Chain Notes Active Learning - Active Learning

Last updated on 18/05/2020

  • You must be signed in to access this function

    Remove vote

Chain Notes


Chain notes begin with one student responding to a question and passing the note to the next student to add their response. It’s a simple strategy to gauge students’ understanding of the topic.

How to implement the strategy

Method 1

  1. Write an open-ended question on the front of an envelope and pass it around the class. Ensure the question relates to the content being covered in the session.
  2. Each student writes a short answer on a piece of paper, places it in the envelope, and passes the envelope on.
  3. Review responses identifying any patterns, gaps or misunderstanding in students’ knowledge.
  4. The responses can be used to prompt discussion in the next teaching session or to refocus your teaching to meet the students’ needs.

Method 2

  1. Write an open-ended question on a piece of A4 paper, hand the paper to the first student to write a response.
  2. The paper is then passed to the next student to add their response and so on, creating a chain of notes on the one piece of paper.

The purpose of the strategy

This activity is effective at encouraging students, particularly those who usually do not respond, to answer questions about course content.  The formative nature of the activity enables you to gauge understanding at a whole of class level.  From a student perspective, it encourages students to evaluate their comprehension of the subject.  

Chain notes can be adapted to appraise students’ knowledge of content prior to teaching a topic or at the end of the session.  When covering difficult concepts, use chain notes to break-up the session without losing momentum in the lesson. 


Read More

Managing time in this activity is important.  If you have a large group, consider distributing several envelopes or pieces of paper with the same question simultaneously.  Alternately place students in small groups to chain-note through the question.  In addition, ensure the question requires a brief answer that will take students no more than a minute to respond.   

Further Reading 

 Ayers Institute for Teaching Learning and Innovation at Lipscomb University adopts chain notes for motivational learning.  

John Dabell offers interesting insights on the value of chain notes in his teaching.  


Technology that can be used to enhance the strategy

The responses generated to your questions can be shared with students via: 

Class size that is suitable for the strategy

  • 20 - 50 students
  • < 20 students

Activity group size

  • Individual

Year level in which the strategy is often used

  • First year
  • Second year

Discipline area (Academic Group) in which the strategy is often used

  • Arts Education and Law
  • Griffith Business School
  • Griffith Health
  • Griffith Sciences
  • Other Group

Phase of the learning and teaching session in which the strategy will be used

  • Conclusion to the session
  • Introduction to session
  • Main phase of the session

Preparation time for the strategy

  • Less than 10 minutes

Duration of the strategy

  • Between 10 and 25 minutes

Level of learning outcome that the strategy is designed to address

  • Understand

Learning space appropriate for the strategy

  • Computer room
  • Laboratory/studio
  • Lecture theatre
  • Online
  • Seminar room
  • Workshop

Assessment Strategies

  • Formative Assessment

Preferred Citation

Learning Futures (2020). Chain Notes. Retrieved from


© 2022 Griffith University.