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Teaching Methods

When designing a course, you have to make important decisions about WHAT to teach — the
content and skills you want your students to learn, but deciding HOW to teach — the methods
you’ll use to help students learn is equally important.

How Can I Do This?

The teaching methods you choose reflect the type and depth of learning that you want your
students to achieve. The deeper the understanding expected from students, the more active they
have to be in their learning. When you think about the learning outcomes for your course,
module, or lesson, consider which method will help students:

Remember facts and comprehend concepts (knowledge building)

Most of our courses are content driven, which means students need to get information from
various sources. It is important for students to turn this information into their own knowledge for
them to be able to retrieve and use it. You can do this through:

Effective Lectures

Lectures are best suited for helping students make connections with factual knowledge. Good
lectures model expert thinking, tell good stories, and share experiences that provide context and

How Can I Do This?

Lectures are one of the most common methods used by instructors in higher education. They can
be very effective if planned carefully and delivered mindfully.

What should the structure of my lecture be?

To write an effective lecture think about the beginning, middle and end. These can be thought of
in 3 main ideas: context, content, closure.

 Context will provide a background and explain the relevance and connections with other
 Content will augment the readings to help students draw connections and alternative
explanations (see section why do we lecture).
 Introducing too many new key concepts in one class will result in cognitive overload for the
students. Like trying to pour water into an already full jug, students won’t learn more just
because you give them more. Aim for quality over quantity.
 Provide closure. Helping students summarize the lecture reinforces the learning outcomes
and contextualizes upcoming topics as students prepare for the next class.
What type of lecture do I want to give?

Will you present information in an outline format, defend a thesis with evidence, tell a story,
demonstrate a procedure, or solve a problem? Or perhaps a combination of these?

 Whichever format you choose, convey your expertise and enthusiasm for the subject matter.
That will motivate students to want to know more.
 Think about the amount of time you have and the level of the students' learning to decide on
the best format(s).
 State your outcomes for the class and align the type of lecture with these.

What will support my lecture?

What can help your lecture be more interesting for the students? How can you motivate them to
come to class and learn? You can use many tactics, from high tech tools to simply using your
body and voice effectively.

 Your voice is very important. Use intonation, speak more slowly than you normally do and
make sure you project well or use a microphone. Check that the people at the back of the
class can hear you.
 Don’t stand behind the lectern to give a lecture. Move around the class and make eye contact
with everyone, especially those at the back.
 Sound enthusiastic about your topic; it can be infectious.
 Teach students how to take notes, especially in courses for first year students.
 Provide an outline for the lecture where they fill in the details, or give them time every 15
minutes to summarize what has been said.
 When using a slide presentation, place only the main ideas on the slides, use images
whenever possible, don’t read from the slides, and strive to keep the number of slides to a
bare minimum. Avoid bulleted lists!
 While lecturing, remember you are contextualizing and applying the information.
 Using appropriate music or short videos to supplement the content will break up the lecture
to help student attention.

How much student interaction should there be in my lecture?

What will the students do? The higher the level of interaction, the higher the retention of
information and comprehension of the concepts. Every 15 minutes the students should have to do
something with the information.

 Ask them to complete a table or graph or draw a concept map of the ideas you have
 Ask them to summarize the main ideas.
 Get them to predict what will happen and share it with a partner.
 Ask them to write down the “muddiest point” of the lecture so far.
 Ask them to share with their neighbor a time when they had an experience related to a given
How will I know if the students have learned from my lecture?

Assess your students frequently. Ways to do this: quick multiple choice quizzes, looking at their
notes, using a classroom response system, checking their summaries.

 Weekly testing improves long term retention especially if the students get immediate feedback. You
can set this up easily in Canvas or some other classroom response system, tool, or app.
 Use the results from checking student learning to design the next lecture.
 Asking questions that elicit correct answers from only a few students is not a good indicator of how
the whole class understands something.

Why Is This Important?

The main reason we lecture is to add something to the information that students acquire through
other material. There is no point in simply repeating what the students have already read; you
have to give them a reason to come to class. Lectures should enhance information so students
can make it their own knowledge. Good lectures:

 Provide a conceptual framework for the information

 Assist students in clarifying key concepts
 Highlight similarities and differences among concepts
 Share personal insights, experience and anecdotes
 Summarize and synthesize different sources of information
 Organize material to better suit your course outcomes
 Demonstrate application of the concepts
 Demonstrate how the discipline thinks about evidence, critical thinking, and problem solving
 Convey a love and enthusiasm for the discipline

Peer to peer learning

Group Learning
Working in groups, when they’re set up for success, strengthens students’ learning.
Collaboration requires students to express their own ideas while making sense of others’, and
prepares them to benefit from the real-world power of teamwork.
How Can I Do This?

