CATs in the Classroom: Specific Techniques for Engaging your Students and Enriching Learning

Author: Douglas Richardson, Paramedic, BS-PSM

As we discussed in our last post, mastering classroom assessment techniques (CATs) is the key to helping your students learn and retain information. Not only that, but these techniques also help you become a more effective teacher. Now for specifics! Here are three CATs to enrich and expand your classes:

  1. The Memory Matrix

Useful for a variety of subjects, the memory matrix is simply a matrix or table that students fill in as a class progresses. Use any medium: blackboard, whiteboard, smartboard, flip chart, computer screen, etc.

Start with a blank table then fill in the answers under the direction of your students. This gives the teacher a great opportunity to interact with students and for students to show what they know. Use it to assess students’ knowledge base or for them to show what they have learned from the lecture.


  • Use it to compare Hypoglycemia to Hyperglycemia, Emphysema to Chronic Bronchitis, left-heart failure to right-heart failure.

  1. Facilitated Drawing

Similar to a memory matrix is a facilitated drawing. Display a picture and fill in the blanks under the direction of the students.


  • One of my favorite places to use this is in teaching the electrical conduction of the heart using Microsoft PowerPoint. I start with a blank outline:

  • Then, with my students, I list the unique properties of the cardiac muscle: the intrinsic rate of the SA node, AV node, Purkinje Fibers, intermodal pathways, We include the Bachmann Bundle and what the EKG would look like at each point. We discuss what happens while the conduction pauses at the AV node and so on, all the time having the students explain what I should draw and I adding as much or as little detail as I wish. When we are done, it looks something like this:

Once again, the application of this CAT is limited only by your imagination. I have found a facilitated drawing to be a powerful tool when discussing cardiac conduction, the flow of blood through the heart and lungs, bone identification, and acid-base balance.

  1. Minute Paper

At the end of the class, give the students one minute to write down one or two important, significant, or interesting points from class as well as any questions that may have sparked. The main benefit of the minute paper is its rapid feedback: was the educator’s main idea and the students perceived main idea the same?    

Ready to Practice?

It seems most appropriate to end this month’s article with, well, a CAT. In one minute or less, please answer the following in an email to or in the comments below:

  • What is the most important thing I learned today? What did I understand least?

Douglas began his career in public safety as a paid-on-call firefighter with the Havana City Fire Department in Illinois. He attended EMT-Basic training in 1992 at Spoon River College where he is now an adjunct professor of prehospital medicine. He has had his paramedic license since 1994 and has been a lead instructor since 1999. During his career with the fire service, Douglas was an instructor with the Illinois Fire Service Institute specializing in rescue disciplines. He retired as a captain after serving for 20 years. While with the fire department, Douglas also worked full-time for Mason County EMS, an ALS ambulance service in downstate Illinois, as the EMS educator. Douglas received his bachelor’s degree in public safety management from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, and is working on his master’s in public safety administration through Lewis University.