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PAL Central: Activity Ideas & Strategies

An online hub of guidance and resources for our PAL Leaders and their Level 4 students.

Activity Ideas & Strategies

  • This page has a few strategies and techniques you can use in your PAL session to help lead and encourage discussions.
  • Some of this techniques may take longer to plan than others but they should all help to make planning your session a bit easier.
  • You will find even more ideas and inspiration on the 'Facilitation Techniques' page of this guide.

Academic Skills

Note Cards

This is a good strategy to help develop students vocabulary, formulas, concepts and questions is the use of note cards. 

This would involve taking a stack of index card to a session and asking the students to fill them in, creating note cards and collecting the important information. 

Take one side of the card and write the question or cue on it. Use the other side to write the definition, description, answer. 

Best Used: These cards can be most effective as a quick revision tool before exams, or or general revision. 


Problem Solving

Divide and Conquer

If you find that there is an assignment that your students find particularly hard to understand, a good technique you can use is Divide and Conquer. 

This involves splitting the assignment up into different manageable sections and assigning each section to a group/individual. Get them to read through the sections and summarise what they have read. 

Once everyone is finished get each group/individual to explain their section to the rest of the group. Encourage everyone to ask questions and discuss each section. 

Finish with a discussion about the assignment as a whole. 

Best Used: This activity is best used when breaking down an assignment brief or essay question/structure.

Send a Problem

This technique tends to work better with math based problems. With this technique students can work in groups, pairs or individually.

Hand out the problems to each group of students and get the students to complete the first step of the questions.

Once they have finished the first step ask them to passed the paper to the right. 

Once done there should be a different question in front of them with the first step completed. Instruct them to do the second step and then pass the paper around again. 

Continue this until all problems are completed. 

After all the problems are done, you can discuss as a whole group the different methods used and help those you are struggling with certain problems. 

Best Used: This activity is best used when studying for an exam or in-class test. 


Concept Mapping

When finished this activity will look a bit like  spider web or mind map. 

Get the students to break into small groups and encourage them to choose a specific topic, question, or concept around which the map can be built. Start the map with the main topic in the middle of the page. 

Extend branches from the main topic in the middle with subtopics and connecting topics around it. 

Continue to add different branches until nothing else can be linked together. 

This activity encourages students to see the bigger picture and bring the focus on the main ideas without getting lost in the details. 

Best Used: This technique is most effective when breaking down an assignment brief as it helps to make sure that nothing is missed. 

Vocabulary Development

The transition to University, especially with some of the language used, can be a bit daunting for some students. Therefore running a session based around vocabulary could be quite valuable.

Collect different groups of words that focus around similar themes. Once way you could collect the words is by unit. 

Mix up all the words and get the students to work in pairs to spilt the words into different categories that are meaningful to them. This will help them remember different definitions and words by recognising which ones are similar. 

Once everyone is done get them to start a discussion with all the groups about what they categories they have created and why. Discuss about whether or not they will remember these vocabulary words now. 

Best Used: This activity can be used when starting a new unit as it allows student to become more familiar with the vocabulary, in turn making assignments easier to understand.  

Recall and Review


This is a good strategy to use when revising for an exam. 

Get all the students to write down

  • 3 topics they know really well
  • 2 topics they don't know
  • 1 practice question. 

Once they have finished, ask the student who are comfortable with each topic to help those who need a bit more help. 

Towards the end of the session you can have an open discussion about the practice questions and how to answer them. 

Best Used: This activity is most effective when preparing for an exam, as it gives student an idea of what they still need to work on. 

Informal Quiz

Create a multiple choice quiz which has 7-10 questions, that focus on mains points within a particular unit. 

Encourage the students to not talk to each other however they can do it open book if they wish. 

After the quiz is finished, allow for a discussion about the answers.

This is a simple yet effective techniques and is one of the more popular activities. 

Best Used: This exercise is best used in preparation for an exam, also by carrying it out under exam conditions, it puts students in the right frame of mind.


Similar to the informal quiz, this is a fun way to test to see whether or not students are prepared for their upcoming exams. However this activity takes a bit more preparation than most. 

Start by creating different categories and question that range in difficulty until you have round 30-35 'answers'.

Start the session by splitting them up into small groups (they will not be able to use book or notes). Get one student to be the team captain who will speak for the group and answer the questions (after deliberating with the group).

If a team gets an answer wrong the other team can 'steal' it. If the team get the answer right they get another go. 

Continue until all of the questions have been asked. The team will the most points wins!

Best Used: This activity is best used in preparation for an exam as it allows for students to go over content in a fun and interesting way. 

Big Picture

Predict Test Questionnaires

Split the students up into different groups and ask them to write up a few different practice questions for a specific topic, make sure that each group is doing a different topic so that every topic is covered. 

Ask each groups to go through their questions with the whole groups, and discuss them.

Ask questions like:

  • 'Would the lecturer ask this?'
  • 'What could the answer be?'

Best Used: This technique is best used in preparation for exams. This will help the students start to think more like their lecturers when studying. 

Peer Lessons

Start this activity selecting a few different problems/practice questions that the majority of struggling with.

Spilt the students into 4-5 different groups. Give each group one of the problems and get them to write down the solutions, either on a white board or flip charts (which you can pick up with the PAL Central Team). 

Once everyone has their solution, get each group to explain the question and answer in as much detail as they can, making sure that they explain their thought processes and methods used. 

Encourage discussions after each group has explained their solutions in case any other student have different ideas that could help the group. 

Best Used: This activity is most effective when preparing for an exam, as it gives student an idea of what they still need to work on. 

Post Exam Survey

This activity helps students determine how successfully they studied for a particular exam. This also helps to highlight the certain areas that student need to improve upon. 

Firstly, start a discussion about different study techniques and which ones the feel are most important. then create a list of survey questions/statements around study techniques (e.g. 'Did I manage my time wisely while studying for this exam?'). Once you have the questions/statements, you need to give each question a value (e.g. 10). The sum of all the questions needs ot equal 100. 

Ask all students to complete the survey scoring themselves to the value of each question, (e.g. 8/10). once they total their scores, they can compare them to their exam scores. 

Once completed, you resume the discussion about the most effective studying techniques, with more emphasis on the techniques the majority need to work on. 

Best Used: This post exam survey is a good activity to use after an exam has taken place to help keep students in the right frame of mind.

Assess the Session

It is always a good idea to get feedback from your students to make sure they are getting what they wanted out of your sessions. 

Therefore it may be a good idea to set some time aside at the end of one of your session to have a group discussion about PAL. 

You can lead this by asking questions such as:

  • How do you feel about this session?
  • Were all your questions answered?
  • Were you comfortable during the sessions?
  • Were there aspects I could change to make this more engaging and helpful?
  • What material would you like me to cover more?

By having this discussion it give the students an opportunity to be heard. It also may boost attendance if the student feel like to can contribute more to what they do in PAL.

Best Used: As this technique is asking for feedback, it works better towards the end of a semester or after an exam period. Alternatively, a shorter version could be used at the end of each session to gage would would be best for the following week, to ensure that students get the most out of PAL before exam periods. 

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