Group learning goes by many different names (e.g., group work, cooperative learning, team
learning, peer instruction, etc.) and spans the spectrum from two students solving a problem to a
team working on a semester long project. For group learning to be effective, the students need to
practice team building skills and learn to be accountable to their group as well as themselves.
How do I teach my students team skills to work well as a group?

Students have often had bad group work experiences, so it is important to explain to them and
persuade them that working as a group has positive outcomes (see “Why is This Important?”
below). Tell them how, in your class, working as a group will be a positive experience because
you are going to help them learn how to do it well.

 Ask students to write down (individually) what they like and don’t like about group work, then get
them to brainstorm (as a group) how the things they don’t like could be improved and things they
do like enhanced.
 Give students time to brainstorm and agree on the qualities of an effective team mate.
 Highlight qualities like coming prepared to contribute, actively listening, taking turns talking, not
interrupting, encouraging others, sharing resources, being open-minded, giving constructive
feedback, compromising, showing respect, etc.
 Guide students to negotiate a group contract that they all sign.
 Ask students periodically to reflect on how well they are doing developing these skills.
 Require peer evaluations of the collaborative process as well as the product.
 Teach students how to criticize constructively and give effective feedback so other team members
can grow and improve. Show them models of helpful vs. unhelpful feedback.
 Model these skills yourself and praise students who practice them.
 Emphasize the value of group work early and often.
 Learn more about Team Skills

How should the groups be formed?

For students to get the most out of group learning, they need to work cooperatively with the same
group for a period of time to solve complex problems. Getting the “right” balance of people in
teams is very important. Heterogeneous groups provide a mix of resources for better quality
work and help students develop social skills and awareness of diversity. Heterogeneity may
mean building groups consisting of people with different perspectives, talents, or identities such
as technological abilities, different years in college, age, or family background. Your outcomes
will help you prioritize the different qualities that are important in your groups.

 Groups can be different sizes, depending on the task. Scientific and mathematical
problem solving groups are best small, around 3. Groups who brainstorm and benefit
from a variety of perspectives need 4-6 students.
 Some instructors assign roles to students such as contributor, collaborator, communicator,
challenger etc. If you do this make sure the roles change so each student gets a chance to
develop each of these skills.
 Students should not form their own long-term groups. Doing this only reinforces existing
cliques, encourages discussion of extracurricular activities and can influence peer
performance evaluations.
 Ideal group duration depends on the task. Long term assignments build group loyalty but
changing groups every few weeks means they get to work with and know more members
of the class.
 Learn more about assigning roles
How do I develop good assignments that will work well with groups?

Finding or developing good group assignments is usually the most difficult part for instructors.
The group task should make it clear to students that they have learned something, not just done
something together. A good group learning opportunity demands higher-order thinking and
collaboration that produces something better than they could have on their own.

 Assign groups a structured task that requires a specific deliverable at the end that shows
outcomes have been met.
 Choose an assignment that lends itself to group work. The final product should not be 5
disparate monologues, but a synthesis of each of the parts to make a whole.
 Don’t ask students to write a traditional paper. You will find one person writes it, and then
complains that no one else helped.
 Keep products focused (e.g., paragraphs, brief rationales, infographics, etc.) that show an
analysis and evaluation of their work.
 Design the assignment so the whole group has buy-in to the final product, not just the one
part they may have worked on.
 Expect the groups to approach problems in novel and interesting ways. Give them time to
brainstorm at the beginning with each other as well as time to reflect on what they have
learned at the end.
 Think carefully about group presentations at the end of the semester. What will the other
students learn from them? How much “learning time” will they take up?

How do I manage groups’ activities?

Group work is not new for most students, but successful group work might be. Working well
together requires good management, both from you as the facilitator and from within the group.
Not all students will know how to do this, so your investment into their development as
productive collaborators will go a long way toward helping them learn.

 Give the students a clear purpose for the activity, state expectations, and emphasize the time
line and check they are keeping to it.
 Try to keep most of the group work during class time.
 Students will have individual work to do, which they can do outside the classroom.
 Most disputes in group work revolve around meetings outside the classroom and can unfairly
disadvantage nontraditional students or students who have jobs. Encourage virtual interaction
in chat rooms or on discussion boards outside the classroom.
 With longer term assignments, help groups keep on track with formal, periodic reports both
on product progress and on group dynamics.
 The space in your classroom may not be conducive to group work; however, students are far
more flexible than we think. In a classroom with fixed row seating, get one group to sit in 2
rows, one behind the other, not in a straight line.
 Ask students to sit in their groups. This facilitates students moving fluidly into and out of
group interaction.
 Most groups go through a natural cycle of getting to know each other and then having to
work out some kinks while getting on the same page. Help the students navigate these
 Learn more about stages of group development in Kennedy and Nilson p. 10-15

How do I evaluate group learning?

