LLI Session Formats

This guide is intended to help presenters understand the LLI framework for active learning sessions. LLI’s mission is to provide quality teacher-led professional development where attendees are seen as collaborators and contributors. Much as we desire student centered learning for our classrooms, so must we strive to create learner centered strategies in our conference.

Please use this guide as a framework for designing your session. We do not intend to constrain any great strategies or ideas, except when they rely on top-down pedagogy to a passive group of listeners. We understand the value of lecture, for example, but not as the only means of instruction.

Active Learning Sessions

This session format is most closely related to the traditional conference “breakout” session. In many traditional conferences, this session will be led by a presenter, who will generally rely on a series of PowerPoint slides and personal anecdotes to engage a passive audience. This does not reflect the mission or values of LLI, that require active learning sessions.

Active learning is learning where a student is involved in the learning process and is allowed to reflect upon it. In order to accomplish this in a conference, presenters must feel comfortable modeling the very strategy they are likely sharing. An LLI active learning session requires three formats:

  • Delivery of information (via lecture or short presentation) – 20% of session time
  • Active learning strategy (engaging the audience in an activity that improves their understanding) – 60% of session time
  • Reflection (metacognition of process, success, and improvement) – 20% of session time

Let’s look at each in more detail with examples.

Delivery of Information – no more than 20% of time

This portion is intended to provide the audience with essential information that will help them quickly begin an active learning exercise. Not all information needs to be conveyed, but enough to lead learners to comfortably begin an activity. Some recommendations include:

  • Introduce yourself and your experience with the information you are going to share
  • Provide the “why” for this information – “why” is it valuable, “why” is it efficient, “why” is it powerful?
  • Explain the “how” for this information – “how” does this work, “how” will they be using it, and “how” will it transform their classrooms
  • Explain the “what” for this information – “what” will they be doing, “what” will they be focusing on, “what” will they achieve today
  • To save time, it is recommended you have a one-sheet guide to any process information such as account creation, project starting, or important “how-to’s”

Active Learning Strategy – 50%-70% of time

This portion is the most important to function of an LLI conference. An active learning strategy within a session allows attendees to get “hands-on” with the information, often allowing them to personalize the information for their individual needs. This also allows the presenter time to discuss those personalized needs and communicate ideas and recommendations. Strategies can include:

  • Think Pair Share
  • Role Playing
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Just in Time Teaching
  • Listening Teams
  • Structured Sharing
  • Students as Teachers
  • Problem Based Learning

Presenters should use this time to review, question, and discover individual needs and goals, offering personalized support to develop their projects. The goal of these active learning sessions is to create artifacts that can be taken back to their school for immediate use. If attendees leave with nothing but notes and ideas about implementing later, then this session time has not been used wisely.

Reflection Period – 20%-30% of time

One of the most important aspects of active learning is the reflection process, where the audience shares and comments on what they have discovered, their successes, and even point out their failures. Critical is time for next steps. Facilitate the process by asking specific questions that answer these general points:

  • I was most struck by…
  • The most effective idea was…
  • How might I use this in my classroom…
  • Where might I take this idea in my classroom…
  • I plan to…(ensure you leave 5-10 minutes for attendees to all spend time with this)

IMPORTANT – Please remember to use the last 20% of session time for reflection. Although some people may not be finished with activity, you should leave plenty of time for everyone to reflect on their work and how your idea affects them. They must leave with at least the beginning of next steps firmly fixed.

Fishbowl Classroom Sessions

Fishbowl sessions are some of the most powerful and authentic sessions at LLI conferences. Fishbowls are a live classroom lesson with real students where attendees observe and share in later reflection. During the proposal process, the fishbowl proposal is actually a lesson plan for a classroom, rather than a proposal to present information to other teachers.

The fishbowl structure is:

  • 10 min – Introduction and quick overview of lesson plan with attendees
  • 45 min – Students are brought into class and the lesson begins
  • 20 min – Students are removed and reflection begins

Let’s look at each segment in detail.


Introduce yourself and hand out a Fishbowl observation form provided by LLI and any other lesson materials the observers should have. Take a few moments to explain your goals for the lesson, which pedagogy you are using, and anything special for the observers to pay attention to.

A host teacher from the school will be in the classroom to help you with any facility or student issues you face during the fishbowl lesson.

Student Lesson

Once the students are guided into the classroom, you are now the teacher and in charge of the room. It is common to feel anxious at this moment, with a new classroom of strange students, but many teachers have found this to be an incredibly exhilarating moment, where the power of active learning creates excitement for students and helps you remember why you began teaching in the first place. Don’t concentrate on the observers, focus entirely on the students. Enjoy the moment!


Once the lesson is over and the students have been led out, you are responsible for leading a reflection moment with the observers. They should have been taking notes of things they liked, things they didn’t understand, etc. on their fishbowl observation form. We recommend that you go around the room and ask everyone for one moment they found especially inspiring, motivating, exciting, etc. (start with good reflections!).

Once everyone has had a moment, open up to questions about your lesson, answering them succinctly and directly. Beware of going into too much detail, as this will quickly slide away from the immediate question and use valuable time.

In the final 5-10 minutes, task them with planning what they will do with these new insights in their own classrooms and/or with their colleagues in their own school.

Remember that there is plenty of time between sessions and during the conference if you would like to invite them to have lunch with you or spend some time over coffee. The learning shouldn’t end at the door!

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