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Teaching Methods and Strategies

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For many professors, teaching consists only of lectures, assignments given to students, and a final exam. But there are other teaching strategies which can be incorporated with and within the lecture format in order to stimulate, motivate and foster student learning. The more teaching strategies you have at your disposal, the more flexible you are in your content delivery. In order to identify the strategies that are suitable for your course and that will meet your instructional objectives, you may ask yourself the following questions:

  • When should I lecture, and when would holding a discussion work better?
  • When should I show students how to do something, and when should I encourage them to try it themselves?
  • When should I respond to a student question (give information) and when should I encourage other students to respond (give student the opportunity to practice skills)?
  • If I see someone make a mistake in lab, should I correct the mistake, or should I let the student discover it?
  • When should I review important concepts orally, and when should I use handouts?
  • If I need to show students a lot of formulas or graphs, should I derive or draw them during class, or prepare hand outs/overhead transparencies and discuss them?
  • When should I rely on my own expertise, and when should I seek outside sources (films, slide/tape programs, guest speakers, etc.)?
  • How might I use quotes from others?
  • This is a simple and fast way of bringing "another" voice into the lecture hall.
  • When should I use web resources such as Sakai to augment my course and accept course discussions?

It is important that you consider the overall structure of the course as well as the physical constraints and time limits that might influence the delivery of the content, before deciding on teaching strategies. Two of the most popular strategies, lecturing and group discussion, will be presented here in their general format since there are many variations on lecturing and discussion. Other strategies such as case methods, instructional games, role playing, small groups, small groups in larger classes, tutoring, panel discussion, debate discussion and experience discussion will be briefly presented.



  • Identify the specific learning activities necessary for the desired kinds of learning, and put them into an effective instructional strategy.
  • An instructional strategy is a combination of specific learning activities in a particular sequence, usually laid out over a 1-3 week span of time.
  • Each individual activity should build synergistically on students' previous learning activities and prepare them for future activities.
  • Some examples of different instructional strategies include the following:
  • Continuous series of lectures and reading assignments, periodically interrupted by 1 or 2 midterms. Sequence of student activities: "hear - read - test"
  • Sequence of reading, reflective writing, and whole class discussion (sequence repeated for each topic). Sequence: "read - write - talk"

(A variation of this: "read - talk - write".)

  • Start with some field or lab work observations, followed by readings and whole class discussions.

Sequence: "do/look - read - talk" (Write-ups of lab/field work is sometimes included.)

  • Present lectures, followed by fieldwork or lab observations.

Sequence: "hear-see/do"

  • Have students do assigned readings, followed by mini-tests done individually and in small groups; then move on to group-based application projects.

Sequence: "read - individual & group tests - practice 'doing' with feedback"

  • Work through a series of developmental stages: build some knowledge and/or skills (4-6 wks), work on small application projects (4-6 wks), and then on larger, more complex projects (4-6 wks). Sequence: "know - 'know-how' - do - DO"
  • Contract for a grade: (for example: read text and pass exams = C, + do research paper = B, + do extended project = A)
  • It can be useful to create a diagram that illustrates the desired sequence of learning activities.

[edit] Lecturing

Lecturing may still be the most common form of teaching; but before adopting this method exclusively, you may want to stop and consider whether the material you want to get across and your objectives are best served by the lecturing format. If you are primarily interested in delivering a great deal of information or demonstrating an analytical process, then a lecture is probably the most efficient technique. If, however, you are mainly concerned with teaching problem-solving, developing critical thinking or having students weigh values or react affectively to your subject area, then you may want to try such methods as lecture discussion, small group interactions, role plays or simulations. These types of active learning strategies are known to foster higher-level cognitive objectives as well as affective objectives.

Lecturing has its advantages and its disadvantages. Being clear about these may help to decide how and when to use the lecture format and when to use other strategies (Acitelli, 1989).