“Freeloading” is the thing that most students complain about when they are asked their thoughts
about group work. Students have to learn group accountability as well as individual
accountability, and therefore they need to be evaluated on both product (content) and process
(team skills). To help students feel accountable for their team skills, ask students to do peer

 Provide rubrics for assessing both content and team skills (e.g., qualities of a good team
member could be taken from team contract drafted at the beginning of the semester).
 Do not grade on a curve -- this is cooperative learning not competitive learning.
 Students need frequent feedback on product and process if they are to improve, especially for
large assignments.
 Feedback can be given by you, their group, other individuals, or other groups.
 To help students feel accountable for being prepared, give individual and group quizzes. Use
the Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (see below) as a fun way to get groups to
come to consensus.
 Learn more about Immediate-Feedback Assessment Technique
 See an example of a Teamwork Rubric

How often should I ask the class to work in groups?

There are lots of ways to use group learning in your class. Choose the best times to incorporate
group learning according to when it best serves the learning outcomes and your course goals and
fits within your available time to prepare.

 Teamwork skills need time to be developed. So do teamwork training skills. Allow yourself and your
students enough time to practice and grow into these roles.
 Experiment. Try one activity that incorporates group work in class at the beginning of the semester.
Gradually build up to larger, module-long group work assignments.
 Not everything has to be done in groups. Like most teaching methods, group learning works best
when it is used with a mix of other approaches, like interactive lectures, whole class discussions, and
individual research.

Why Is This Important?

Teaching students to work effectively in groups will help them become more critical thinkers
with deeper understanding about the content. It will also foster positive interpersonal
relationships, help students feel more fulfilled, and prepare them for their chosen career. Group
learning helps students:
Achieve more and think critically

Groups pool their knowledge and skills, which can often help them solve more complex
problems or deliver better products than individuals alone can do.

 Articulating ideas through discussion and explanation can help students clarify and refine those
 Hearing others’ ideas can stimulate students' own thinking, particularly in the brainstorming period.
 Encountering and engaging others broadens students' perspectives to think of the world in a more
diverse way (Smith et al., 2005)..
 Group learning is more effective than traditional methods in improving critical thinking (Bransford et
al., 2000).

Build positive interpersonal relationships

 Working with a group teaches students how to hold each other accountable
 Having to sink or swim as a group helps develop new approaches to resolving differences
and disagreements.
 Working with classmates from different ethnic and social backgrounds promotes inclusion
and can foster empathy in students for those they come to better understand.

Enjoy positive learning experiences

 A good group learning experience helps build academic self-confidence.

 Students develop their own voice and shape their perspectives in relation to peers.
 Well performing groups receive social support and encouragement to take risks.
 Group learning can increase students' responsibility for their own learning.
 Working together and interacting with peers during the learning process can be energizing
and motivating.
 Students build positive connections with other students.
 Experiencing the high energy and deeper learning of students working in teams during class
can be rewarding for instructors.

Prepare for careers and internships

 Being able to work well on diverse teams is often cited as one of the most in-demand skills
by employers.
 Group work helps students build stronger communication skills.
 Students learn to plan and manage time and become more responsible learners.
 Group problem solving teaches students how to reach consensus.
 As interdisciplinary knowledge becomes more common, students have to learn to work with
different experts in the field. Experience with group learning prepares them for this.
 Read the Faculty Focus blog on Group Work
Learning from texts and videos
Helping students develop their strategic reading skills and giving feedback on how much knowledge
they're actually acquiring from the text can improve their experience of our assigned readings.

How Can I Do This?

Think of ways to help students see the value of the assigned materials, appreciate their relevance,
and navigate through them more fluidly and skillfully.

Choose readings that are relevant to the class.

Textbooks do not have to be read straight through in the order they were written, or in their
entirety within one semester. They also don't have to be the only source of information.
Supplement books with other media and materials like newspaper articles, blog posts, videos,
diagrams, infographics, or cartoons that give them information in another format.

 Make sure the main ideas you want students to get from each reading align with your learning
 Explain to the students why they are being asked to read these texts and link them to the learning
outcomes for the class.
 Give students the context for the readings before they read so they have some background

Choose readings that are appropriate for the students.

