complex question must be in the center of the ball and the least complex on the outer layer.
  6. In pairs or small groups, students “peel” away one layer at a time and respond to/discuss what is written on it.

If this activity is completed in small groups, multiple layered balls will need to be created, one for each group. If you are the facilitator of the ball, then you can color-code the questions and toss them to the students who can answer the questions. For example, the green paper might be the most complex question, so you will toss the ball to a student who needs a more-challenging question.

Applying the Strategy

Here are some ways to use this strategy across the content areas:

  • Write various math facts on each layer and use this as a warm-up for the class.
  • Write a fill-in-the-blank sentence on each layer to review for an upcoming social studies quiz.
  • In language arts, write a vocabulary word on each layer that students must use in complete sentences.
  • Review the periodic table by giving the element for a symbol on each layer.


For more information and ideas about this strategy, download this FREE PDF. Click Here


Author bio

Wendy Conklin, M.A.

Wendy Conklin, M.A., Education Consultant

Wendy Conklin, M.A., is an educational consultant and award-winning author. A former teacher, Wendy now trains other teachers in staff development workshops across the country. She has authored and edited more than 50 educational books. Throughout her years as a teacher, Wendy strove to meet her students’ unique interests and learning needs. The strategies in her books represent the fruit of her efforts.