Teaching Strategies

Designing Effective Microlessons

This four-step framework allows teachers to engage students in a short, powerful lesson.

November 30, 2023
OlenaGo / iStock

In the fast-paced world of education, time is a precious resource for both teachers and learners. The good news is that even with limited time, you can make a significant impact on your students’ learning. Microlearning leverages the brain’s natural inclination to process information in short, focused sessions, facilitating better learning transfer and leaving a lasting impact on students.

Over the last 18 years, I’ve dedicated a substantial amount of time to crafting lessons that unfold in 15 to 30 minutes—my suggested maximum for microlearning. My ACE-C framework, which stands for Ask, Correct, Engage, Connect, is a blueprint to deliver effective microlessons. This four-step framework not only makes it easy to develop a lesson (you can do it in real time, in no time) but also capitalizes on brain-based learning and memory retention. 

A 4 Step Process

Step 1: Ask—Craft an Effective Question (1–3 minutes). Ever wonder how to spark a student’s curiosity? The answer lies in a well-crafted question that unlocks critical thinking and ignites the passion for learning. An effective question is clear, open-ended, and designed to engage brain-based learning and memory retention, allowing room for reflection. 

For example, in a STEAM-focused lesson, such as one centered on human anatomy for middle school students, you can start by asking, “Why is the heart important?” This question, simple enough for immediate understanding yet open-ended for diverse responses, sets the stage for a microlesson. The objective of this microlesson is to explore the intricacies of the cardiovascular system, fostering curiosity and engagement.

When such a question is posed, students activate brain-based learning and memory processes, deepening their understanding of the vital role the heart plays in our bodies. This approach establishes a dynamic learning environment where each student’s ideas are valued and acknowledged. What other topics could benefit from this questioning strategy? How might educators adapt this microlearning technique for different age groups, considering their cognitive development stages?

Step 2: Correct—Provide Clarity (3 minutes). Now that students’ ideas have been acknowledged, they need to be clarified and corrected as needed. In this phase, you want to ensure a sense of togetherness among students, fostering a positive classroom atmosphere, by encouraging all answers through comments such as “Great answer” or “I see why you’d think that” or “That’s interesting.” You then follow up your encouragement with clarity. For the question about the heart, provide details like “The heart pumps blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients in our body.” 

Step 3: Engage—Active Learning (7 minutes). This step focuses on active learning and doesn’t delve deep into memory processes. In this stage, students become active participants, immersed in hands-on activities that cement their understanding. In our example lesson about the heart, here is an activity that could work.  

  1. Assign groups of students to represent each of the heart’s four chambers: right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, and left ventricle. 
  2. Designate one side of the room as the lungs and the other side as the body to visually represent the flow of blood in the circulatory system.
  3. Have each “chamber” stand in a designated area, and make a sign to place on the floor in front of them. 
  4. Use a soft ball or soft object (representing oxygen) and have the right atrium pick it up. The right atrium passes the ball to the right ventricle, which then throws it to the left atrium. The left atrium passes it to the left ventricle, which throws it to the body (the other side of the room).
  5. As they are playing, explain to the students that this mimics the flow of blood through the heart's chambers. You can also have students throw the ball slowly and speed up the pace of throwing, and note that during activity the heart pumps faster, which moves the blood more quickly. This active engagement contributes to a deeper understanding and retention of the material in a quick and fun way. 

Step 4: Connect—Make It Relatable (3 minutes). After the activity, encourage students to share their observations and allow them to connect their practical experiences with the concepts discussed.

In this step, the idea is to cement the learning by making a connection to either something else they are familiar with or something outside of the current lesson, making the subject matter relevant to the students’ lives. In this lesson about the heart, students might share stories about other things that function like heart chambers, such as how the traffic flows with stoplights or how students move through the halls between classes. 

This connection to real-life scenarios not only reinforces the importance of the topic but also illustrates how the knowledge gained in the classroom can be applied beyond the school walls. 

Implementing the ACE-C Framework

The ACE-C framework can be used for any topic. It can be used at the beginning or end of a unit or can be a perfect tool to reinforce a portion of a unit that students didn’t connect to. At the beginning of a unit, consider using it to spark curiosity and to set a base level of understanding to be built upon. Alternatively, these strategies can be used at the end of a unit to reinforce key concepts and provide a creative recap. The ACE-C framework can be altered easily based on age. 

When considering creating lessons for various age groups, you can simplify the scenarios for younger students and amplify complexity for older ones. For instance, the heart chamber activity might focus on basic functions for elementary students, while high school students could explore more intricate aspects, like blood composition. No matter the topic, you can Ask, Correct, Engage, and Connect your way to designing effective microlessons that leave your students clear on a target objective and with a spark of curiosity.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Teaching Strategies
  • Student Engagement
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.