Teaching Tips

Muddiest Point

“It’s as clear as mud.”  That saying always makes me giggle because I am transported back to high school when a history teacher of mine would say, “Clear as Mud?” and we often had perplexed or confused looks on our faces.  Being a teacher now as made me think a lot about this phrase. There are many times when students are confused or not understanding a concept, and sometimes we forgot to not provide “think time” or “soak time.”  

So, when I was checking my emails and came across a Faculty Focus blog that focused on active learning strategies, I discovered a helpful engaging strategy called the “Muddiest Point.”  The Muddiest Point technique is a great way to gather an informal assessment and get a sense of how the students understand (or don’t) a concept you’re teaching in class.  The technique is also a great way for students to try to find the answers to their Muddiest Points with some collaboration. Here’s one way the lesson could happen:

  1. (10 min) Using a reading assignment, lecture, or class discussion as the material for students to reflect upon, have them write down the Muddiest Point on a notecard. (Another strategy is to have the Muddiest Point be the opening activity for one of your classes to get discussion going.)
  2. (30 min) Once students have written their Muddiest Point, put students in to groups and have them sort the Muddiest Points. (Professor discretion as to how the points are sorted: categories/terms, questions, similar ideas or concerns, etc.) Once the points are sorted, then get these Muddiest Points answered or addressed.  This can happen by you or with them working in groups. A challenge for this activity can be getting the students to locate the answers to these points from the resources for the course.
  3. (15 min) Share out the Muddiest Points. Have the students share out 1 or 2 of their points and the answer to the point(s).  
  4. (5 min) Provide some time for reflection for the students.  Was their Muddiest Point answered? If not, then could it be saved for another day or could the student (or class) do answer it as homework?

There are so many adaptations to this lesson. One faculty member shared how she uses a similar strategy like this in her class as exam review.  How else do you think you could help the students’ understanding not be “clear as mud?” 🙂

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