Active Learning Ideas: The Muddiest Point | On Effective Instruction

Active Learning Ideas: The Muddiest Point


The concept of the Muddiest Point arose when Harvard’s Professor Mosteller, after 42 years of distinguished teaching in statistics, figured that no matter how polished they seemed, some classroom explanations could still be improved. By performing the Muddiest Point activity you allow for student reflection and provides information to instructor in time to correct misconceptions by the next class meeting


STEP ONE: At the end of your class, hand out blank 3×5 cards. Instruct the students not to write their names on the cards – anonymity is important here.

STEP TWO: Ask your students to write down the answer to this question: What was the “muddiest” point so far in this session?  (In other words, what was least clear to you? Or, what questions do you still have about today’s lecture?)

STEP THREE: Collect the cards.

STEP FOUR: Review the cards and decide on a format for addressing the “muddy points,” that your students have identified. You then might:

  • Post questions and answers on course web page
  • Answer questions at start of next class meeting
  • Prepare a handout
  • Slightly revise course content to address frequently occurring questions
  • Send an email response to the class


The Muddiest Point technique is well-suited to large, lower-division classes and it can be adapted for use with lectures, a class discussion, or assignment. Since students’ responses to the Muddiest Point question usually consist of a few words or phrases; an instructor can read and sort the responses in just a few minutes.


There is no one right way to do the “Muddiest Point,” and you will probably develop your own variation. For example, you may want to set it up as an online discussion, or have students turn in their responses as class begins.

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