Dr. Isaac Wood, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education and Student Affairs and Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics in the School of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, describes POGIL and how it was used in his behavioral health course.

Why should I use POGIL?

If you are interested in developing teamwork and other process skills as well as content knowledge, POGIL is a great option. Research shows that POGIL classes lead to higher content retention rates, and students with lower grades show improved performance (POGIL.org, Education Research).

How do I start?

Identify a session that introduces a new topic/concept or a new set of terms. Then, begin to think about the process skills and specific content knowledge that you want to develop. These will become the objectives for your session. You can meet with a Faculty Development member at any time for a consultation, as well.

What types of classes are best for this methodology?

Introductory classes. Because POGIL involves discovery learning, using it in an initial session is a good choice.  The session ideally has no pre-class reading. For example, if you teach several classes on mood disorders, you would start that section of your curriculum with a POGIL.

How long does it take to write a POGIL activity?

Depending on the complexity of the content and the model that is chosen, writing a POGIL can take a good chunk of time. But, keep in mind that it is something that you only have to do once! After that, just be open to tweaking the session for improvement.

How can I ensure a successful POGIL session?

Test it out before hand by having a pilot with a group of students in advance of the first session. Ultimately, be open to making revisions after the first administration of the lesson.

How can I keep my groups moving at the same pace?

Unfortunately, you can’t. Groups will work at different speeds.

However, you CAN incorporate ways to manage fast groups and keep them on task:

  • Include several divergent questions at various points in the lesson. Groups who work more quickly can spend more time discussing these.
  • Offer more than one application exercise. Groups who work more slowly can then do these on their own time, while faster groups will simply get additional practice in class.
  • Practice good facilitation. Incorporate points in your session materials where groups should pause and wait for the facilitators prompt to move forward. This will minimize the gap between the fastest and slowest group. Facilitators can also manage groups that finish early by offering them another challenging question to work on (possibly a variation of a divergent question that has already been discussed).


Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning is a trademarked and formulaic methodology the combines discovery learning with a focus on group processes. This student-centered technique leads to high retention rates and also develops process skills, such as teamwork and critical thinking. In a normal POGIL session, students work in small groups. Each student has a particular role, usually including roles of Manager, Presenter, Recorder, and Reflector. The small group works through the packet provided by the instructor. This packet consists of three primary components:

  1. The Model to be explored and discovered,
  2. Critical Thinking Questions for concept exploration and invention, and
  3. an Application Exercise, in which learners apply what they have learned.


This is the first component of a POGIL lesson packet. A model is the information with which the students will work. It may consist of images, an equation, a chart, a short reading, a figure, or any combination of those things.

Critical Thinking Questions

The “CTQ” component of a POGIL lesson includes the questions that the student group will answer during the course of the session. These questions should be about the model and should fall within three categories:

  • Directed questions have only one correct answer. These can be used to explore the model. Students should be able to answer them directly from the information provided or from prior knowledge. Examples include “Which graphs show an increase in mood?” or “Which images include discoloration of the skin?”.
  • Convergent questions have a single best answer or a small group of correct answers. Students should “converge” on this answer through discussion after analysis and synthesis of the information in the model. An example could be, “Based on your answers to Questions 1-5, what do the graphs have in common?”.
  • Divergent questions can have a range of possible answers or they may have no well-defined answer. These questions are aimed at triggering discussion and continued application of the principles taught during the POGIL session. They are also one way to manage varying group speeds when you have many groups working simultaneously. An example might be, “Write one higher level multiple choice question that might be asked on an exam about this topic.”

Overall the CTQs are designed to help the student draw out important information from the model, connect that information by highlighting key relationships, and ultimately aid in the formation of new knowledge.


The third and final component of a POGIL session allows the students to apply what they have learned. This is often done outside of class, but can be given in class to help manage the variable speeds of different groups. One form that this may take is a set of self-assessment questions.

Learning Cycle

The flow of a POGIL session follows a particular learning cycle and parallels the scientific method. The instructor guides the students through each phase using the CTQs. This cycle starts with a period of Exploration in which the student gathers information from the Model. Then the student is guided through Concept Invention/Term Introduction by the materials that the instructor prepares. In this stage, the student should find patterns and concepts by analyzing the information they gained from the Model. The last phase, Application, involves using the new terms or concepts in novel scenarios. A POGIL session will most likely include more than one Learning Cycle, and the cycle can be extended to an activity outside of the classroom.

Process Oriented

This aspect of POGIL focuses on “how” the work gets done. By explicitly emphasizing process skills, a POGIL session develops more than just content knowledge; it can also develop teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, communication, and self-assessment skills. This factor however relies on engaged and self-managed students as well as the facilitator’s ability and commitment. When writing your POGIL, determine which process skills you want to develop and include this in both the objectives for the lesson and in the instructions to the students. As a side note, usually the “reflector” role is responsible for observing group dynamics and behaviors and reporting to the group members what was done well and what was not.

Inquiry Learning

Similar to Discovery Learning, this is one aspect of the pedagogy behind a POGIL session. It basically allows the student to form new knowledge as a group, which increases content retention in students (POGIL.org, Education Research).