Best Practice Teaching Strategy

Line Up Activity

Line Up Activity for Student Engagement

Submitted by Diane Carter-Zubko, Adjunct Faculty

The Line Up activity can be used as an icebreaker, a way to introduce new concepts, themes or vocabulary, for practice and extension of learning, or as a review activity. It can be used at any time during a class period.


A list of questions, terms/vocabulary, pictures, or any prompt you would like to use for the students to respond to. You can be the only one to see this, or you can make handouts for each student or put them on the document camera. You can assign some work on these topics before this class period, or present them as new concepts by way of the activity.

  1. Have students come to the front, side, or back of the classroom (wherever you have enough room), and form two lines facing each other, so each person has a person directly across from him/her.
  2. Announce the first question/topic/prompt for discussion, and allow about a minute for each person and his/her partner to discuss/respond to it. You can circulate as they are talking, perhaps commenting or asking additional questions as appropriate. Instruct them that each person in the pair must comment, and to stop and look at you when they have both done so. You can usually tell when the chatter diminishes that they are done.
  3. Say, “Move,” and instruct the person at the end of each line to join the line across from them, as if turning a bicycle chain one step. Students adjust themselves so they have a new partner.
  4. Announce the next question/topic/prompt for discussion, and again allow a minute for discussion.
  5. Continue process for each question, but generally, 5 or 6 questions or prompts is a good number.
  6. Have students sit down, and ask for volunteers to recap or relate interesting comments they heard from others, thoughts that came to them personally about the topic, questions they now have or still have, etc. You can use this discussion to build vocabulary lists, concept maps, or whatever relates to the lesson.

I often follow this up by giving the students a 3″ x 5″ card on which to respond to some additional questions I have prepared (or to write some questions they want to ask me) on the topic, or just to summarize their thoughts on the topic. I collect these and review them for later use.


In a relatively short amount of time (10-15 minutes), all students have a chance to participate, and because it is less formal and the students don’t have to speak to the whole class, they are usually more comfortable engaging. It gives them a chance to breathe, wake up, and tap into their prior knowledge, emotions, or values related to the topic. It prepares them for further discussion because they are now focused/”warmed up” on the topic. From what you hear and observe, you can see how/where to enrich the discussion, or where you want to go with the instruction as a result.

Possible Downsides

You may need to join the line if there is an uneven number of students, or at each rotation, allow a group of three at one end. You need to monitor time and quality of the interaction to keep them on time and task.

Example of Classroom Application for a Line Up Activity in an ESL Reading Class

I did a line up activity last semester to introduce some information that would serve as a background for a novel we were about to start. I had about six questions ready for them to discuss in this format, and the students got to share different perspectives on the topic with a variety of students, one-on-one. The conversations were lively, and even the students who were usually reluctant were participating. When they sat down, we did a class “go around” to recap and summarize some of the comments and questions that resulted from the experience. I then distributed 3” x 5” cards and had them respond to some more detailed and in-depth questions aimed at having them think through their personal experiences with some of the issues that would be a big part of the storyline in the novel. I collected these for future use. Finally, I put them in groups with a handout to discuss and define some key concepts and vocabulary that would again be important in the novel. I used this later as the story was developing and asked them to revisit this handout and start to analyze the characters in terms of how they exemplified some of the words and concepts we had discussed. In addition, I asked them whether their perceptions/understanding of these concepts and/or the characters had changed at all during the course of reading the novel. This helped the students to see that the experience of reading literature is enhanced by making connections with one’s own life experiences and also helped them to develop some cultural knowledge that they did not possess as part of their own life experience.

Other Examples
  1. Language Classes: I have also used this in ESL grammar classes, where the questions are designed to help the students practice the grammatical structures (verb tense or voice, affirmative/negative; question/statement form) being studied. The questions can be funny, factual, imaginative, or a combination of these to keep the students talking and focused, while the structure provided facilitates their use.
  2. Speech or Writing Classes: The activity can be used as a fun way to “warm up” on a topic and brainstorm ideas that will be used for group follow-up afterwards. A new question/topic/ concept is assigned with each rotation of the line.
  3. Science, History, or Art Classes: Students in Line A must give two or three rules/characteristics/examples, etc, and students in Line B give others. A new question/topic/concept is assigned with each rotation of the line.

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