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Note cards laid out on a table

Send-a-Problem for Critical Thinking and Cooperative Learning

Mon Jun 28, 2021 at 07:30 AM

Traditional discussions often favor students who are most comfortable raising their hand and speaking in front of their peers. This “send-a-problem” strategy allows students to work in groups on creating question cards, reviewing other groups’ answers, and potentially adding to or revising those answers. This activity gets students involved in group discussion, creative thinking, and problem solving. 

In this activity, students generate questions and an appropriate answer written on a notecard. The question card is sent to multiple groups of students to discuss and answer the question, allowing for revision. This activity works well for problems and scenarios that do not always have only one correct answer.

How It Works

  1. Divide students into small groups. Provide each group with a topic on which to base a review or critical thinking question
  2. Each group will write a question on the front of a note card. Indicate the question side with a Q. 
  3. The group will determine the best answer and write it on the back of the note card. Indicate with an A.
  4. Questions are then passed to another group.
  5. Without looking at the answer, the second group will discuss and formulate the best answer.
  6. Once at a consensus, Group 2 will check their answer with the answer on the back. If the groups don’t match, group 2 will discuss again. If appropriate, group 2 will write it in as an alternate or combine answers for a more comprehensive response 
  7. Questions can be passed to multiple groups.

Variation: Instructor can provide pre-written questions to each group. Students discuss in groups and send their answer along to other groups for assessment and addition of potential alternate answers.

Send-a-Problem in an Online Class

This activity works well for online classes, especially in a live session. To closely translate this strategy, students could be in breakout rooms and write their questions either on Google Slides, a Jamboard (available in the Google Suite), or Padlet. Groups can write a question and answer on one slide or card, and then move to a different slide or card after a set amount of time or when prompted. The online format makes it easier for the instructor to review work and even debrief as a whole class.


Barkely, E.F. et al., (2004). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. Jossey-Bass.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

CETL adapted this material from Adam Persky's 2012 Teaching Tip flashcards, who adapted this original content from Barkley's Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. For more information about this technique, contact [email protected]. Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NCFollow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn