30 Teaching Tips
#1: For the Beginning of the Semester
Make the first day count. Discuss a core idea, pose a typical problem, or ask students to complete a group exercise. By moving into the course material, you're telling students that the course is well organized, well paced and worthwhile.
Use e-mail to enhance class participation. Provide a tutor in the first week to help students learn how to use the computers. To get the discussion started, ask students to generate comments or questions for discussion. Electronic conversations increase student participation, encourage collaboration, and require critical thinking.
Take five minutes at the end of each class to ask students to summarize the ideas presented, to solve a sample problem, to apply information to a new situation or to write their reactions to the day's class. Doing so throughout the semester can help you know what you can do to strengthen your teaching.
Both positive and negative comments can stimulate learning, but positive comments seem to be most effective. At least, don't give only negative feedback. Praise what the student has done right. It builds self-confidence. Recognize sincere effort even if the product is not the greatest.
Take a moment after every class and give yourself a grade for participation. Ask yourself these questions: How open are you to your students? How do you encourage them to get involved? Do you let students know you appreciate their participation? Sometimes we can be defeated by our reaction to students' participation. Remember: student participation depends on teacher participation.
Having trouble getting your students to read? Send them on a treasure hunt. Chose several sections of text and ask students to find the most important point, idea, argument or example. Have them write it down with a brief sentence justifying their selection. You can increase understanding and participation immediately.
Instead of the usual "teacher questions, students answer," try the reverse. "Turning the table" provides a refreshing change of pace.
Keep a journal on your class. After each class session jot down names of students who spoke up, who responded to whose points and the kinds of questions that generated the most lively exchange. Use this information to prepare future sessions.
Use Blackboard to add another dimension to class participation. To get the discussion started ask students to generate comments or questions and post them on the discussion board between courses. Participate in online discussion with students.
Whether you're using overhead transparencies or computer presentation software, here are some tips to help you "get your point across." Give an attractive, forceful title to your presentation. Summarize your points. Avoid the use of complete sentences. Use boldface or italic type instead of underlining. Use color sparingly.
Check expectations of students early in the course to avoid problems later. What do they hope to gain from the course? Use a questionnaire, a short discussion, or both. Follow up by clarifying matters of prerequisites, objectives, assignments and presentation style.
Be aware of your teaching philosophy and behavior. "Good" teachers come in a vast array of styles. Resources in the Office of Graduate Studies can help you determine your teaching philosophy. Examine your strengths and weaknesses and polish up your own teaching style.
Around mid-term ask for feedback on instruction. Do students feel they are learning? What might be done to improve their learning? The Office of Graduate Studies has a computer-scored questionnaire called Teaching Analysis by Students (TABS) which many instructors use for this kind of information.
When presenting materials, break up a series of declarative statements with questions designed to prod thinking. Pose a significant question at the beginning of the class period that will be answered at the end. Give a paradox or a puzzle for the class to solve by application of information given in lecture or format.
If you wish to make use of an innovative approach to teaching, it's important to pilot test at least a segment of the materials or the strategy with real students. Work on a unit of a course you're currently teaching or do some microteaching with videotape feedback. Contact the Office of Graduate Studies for help in designing, implementing and evaluating your innovation.
Prepare students to take tests. Indicate how your tests will be scored and weighed; describe the format (multiple choice, true/false, short answer essay, etc.). Give a test in the first week or two to demonstrate your style of examination or give sample questions and practice quizzes for students to work on in recitation in study groups, or on their own.
In discussion ask a variety of questions from recall and comprehension to those requiring application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Reinforce student responses by paraphrasing, building on their ideas, asking for further reaction, giving nonverbal cues, etc. Wait for students to answer. Ask "real" questions, use "does anyone have any questions?" sparingly.
Vary your daily presentation. One way communication holds your audience's attention for about 20 minutes. Vary what you do (talk, listen, move about, use materials, etc.) and what your students are asked to do (talk, listen, move about, use materials, etc.).
Help your students to form study groups. Describe the purpose of the study groups, the nature of the work to be done there, and the responsibilities of each member. At first, give specific assignments to provide structure and guidance. Check periodically to see how the groups are working by reviewing assignments or by asking members to submit minutes of their meetings.
Following a short writing activity focused on some question/issue raised by the lecture, have students compare/contrast responses. A variation is for students to reformulate a group answer to the questions, and then each member explains the groups' answer and reasoning to a member of another group.
Gain immediate feedback about whether or not students grasp the primary ideas presented. Have students write a "one-minute paper" asking 1) What is the major point you learned in class today? And 2) What is the main unanswered question you leave class with today?
To lessen students' uneasiness about losing points, grade with a green pen instead of red. It emphasizes that their errors are corrections rather than failures.
How adequately do your tests sample the objectives? Keep track by constructing a grid listing your objectives along the side of the page and the content areas along the top. Then, tally the test items as to the objective and content they cover.
Help your students take and use notes more effectively. Show them the organization of your lecture — write an outline on the board. Students usually record whatever is put on the board, so be discriminating in use of the board or overheads. Tell students what is important. Use signaling phrases like "this is important" or "these differ in three ways."
Encourage your students to review their notes, organize them, fill in gaps by using the text and identify the points they don't completely understand. These tips not only help students become more effective "notetakers" they also help students to think more deeply about the lecture content.
Allow students 5-10 seconds to answer questions. If no one responds, rephrase, repeat or simplify the question and wait an additional 5-10 seconds. Research shows that additional wait time increases the number and quality of responses from students.
Include review questions for each class period in your syllabus or make them available to students before each class meeting. Ask students to write questions on the board at the beginning of class. Use these questions to start your discussion. Students will be encouraged to do the reading and be more engaged during class.
When a student asks a question, look to the rest of the class to respond. This technique produces greater interactions among students. Misconceptions in students' thinking can also be addressed at this time.
Give everyone a chance to participate. Ask each student to say one thing about the reading and no one can interrupt. After everyone has a turn, open the discussion to the entire class. This technique works best with courses that meet for more than one hour.
There are several easy ways to keep your students motivated throughout the semester. Be available for questions before and after class, show enthusiasm in the topics, return assignments in a reasonable amount of time and have a plan for every class. Your students will be more motivated if you show commitment to their learning.