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Active Learning Strategies in Nursing Education: Part 1- Group Activities

Active learning strategies in nursing education are teaching methods and techniques that encourage students to actively participate in their own learning process, rather than passively receiving information. These strategies promote critical thinking, problem-solving, and application of knowledge in real-world situations.

One of my favorites is GROUP ACTIVITIES! Group activities promote active participation, collaboration, teamwork, communication, and exchanging of ideas. I love breaking the classroom into small groups of 4-5 students each and having them rotate through 4-5 stations. My favorite part is walking past and stopping by the groups and hearing their ideas and opinions. I love hearing them critically think and challenging each other's ideas to come up with the answers.

Here are some ideas for activities that promote group discussion and critical thinking that I have used in my own classroom:

Station 1 Discussion Questions:

Select an image or a real life scenario or a case study and develop 2-3 discussion questions around it. I like to make sure that the questions cannot be answered with a simple yes/no, and that they address the class objectives (so they are likely to see the topic on the exam). Here are some examples:

For tissue integrity class-

Print a color image of a pressure ulcer or provide a QR code or link to the image. Then have the students discuss the answers to these questions:

  • What stage is this wound?

  • How would you describe this wound?

  • What could the nurse do to prevent this wound?

  • What could the nurse do to promote wound healing?

For medication administration class-

Provide a scenario about a medication error. Then have the students discuss the answers to these questions:

It is 1220. The nursing assistant told the registered nurse that Mr. John’s fingerstick was 344 at 1218. The registered nurse gets a vial of insulin from the med-room fridge, draws up 10 units of insulin, takes it to Mr. John’s room, and administers the insulin subcut in the left upper arm. Mr. John asks the nurse, “What did you just give me?” The nurse responds,” Your insulin.” The nurse receives a call from Mr. Abe and goes to see him. At 1300, the nurse sits down to document the administration of 10 units of insulin to Mr. John. The nurse looks at Mr. John’s fingerstick results and sees at 1218, his fingerstick was 144, and he should have gotten 2 units of insulin.
  • What should the nurse do next after realizing the medication error?

  • At which points (list 4) in the scenario could the medication error have been avoided? How?

  • Who do you think is ultimately responsible for this medication error?

  • What systems could the facility put in place to avoid errors like this in the future?

Station 2 Practice Questions:

Students LOVE practice questions- especially if they are covering topics that will be on the exam. Find or create 8-10 practice questions, print them out and laminate the page so you can reuse them. Have the students answer the questions together and defend their answers. I have students select the correct answer AND write down their rationale for why it is correct. Be sure to include different question types like select-all-that-apply, ordering, and bow-tie.

Once they have answered the questions, I check and discuss the rationales with them to makes sure they are choosing the answer for the correct reason. If they get a question wrong, I don't tell them the correct answer, but have them go back to the question to decide their new answer.

Station 3 Matching:

Matching activities are really helpful for new terminology. I print a set of cards with the TERM and another set with an EXAMPLE of the definition- NOT the definition itself. This is really important for active learning because it forces students to APPLY the definition and not simply recognize or memorize it. Sometimes I even give them blank cards and have them write in their own examples of the term. Here is an example:

For legal issues class-

Print 4 cards with the ethical principles- Beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice. Print another 4 cards with a scenario demonstrating each principle. Print 4 blank cards. Provide the following directions for the students:

  1. Create a scenario between a nurse and client that demonstrates each ethical principle. Write each scenario on a card.

  2. Read the provided scenarios and match them to the ethical principle that has been violated.

At the end of class, collect the created scenarios and read them to the class. Have the class guess the ethical principle it describes.

Station 4 Virtual simulation:

If you have a resource that provides virtual simulation, set up laptops at this station with the virtual simulation opened. Provide an orientation to the students that includes how to navigate, the objectives, and background on the scenario. Have the students complete the virtual scenario in pairs.

I usually say, "This is a virtual scenario. You will be the the nurses caring for this patient (give background). When the scenario begins, you will see your patient in the bed and you can click on this drop down menu to complete your assessments, ask your patient questions, and carry out interventions (demonstrate)"

If it is their first time, I also give them a general timeline of what is expected. ALWAYS complete the scenario on your own first so you can help troubleshoot if students get stuck.

Station 5 NGN Case Study:

You can print out an NGN case study for this station, or you can set up laptops open to an NGN case study resource. Have the students complete the NGN case study together. I usually break them into pairs and then have the pairs compare answers afterwards. If you are using an online resource, show them how to navigate and emphasize to the students the importance of reading the rationales after submitting each answer.


I usually have around 20 students in my class. This allows me to have 4 groups of 4-5 students, and 4 stations. I have signs at each station- STATION 1, STATION 2, STATION 3, STATION 4, and I also have directions at each station. I spend 20 minutes teaching/reviewing content at the beginning of class, and then I break them into groups. I always assign the groups. Students spend about 20 minutes at each station and I have them rotate 4 times (my class time is 1 hour and 50 minutes).

It is VERY important to walk around and be available for student questions, and to provide answers and feedback- so it is an active process for the Professor too. I always receive great feedback after Group Station days and I hope you will too!

Good Luck!

Professor C.

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