What is the Bookend Approach?

What is the Bookend Approach

In a nutshell:

The “Bookend Approach”8 is a cooperative learning, instructional large lecture strategy that engages students by breaking up lecture on a particular subject with small group and/or partner discussions.

Why bother?

Picture this: Anywhere You Live University, U.S.A. A large lecture hall with  100 to 400 students sitting in traditional rows upon rows of desks, listening to a professor deliver a lecture for 50 minutes to 2 hours.

Someone with backpack on lap with the hands over it on the phone texting 

Some students are listening intently, connecting concepts and taking down notes. Some students are passively listening, gripping their coffee mugs and trying to avoid falling asleep at all costs. And other students, well, they’ve checked out altogether and are on their phones or on their laptops surfing YouTube, checking email or completing work for other classes.

Unfortunately, this is a very common scene in almost every university in the U.S. and around the world. Current research shows us that, although students typically retain less than half of what they learn in large lecture, a whopping 73 to 83 percent of colleges still choose large lecture as a primary form of instruction.2

As educators, should we care about this? And if so, what can we do about it?

Fortunately, with a little creativity, it is possible to transform this environment into an active learning scene in which students are excited to come to a large lecture and are far too engaged in the material to think about YouTube.

The how-to guide:

What are the benefits to the students and/or instructor? Using the “Bookend Approach,” an instructor would break up the lecture into sections:

  • Beginning: Explanation of goals for the lecture and an engagement activity. This can be anything from a partner discussion to a simple question that helps spark the students’ curiosity and get them in the mindset. Use clickers, personal whiteboards or smartphones to solicit feedback.6
  • Midsection: The instructor then alternates between 10-15 minutes of lecture and student work. This is meant to check in with students and ensure that learning is in fact taking place. These activities could include paired discussions, problem solving tasks, role-playing and demonstrations.1
  • Closing: The instructor then wraps up the lecture with a 5-6 minute summary of the concepts discussed and practiced.

three Books standing up against a wall 

One of the most notable benefits to using the “Bookend Approach” is that this strategy can be used in a wide variety of classroom settings, whether technology is available or not.8 Students benefit from this strategy by having the opportunity to recall and use concepts introduced to them in a practical way. Instructors who are more comfortable facilitating activities than they are lecturing for long periods of time will also benefit.

Not all teaching strategies are without their pitfalls. Some of the drawbacks of using this approach include additional required resources (such as clickers, whiteboards and smartphone use) and more time spent brainstorming different methods of challenging student learning potential. In addition, instructors who are less comfortable starting and restarting their lecture to facilitate student work may experience some discomfort using the Bookend Approach.

History lesson:

The Bookend Approach has been used and advocated as a mode of large lecture instruction at many U.S. universities including the University of Texas at Austin, Vanderbilt University and University of North Science Center in Fort Worth, Texas. The concepts associated with it were developed by scholars Fink2, Smith8, Graffam3 and Saroyan & Snell.7

The bottom line:

Using the Bookend Approach is an effective way to foster student learning by incorporating active learning strategies in large lecture classes, which encourages students to absorb, recall and apply concepts learned.

Does it require more work?

Does it require brainstorming new and innovative ways to help students learn?

However, as educators, it is our responsibility to explore and try different methods to reach our students who pay good money for education.



  1. Faculty Innovation Center, University of Texas at Austin. (2018). Teaching LARGE Classes. Retrieved November 3, 2018, from https://facultyinnovate.utexas.edu/teaching-large
  2. Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses.
  3. Graffam, B. (2007). Active learning in medical education: Strategies for beginning implementation. Medical Teacher, 29(1), 38–42.  https://doi.org/10.1080/01421590601176398
  4. Mcdaniel, R. (2018, May 07). Teaching Large Classes. Retrieved November 2, 2018, from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-large-classes/
  5. R (2018, June 28). Teaching Strategies: Fink, Gagne and Smith » Center for Innovative Learning. Retrieved November 2, 2018, from https://www.unthsc.edu/center-for- innovative-learning/teaching-strategies-fink-gagne-and-smith/
  6. Reinholz, D. L. (2018). Large Lecture Halls: Whiteboards, Not Bored Students. Primus: Problems, Resources & Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies, 28(7), 670–682. https://doi.org/10.1080/10511970.2017.1394944
  7. Saroyan, A., & Snell, L. S. (1997). Variations in lecturing styles. Higher Education, 33, 85–104.   https://ezproxy.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eue&AN=507544647&site=ehost-live&scope=site
  8. Smith, K. A. (2000). Going Deeper: Formal Small-Group Learning in Large Classes. New Directions for Teaching & Learning, 2000(81), 25. Retrieved from  https://ezproxy.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eue&AN=9178934&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Want more info?

About the author:

Stephanie Housel is a graduate student and teaching assistant for the Department of Communication Studies at NDSU. With a good amount of teaching/mentoring experience under her belt from Saint Cloud State University, NDSU and as a Civil Affairs Noncommissioned Officer in the United States Army Reserve, Housel has learned quite a bit about incorporating innovation in the classroom to reach her students and enhance learning. Her interest in improving the large lecture experience was sparked after she became a TA for a public speaking class at NDSU in August 2018. The class currently accommodates an average of 1,400 students per semester and has a required large lecture component as a result. Her hope for readers is that they find this article thought-provoking and helpful when creating active learning lesson plans for lectures with 100 students or more, a task that can be quite daunting, but not impossible to pull off successfully.

KeywordsInstructional, What is?, OTL Blog   Doc ID131834
OwnerLinda C.GroupIT Knowledge Base
Created2023-10-03 06:10:53Updated2023-10-03 06:41:08
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