How to Use an “Ah Ha!” Wall to Engage Students and Capture Moments of Clarity, Confusion, or Confirmation

teaching strategy to engage students ah ha wall

The "ah ha" wall is a teaching strategy you can easily integrate into any lesson, lab, or online module to engage students, encourage participation, and get feedback.

What is an “Ah Ha!” Wall?

An “ah ha!” wall is an open, collaborative space where you and your students share ideas about the course material.  When students have an “ah ah!” moment or idea they want to share, encourage them to post it to the wall.

 

The purpose of the wall is to capture these sudden moments of clarity, confusion, or confirmation about the ideas students have whenever they have them.

Think of the wall as a big whiteboard or cork board. Students can post virtual sticky notes, videos, links, music, etc. to the wall to share with other students (and with you!).


Why Use an “Ah Ha!” Wall?

Here’s a list of reasons why you might want to add an “ah ha!” wall to your course:

 

  • Sometimes, a lecture or class discussion moves too quickly for all students to participate. After all, we only have so much class time. To capture more students’ ideas, encourage them to post their thoughts to the “ah ha!” wall during or after the lecture/discussion.

  • Helps students record ideas in real time. They can post during a lecture or discussion to document what they are feeling and thinking at that moment in time.

  • To encourage the sharing of ideas and collaboration. Give students the time and space to review the wall, organize ideas, ask questions about others’ ideas, and add more resources to the wall.

  • Helps students connect ideas. They can connect ideas between modules, previous lessons, or other courses. They can use these ideas to build mind maps, flowcharts, hierarchies, or grids.

  • To integrate current issues into the course. Encourage students to post news articles, videos clips, podcasts, and other media to the wall to bring the “outside” world into the classroom for discussion and consideration.

    Note: You can opt to keep posts private if you want to give students a safe space to share feelings/ideas that may be controversial or sensitive.

  • Offers a “low stakes” assessment strategy for you to gain insight into what students are thinking, where they are confused, and where they need more support. You can post prompts or create a wall just for one specific part of the course.
  • Promote brainstorming. Assign each group of students an individual wall to promote brainstorming and collaboration on a group project. You can check in, offer additional resources, and ensure groups are moving in the right direction.

  • Encourage all students to participate. Sometimes students who are more reflective or quiet in class may not feel comfortable sharing in front of their peers. Encourage them to post their thoughts to the wall and integrate these posts into a follow-up class discussion or lecture.

  • Allows students to bring their interests into the course. Encourage them to post resources that are interesting to them based on their research, personal life, professional goals, work experiences, etc. Students can create their own individual walls with themes or they can create a class wall integrating everyone’s interests.


7 Places Where You Can Add an “Ah Ha!” Wall to a Course

You can add one “ah ha!” wall to your course and encourage students to post throughout the semester. Or, you can be more specific and focus on just one place within your course to promote posting to the wall.

Here are 7 places where you can easily add the wall to your course without having to do a full course redesign or make any major changes to what you already do:

#1 - During a lecture: 
As students listen to (and hopefully participate in!) the lecture for the day, give them time to post to the wall during class time.

You could combine this with a “think/pair/share” activity to help structure their responses. Show the wall on the screen before you proceed with the lecture and point out interesting posts, unique ideas, and /or thoughts you’d like to follow up on.

#2 - Before or after a class discussion or debate: 
If you are leading a seminar or discussion where students are highly engaged in an interactive debate, use the wall as a place to either prepare for the discussion or to debrief their thoughts afterward.

#3 - During or after watching a video: If you have videos in your course, encourage students to post ideas or questions while they watch the video or immediately after.

Ask them to post time stamps related to the part of the video they are referring to. Encourage other students to add to each other’s posts and share other helpful comments.

#4 - While listening to a podcast: 
Use the same approach as with videos and encourage students to post interesting ideas or questions to the wall as they listen to a podcast.

Students may want to recommend other podcasts related to the topic and/or share episodes that are helpful or offer more insight into the topic.

#5 - While reading: 
Promote reading and analysis by asking students to post two ideas to the wall as they read (for example).

If you need to, organize the wall into sections that correspond to each part of the reading and/or highlight specific ideas you want to make sure students pay attention to.


#6 - Before an assignment is due:
Ask students to post questions about an assignment or ideas they have about a project or paper. Encourage other students to reply to the posts.

You can also reply to the posts, move posts around, and offer more resources to help students prepare for the assignment. (This isn’t really an “ah ha!” moment, but you could call it a “Q&A” or “Review” wall.

#7  - Before a test/exam:
Create a wall just for an upcoming test or exam. Ask students to post questions, point out places where they are confused, share what they are worried about, etc.

You may want to make this wall private just between you and the individual student, or you can make it a wall for the whole class to see what other students are posting and where they are confused.

Look for trends or common posts in case those topics weren’t covered as well as you thought they were. Provide additional support as needed. (This isn’t really an “ah ha!” moment either, but you could call it a “Q&A” or “Review” wall if that makes more sense to your students.)

3 Online Tools to Create Your “Ah Ha!” Wall

If you want to create a virtual wall, I recommend these three tools. All have free options available and may offer specials for educators. (Note: I am not an affiliate for any of these companies. I have used these tools in my own workshops and classes, and I am sharing them here since they worked well for me.)

 

  • Note.ly: Note.ly makes it easy to arrange sticky notes, post images, and share links.

  • Padlet: Padlet makes it easy to drag and drop images, videos, audio, etc.

  • Stormboard: Stormboard.com includes templates and whiteboard features that can be used in classrooms and meetings.

Adaptation:

If you don’t want to use technology for this strategy, just give students (or groups) a stack of sticky notes in class and use a blank wall in the room as your “ah ha!” wall.

Anytime during the class or lab, encourage students to write their idea on the sticky note and post it to the wall (literally!) during a break.

Encourage students to browse the sticky notes. Grab a few notes and integrate them into the discussion or lecture. Take a picture of the wall and share it on your course website.

There are so many ways to use this strategy and make it your own! If you try this idea, let me know how it goes!

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