Students at different levels in their degree program should have different levels of reading. As
students progress toward graduation, readings can be more advanced and more “academic.”

 Check the reading level against the class level and make sure it is appropriate.
 Remember students are novices with this material; they cannot read as quickly or as deeply
as you.
 Check the density of the information with the number of pages assigned (it's better that they
read a few pages they understand than 20 pages they don’t).
 Undergraduates do not need to read every seminal study or classic article. One way to expose
students to important works in the field is to go through them in class where students can ask
questions and you can explain nuances and context.
 Think about whether students need to read the whole chapter or article to get the main idea
you want them to learn.
 Try to find supplementary readings about the content that are relevant to the students’ lives.
 Rather than assigning an overwhelming amount of reading to every individual, get students
to read part of the book or different articles, then teach each other. This “jigsaw” technique
sets up interlocking areas of expertise within teams of students.
 Learn More about Jigsaw Technique
 Measure Your Text's Readability

Presume the students have read the texts.

If you assume students have not read the texts, and in the lecture tell them what they would have
read, they will not do the readings. Presume they have read, and get evidence of their preparation
before class starts.

 Talk about the information they acquired from their readings and use it in your lectures.
 Use peer pressure to encourage reading. Put students in groups to discuss aspects of the
readings or teach others in their group.

Teach the skills and strategies that will help students understand texts.

The most common way students try to make sense of the text is to highlight what they think is
important as they read, but this is not effective. Teach strategies to help students become
effective readers.

 Give students prompts, tables, or partially filled out notes to help them know what is
 Share good examples of note-taking or graphic organizers and say what is good about them.

Assess whether they have understood the text.

Students understand that you assess what you think is important. If you do not assess their
understanding of the readings, they will think it is unimportant. Asking students to do something
with the reading -- to produce something, is one way of “getting inside the students' heads” to
know how much they have understood.

 Ask students to create some representation of their understanding of the text, like a graphic
organizer, outline notes, annotations, etc.
 Ask students to post their product in Canvas at least a few hours before class so you can check their
level of understanding and look for misconceptions that you can address in the lecture.
 Give them a few points for completing the work, and if possible give them feedback.
 Read More about Graphic Organizers

Why Is This Important?

Students have to learn to process information from texts if they are going to come to class
prepared and read strategically once they have left college. Students need guidance and feedback
to learn how to identify important information when they read.

The reading process is a learned skill that requires time, effort and practice.

Throughout their time at college, students should be learning how to read strategically in their
discipline. They do not always arrive knowing how to do that, but they should leave with it

 We do not want students to merely remember facts verbatim from the readings, but construct
meaning on their own.
 We need to teach students how to find main ideas, organize information, and analyze

Reading strategies help students read more efficiently and effectively.

 Strategies help students realize what they know and don’t know from the text.
 Students who take interactive notes while reading leave with a product that can be used later
for review.
 Good strategies provide a structure to reduce cognitive load while reading.

Learning how to read strategically equips students better for lifelong learning.

 Students can improve at extracting information and gleaning meaning from text.
 Experiencing more success at learning from texts can improve students' attitudes toward

Analyze problems and evaluate ideas (critical thinking)

The one who does the work does the learning. Students need to practice applying their
knowledge to have a deeper understanding of the content and to make it more meaningful and
transferable. Encouraging analysis and evaluation develops critical thinking. You can do this

 Interactive lecture activities

 Problem solving
 Group learning
 Discussions
 Learn More about Critical Thinking

Synthesize information and create solutions (research, design)

Students need opportunities to apply their knowledge and critical thinking toward something
generative and productive. Guiding students to conduct research, contribute through artistic
expression, develop new theories or practical solutions, or present something they’ve put
together for themselves develops creative thinking. You can do this through:

 Inquiry/problem-based learning
 Experiential learning

Why Is This Important?

Using the right tool gets the job done.

Not all learning opportunities are nails, and therefore not all teaching methods are hammers. It’s
easy to fall into an instructional rut based on what we’ve always done or how we were taught.
Using the right approach that aligns with your outcomes helps your students reach the targeted
level of learning.

Students benefit from different approaches.

Students should be given a variety of ways to learn because it can play to their strengths while
also giving them practice with less-developed modes of learning. Variety of instructional
strategies not only appeals to a broader range of students, but reinforces learning in multiple

Everyone wins when you keep it fresh.

Students aren't the only ones to be motivated by the stimulation of creative class time. Instructors
also experience a renewed joy of teaching when a fresh approach gets through to students in new
ways, or a clever tweak to a particular lesson unlocks deeper learning. Stoking the coals of
teaching will keep the flames of learning burning strong.