Topic Summary Condensing

Active learning strategies are a great way to take your lectures to the next level.

Engaging with students within your lessons is a better way to understand if they are synthesizing the topic, rather than simply talking “at” them or spewing data points. Remember, our goal as educators is to guide students to those higher Bloom’s levels. 

Several studies have looked at students’ attention during lecture (here’s a great example of one, and here’s another). While the optimal amount of time is still up for debate—15 minutes versus 30 minutes—the general consensus is that a 50-minute period is not effective for lectures. Active learning is a great way to interrupt the monotony of the lecture, especially when it gets past those peak learning times.

One active learning strategy I especially enjoy using is paragraph (or topic) summarizing. Topic summarization is a great method to get your students to read the content and then really think about what is being discussed.

Here’s how it works: when discussing a certain topic in required reading, have your students write down a summary for that topic or reading assignment. Then, challenge them to condense that summary.

For example, let’s say you want to discuss aerobic metabolism (Glycolysis, Krebs Cycle, Electron Transport). After the lecture, require students to create a 1-2 sentence summary describing the process. You could do this individually or in groups - for example, you could incorporate a think/pair/share activity.

So they may say:

“Aerobic metabolism is the process in which glucose is broken down into ATP first by glycolysis anaerobically, then by the Krebs cycle and the Electron Transport Chain. One molecule of glucose provides us with approximately 36 ATP molecules which are the body’s energy source for protein function.”

That’s good, but let’s see how creative they can get. Now, tell them to whittle that statement down, while retaining the important points, to 15 words or less. This challenges them to go back and evaluate the subject matter. By doing this, it focuses them onto the important things about that subject.

So now, maybe they come up with:  

“Aerobic metabolism takes glucose and breaks it down into ATP using Glycolysis, Krebs, and ETC.”

Even better! But, maybe you can challenge them even more? Now, instead of a sentence, they only get five words that describe aerobic metabolism. 

“Glycolysis, Krebs, ETC, Glucose, ATP”

Not only have you gotten students to think about the subject matter on a deeper level, you have had them go over it repeatedly. 

This type of simple activity is great for complex, important information. 

This tactic can also be used when students are tasked with illustrating their understanding of how two separate topics work together. For example, take RAAS and ACE Inhibitors—maybe you want the students to learn about the Renin Angiotensin Aldosterone System (RAAS), but really need them to understand what ACE inhibitors do, and why they are used for hypertension. Summarizing both topics down into each other would be a great way for students to illustrate that understanding.

Other topics (Health-related): 

  • Bicarbonate Buffer System
  • Any Treatment Modalities
  • Evaluating a Patient History
  • Immune Responses (Cell-Mediated vs Humoral)
  • Protein Synthesis

Keep in mind, topic summarization isn’t something that can be used for every lesson, but you will find that the students enjoy the challenge—making it an engaging teaching method in the classroom that will provide results in both formative and summative exams. My challenge to you is to try it at least once and see what type of response you get from your students. You might be surprised at the outcome!

Best practice tips for using Leo with topic condensing:
  1. Use in small group learning! With Leo’s small groups functionality, you can track results for each group.
  2. Use Leo to use topic condensing asynchronously. Whether you teach online or work with students in clerkships, Leo allows you to actively engage and communicate with students, no matter their location.