Teaching Strategies

Selecting a CAT

We suggest considering three factors: A.) Logistics; B.) Lesson Sequence; C.) Purpose. We elaborate on each factor below. In addition, you can look at a full table with a wide range of examples of CATs as well as sample teaching scenarios.


To receive timely and relevant information from your students your first consideration should be the logistics of facilitating the distribution, completion, collection, and processing of feedback from your class. There are two main logistical elements to consider as you select the most effective CAT for your teaching.

    1. Physical Space and Number of Students. Is your teaching space a large lecture theatre, small seminar discussion room or somewhere in between? Do you have ten students or a hundred? Depending on your answer you need to consider how much time the CAT will take and how quickly you can collect their responses. You might prefer detailed handwritten responses but depending on the size of the class, it might be more feasible to do it via technology or with a simple show of hands or 1-5 finger scale.
    2. Class Time Available and Your Free Time to perform and review the CAT. If you have limited spare time in your class sessions then consider using the last 5 minutes of class for students to pause and reflect on their learning. Canvas can also be used as a platform for recording CAT responses. Additionally, you likely have limited time to review student feedback. The purpose of CATs is to fit into your teaching practice, and so you should feel comfortable in just taking a few moments to scan short student responses to get a ‘feel’ for how student learning is going in your course.

Lesson Sequence

While CATs can be adapted for a variety of instructional purposes, they work best at key junctures in your class session when you are transitioning between topics or actively looking for student feedback on key concepts.

    1. Beginning of class. CATs are great for creating interactive lesson starters: Use Chain Notes to jumpstart a conversation, or a Background Knowledge Probe bring in student expertise and background knowledge.
    2. Transition points. Every lesson has key junctures where major distinctions, connections, or questions are introduced. At those crucial moments, CATs are a great way to quantify students comprehension so that students are not being left behind or moving forward with misconceptions. A Defining Features Matrix, Concept Map or even a Pro and Con guide are all ways for students to demonstrate an engaged understanding of new material. CATs like these that require students to engage in analysis can become touch-points that lead into the next concept or activity.
    3. Summarizing. Demonstrable student comprehension will determine how and what you teach in your next class session. Minute Papers, One Sentence Summaries, Directed Paraphrasing or What’s the Principle? problems all show that students can quickly distill and communicate the main ideas of a class session.


Determining your larger purpose is key in selecting an appropriate CAT for your instructional content. Like every other component of your lessons, CATs should help your students achieve course learning objectives. CATs are not just activity options, however; they also assess different ways of thinking about content. The table on the following page clearly maps CATs by the cognitive skill-sets they build. Lastly, every CAT will provide you with a different kind of evidence of student learning: written responses, visual check for understanding, collaborative products, discussion, etc. As you think about the course objectives and thinking skills you want your students to achieve, consider the kinds of data you will need in order to measure their progress.

    1. Student learning outcome – Course or lesson objectives.
    2. Skill development – Demonstrating different cognitive abilities, different from building content-specific skills.
    3. DataWhat kind of student data do you want? Oral, written, level detail, self-reflection, concept-driven, accuracy
    4. Products – Where will you get data? Oral responses, written responses/charts, student engagement/participation, digital (Qualtrics survey, Google Form, PollEverywhere)
    5. How to review them: 
        1. In-class: physical gestures or quick response activities, walking around classroom and monitoring student engagement;
        2. Out of class: manage your time beforehand by knowing what you’re looking for, look for trends/representative strengths/weaknesses, think about review time when you add CATs to your lesson
    6. What to do with it:
        1. Did students achieve the objective yes or no? Adjust instruction/re-teach depending on the response.
        2. What is the main takeaway from this for student learning? Did students demonstrate the cognitive skill required; if they didn’t, what understanding/misconception did they demonstrate?
        3. What is the main takeaway from this for my teaching? Did my activities work to achieve my objective? Did students comment/reflect on instructional activities?