Exploring information research using activity carousels

By | October 26, 2018

Introduction to research (without a PC suite … almost)

As a librarian wanting to prepare my students for research in an increasingly online and digital world, my usual preference for teaching introduction to research processes and search skills is to have a computer room/PC lab. Tools like Mentimeter or Poll Everywhere have been extremely useful for introducing new types of engagement and activities, and students having individual access to a PC is fantastic for creating activities which allow them to explore online resources for the duration of the session. 

This year I discovered that my five ‘Introduction to research’ sessions for 1st Year undergraduate Languages and Linguistics students had been timetabled in standard learning rooms – a presenter PC, projector, and rows/tables.

‘Stand and talk’ seminars are my last choice when it comes to teaching which needs practical exploration of skills, tools and resources as part of the learning outcomes; I needed to reinvent my wheel. 

Starting from backwards design

The change of classroom environment was a useful kick-start for re-evaluating the base outcomes I wanted for my students. As an ‘Introduction to research’ session for new students in the first 5 weeks of their course, I wanted them to:

  1. Develop 4 key skills: Identifying key concepts in a research question; Using a new search tool as a starting point for find information; Using a series of questions to reflectively and critically engage with sources; Referencing materials using a referencing standard.
  2. Have access to the online search tool during the course of the session
  3. Work collaboratively throughout to support on-going induction period bonding and partnerships
  4. Learn through exploration and discussion, rather than passive reception. 

For an hour session with only one PC and with a class size of between 25-35, I needed a lesson format to facilitate such a varied programme.

Activity Carousel

Working in a Primary setting some years ago exposed me to the concept of activity planning via a carousel model. Carousel Classrooms (or Gallery Walks) are used in various ways (for instance see: Vasant 2014Kirvan, Rakes and Zamora 2015) but generally involve groups of students moving between activities lasting a set time period. Usually this involves responses and reactions to the previous group’s work for the activity, but I was curious to see how the concept could be used for activity rotation and maintaining engagement in short bursts – how I’d experienced it in a primary setting. For my outcomes: 4 short, focussed activities occurring simultaneously, rotating around the 4 groups every 10 minutes.

Activity Carousel

Activity Carousel

Activities are based on group discussion, combined with prompt sheets, worksheets and other supporting resources. An alarm rings every 10 minutes and activities or groups are rotated (whichever is easier to rotate as per classroom size/set up).

Lesson Plan: Activity Carousel Lesson Plan

Key Concepts, Keywords, Key Ideas

Mind-Map: Key Concepts, Keywords, Key Ideas

Discover Exploration

Presenter PC, or student device(s).

Discover exploration worksheet

Source Evaluation

Essay question sign

2 resources for evaluation

Evaluation of information guide (PDF / DOCX)


Provide laptop with pre-loaded blank reference list.

4 resources.

4 referencing guides.

Practical notes

  • I found it much easier to provide the activities bagged up so they could be easily and quickly moved. Colour coded bags helped the students track which activities they had and hadn’t done.
Room set up

Room setup

Activity bags

  • The ‘Discover exploration’  task was too short so should be extended.
  • Groups were split into roughly 5-8 students per group. Students were generally self-motivated and engaged with the tasks without much prompting.
  • The ‘Key Concepts, Keywords, Key Ideas’ task needed the most prompting, but students reported this as the most useful task to help them with starting a research question.
  • The ‘Referencing’ task was possible in 10 minutes because I’d already seen them previously for a referencing class, so this activity functioned as a consolidation task from prior knowledge. It was useful for identifying students who might night further one-to-one support. If your students don’t have base knowledge for referencing, it might be worth swapping this activity for something else, or providing a different format of referencing task.
  • No groups completed the ‘Source Evaluation’ task in the allotted time, however did prompt great discussion within the groups about critically engaging with sources. Some groups needed some prompting and the questions sheet prompted them to ask me further questions about the resources they were using.


Information and knowledge as social

Whilst previous PC-lab versions of this class featured some group/paired interaction, the new room setting encouraged me to refocus research and its processes as both an individual and a social process. The physical resources used in the activities were text-based, but the group focus required knowledge sharing and students exploring the relevant information verbally based on instances of existing knowledge. For first year students still forming social relationships, this kind of lesson is particularly good. Lloyd’s (2017) theory of information landscapes focuses on information and knowledge as socially constructed and I’m interested to continue exploring how I can use wholly group-based activities to foster these kind of socially-based information exchanges. 

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