Creative Strategies for Teaching Millennial Nursing Students


Teaching millennial students creates challenges for today’s nursing faculty. The approaches that nursing faculty members used in the past may not meet the needs of today’s millennial students.1 Most nurse educators in the United States are from the baby-boomer generation, when a different educational pedagogy was in place.2 At that time, a structured lecture approach was the primary method used in nursing education.

Millennial students have been described as technology natives who are accustomed to accessing a wide variety of information, multitasking, and desiring a great deal of stimulation in the classroom.3 They are also skilled in using the iPod, text messaging, Google, Facebook, and instant messaging.4 Millennials thrive on working and problem solving in groups and using technology to assist them in that process.3,4 To meet these students’ needs and actively engage them in learning, nurse educators should incorporate new technologies and teaching innovations.5,6

Successful Teaching Strategies

The authors present 7 creative strategies that successfully provided student-centered classroom learning experiences for sophomore nursing students in a gerontological nursing course, junior students in a psychiatric mental health course, and senior students in a pediatric course. The number of students in each of these courses ranged from 60 to 110 students.

Discussing the historical perspectives in any nursing specialty can be difficult. One creative approach for helping students learn this content is to use a skeletal time line.4 This time line can be developed in a skeletal format. Student groups are asked to complete a designated portion of the time line highlighting key historical events. During class, each group discusses the significance of these key events and their influence on nursing practice.

Cold calling occurs when the teacher chooses someone to answer a question or make a comment.4 The teacher informs students that if they are called on to answer a question they can consult with their peers immediately around them. This huddle call has increased student engagement and relieves students’ stress when called on.

Personal reflections are useful in helping students develop a deeper appreciation of the patient and family experience as well as reflect on their own beliefs and attitudes. The week before class, students are asked to read a reflection and select a phrase that captures their interest. They write 3 paragraphs related to the phrase that they selected. They can be given prompt questions to respond to, such as “What did you learn about yourself after reading this reflection?” and “What did you learn about the impact of this disorder on the individual and/or family?” For example, students were given a reflection written by the husband who was taking care of his wife with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. During class time, the students divided into groups of 4 to 6 and were asked to share what sentence they selected and reasons for their choices. Each group then shared a summary of their group discussion with the entire class. This activity kept the students engaged because they learned from the responses of their peers. Major et al4 referred to this strategy as sentence passage springboard.

In the psychiatric mental health course, music is used at the beginning of class to teach students relaxation and deep breathing and provide a beginning introduction to mindfulness. Links to these approaches are posted on the course learning management system for students to access throughout the semester. Students report that they use these strategies for their own stress reduction and in psychiatric clinical settings with individual patients and in groups. Music is also used in the gerontological course a variety of ways. In one class, music from the 1950s and 1960s was used to help students appreciate the older adult generation’s style of music. Students then created teaching projects using this type of music to engage patients in senior centers. In another class, a music video was used to begin the discussion of advanced directives. The lyrics demonstrate the advanced directives of a young woman. In these examples, students listen to the lyrics and discuss the relationship to course content.

Nursing students need to be competent in dosage calculation skills and often express anxiety when completing math quizzes.7 The dosage-calculation mini quizzes (1 or 2 questions) are used in the pediatric nursing course. Students answer the questions and hand them in as an “exit slip” to help better prepare them for future course examinations. These mini quizzes are not graded and allow the faculty to determine which students need additional help. This practice has improved the students’ skill and confidence, especially because it relates to dosages based on client weight and converting from pounds and ounces to kilograms.

Case studies are integrated in all of these courses. They offer students the opportunity to apply their knowledge to client and family situations. The faculty can introduce alterations of the case studies as a means of promoting critical thinking related “what if” circumstances. Incorporating video clips often brings reality to the client situation, which makes the activity more meaningful for students and keeps them engaged.5 Case studies are completed in groups. Throughout the semester, facilitation of the groups rotates among the students, providing them with the opportunity to develop leadership skills. In the pediatric course, a health promotion case study is used. Each group is given an example of a child and family in a primary care office. Based on the child’s age, the students need to incorporate the developmental level in their assessment and determine if the child’s growth and development are age appropriate. Anticipatory guidance for families is also included. Each group presents their case study to the class.


Teaching millennials can be not only challenging but also rewarding for nurse educators. By sharing successful teaching strategies with one another, nursing faculty can more readily build a repertoire of approaches that engage students as active learners, teach content in-context, and facilitate students’ clinical reasoning and critical thinking.


1. Meigan R. Effective classroom teaching methods: a critical incident technique from millennial students’ perspective. Int J Nurs Educ Scholars. 2014;11(1):301-306. [Context Link]

2. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. 2015 Nursing Faculty Shortage Fact Sheet. American Association of Colleges of Nursing Web site. Accessed January 10, 2017. [Context Link]

3. Lowestein GJ. Strategies for innovation. In: Bradshaw MJ, Hultquist B, eds. Innovative Teaching Strategies in Nursing and Health Related Professions. 7th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2017:59-69. [Context Link]

4. Major CH, Hains MS, Zakrajsek T. Teaching for Learning: 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to Put Students on the Path to Success. 7th ed. New York, NY: Routledge; 2016. [Context Link]

5. Shellenbarger T, Robb M. Technology based strategies for promoting clinical reasoning skills in nursing education. Nurse Educ. 2015;40(2):79-82. [Context Link]

6. Oermann MH. Technology and teaching innovations in nursing education: engaging the student. Nurse Educ. 2015;40(2):55-56. [Context Link]

7. Williams B, Davis S. Maths anxiety and medication dosage calculation errors: a scoping review. Nurse Educ Pract. 2016;20:139-146. [Context Link]


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