Taxonomy of Session Activities

The sheer number of SI approaches, methods, and activities may be daunting. To assist you in sorting a mountain of data and selecting appropriate activities, we’ve created a basic taxonomy1. We’ll use six main types of activities:


Discussions must be structured and goal-oriented. To start a discussion, leaders must use prompts that facilitate development of the discussion and lead students to deeper insight. It’s always a good idea to plan these prompts beforehand.

Silly Activities and Games

Games or other silly activities should always be entertaining, but they should serve a direct and identifiable purpose as well. Games can be a stress-relieving way to prepare for an exam or celebrate an accomplishment, but they should be used sparingly because they are light on learning skills.

Modeling and Skill-Building Activities

Modeling activities rely more on learning skills than other activities do. These activities should use concentrated, hands-on examples of study techniques to help students process information. The most effective skill-intense activities are sneaky – they don’t actually tell the students they’re using a study skill until they’ve realized how well it works.

Confidence and Community-Building Activities

These activities include icebreaker activities and are used to create a comfortable, open learning environment. Confidence activities should be low-stress, inclusive, and designed to put everyone at ease. They don’t always have to utilize content – sometimes establishing the “community” is more important – but if they do, they should provide students with small successes to help motivate them.

Organizational Activities

Organizational Activities fall into two categories: personal and informational. Personal organization involves topics such as time management and goal setting; activities should be relevant to the class while offering broadly applicable skills. Activities that organize information usually include some sort of study aid to organize information from students’ lecture notes and text. It is important that these activities remain flexible due to the many ways in which students learn.

Application, Practice, and Evaluation Activities

These activities provide structured, directed practice opportunities for students. Application and practice activities offer collaborative, content-rich experiences in which students can hone their higher-level thinking skills; evaluative activities should provide students with opportunities to assess their performance and strategize for future improvements.

As you learn new activities, try to categorize them in the following or a similar manner:

Figure 6: Basic Taxonomy of Session Activities
Activity Type Warm Up Work Out Cool Down
Fun / Silly / Games Is That a Fact? Bingo Index Card Matching
Modeling Notes Check Make / Take Flashcards Index Card Outline
Confidence / Community Building (Any Icebreaker Activity) Team Elaborate Think, Pair, Share
Organizational Preview Upcoming Deadlines (Any Incomplete Visual Organizer) Make a Study Schedule
Application / Practice / Evaluation Crossword Puzzle Board Races Predict Test Questions

^ Footnote 1: Taxonomy is the science of classification. Here, we’re classifying session activities rather than living organisms.