Structured, Active, In-Class Learning (SAIL) Overview

Using in-class time to help students engage actively with the material is the essence of Structured, Active, In-class Learning (SAIL). Teaching a SAIL class provides students with the opportunity to struggle through the application of course ideas and material, often the most difficult part of learning for students, with guidance from instructors as well as help from their peers. To prepare students for that in-class work, instructors often ask students to master some content before coming to class. Empirical evidence suggests that, if done well, this method of teaching can improve learning for students of all ability and preparation levels. Doing this well, however, requires planning the structured in-class exercises, determining how to guide students’ work with those activities effectively, and, in some courses, transferring some content knowledge to students outside of class.

Consultations and a formal program of support are available for faculty and TAs interested in this teaching. For more information, see the information on the right about the SAIL Seminar for faculty and the SAIL TA Training.

SAIL classes often run more effectively in rooms designed for structured, active learning. To learn more about such rooms at Penn, see SAIL Classrooms at Penn. To request a SAIL classroom, please ask your department coordinator to submit the SAIL Classroom Request FormPlease note that these rooms must be requested earlier than other classroms (early Sept for spring classes, mid-December for summer classes, and early January for fall classes) to allow for maximum scheduling flexibility.


In a SAIL class students actively engage with course content through structured activities during class time. However, what students are asked to do, both in and out of class, and how these classes are structured, can vary dramatically depending on the instructor’s learning goals.
These select publications demonstrate the benefits of active learning in terms of learning outcomes and inclusivity.
Planning in-class activities is a challenge for instructors, particularly those who are new to teaching in this way. Here are some concrete examples of SAIL classes and activities to get started.