[edit] Advantages:

a good method for delivering a great deal of information to large numbers provides an opportunity to convey the professor's enthusiasm for the material and may stimulate students interest; such interest will tend to elevate students' learning

  • allows you to present unpublished papers or articles
  • can complement and clarify readings
  • communicates to many students at the same time
  • can serve as a role model; how you think, talk, act often influences students' behaviour
  • emphasizes learning by listening

[edit] Disadvantages:

  • does not provide you with immediate feedback on how well students have learned
  • places students in a passive role which can often be counterproductive to learning
  • student concentration decreases with the length of the lecture
  • does not consider the students' different learning pace, style and level of understanding
  • does not provide as many opportunities for higher-level learning (application, analysis, synthesis)
  • requires that professors have or learn effective writing, speaking and modeling skills

The way you structure a lecture can make all the difference in whether students retain the material. Whereas you may have thought about your material for a long while, the audience is probably hearing about it for the first time. They only get a once-through, and their attention is divided between thinking about what you say and deciding what to write down. Therefore it is crucial, first, that you try not to say too much at once and, second, that you indicate - by emphasis, repetition, and summaries - the major points and how they connect.

[edit] Other Strategies

[2]Traditional instructional methods include lectures, laboratories and seminars. Several alternatives described in the University of Alberta Teaching Resource Manual include:

[edit] Group Discussions

Description: Opportunity to pool and test ideas, experience and knowledge. When Used: Any time greater group participation is desired. Procedure: Requires pre-planned outline. Facilitator encourages and guides participation. Limitations: Practical only with no more than 20 participants. Becomes disorganized without careful planning of material to be covered and skillful direction from the facilitator.

[edit] Buzz Groups

Description: Allows total participation by group members through small subgroups of participants, followed by discussion among the entire group. When Used: Use in conjunction with other group methods when participation from every group member is desired. Procedure: Prepare one or two questions on the topic to give to each group. Divide the members into small subgroups of four to six individuals. A leader is chosen in each subgroup to record and report pertinent ideas to the whole group. Limitations: Thought must be given to the purpose and organization of the groups.

[edit] Panels

Description: A discussion in conversational form among a selected group of persons with a leader, in front of an audience that joins in later. When Used: As a technique to stimulate interest and thinking, to provoke better discussion. Procedure: The leader plans with the four to eight panel members. The panel discusses informally without set speeches. The leader opens the discussion to the larger group, and summarizes. Limitations: The discussion can get off-track. The personality of the speaker can overshadow the content of the discussion. A vocal speaker can monopolize the program.

[edit] Symposia

Description: A discussion in which a topic is broken into various parts. Each part is presented by an expert or well-informed person in a brief, concise speech. When Used: When you want to transmit specific information. Procedure: The facilitator meets with three or four group members and plans an outline. The participants are introduced and give reports. The group questions the speakers. At the end of the discussion, the facilitator summarizes the main issues. Limitations: Speakers and groups can get off track. The personality of the speakers can overshadow the content. A very vocal speaker can monopolize the conversation.

[edit] Debates

Description: A pro-and-con discussion of a controversial issue. The objective is to convince the audience rather than display skill in attacking the opponent. When Used: When discussing a controversial issue on which there are fairly definite opinions on both sides to bring these differences out in the open in a friendly manner. Procedure: The group is divided into sides of pro and con. Each speaker should be limited to a predetermined time followed by rebuttal, if desired. Limitations: Members may not be objective about the subject.

[edit] Experience Discussions

Description: A small or large group discussion following a report on the main point of a book, article, or life experience. When Used: To present a new point of view or an issue, to stimulate thought and discussion. Procedure: Participants plan how the review is to be presented, then have an open discussion on pertinent issues and points of view as experienced. Limitations: Inability of some participants to relate to others and motivate thinking.

[edit] Concentric Circles

Description: A small circle of group members forms within a large circle. The inner circle discusses a topic while the role of the outer circle is to listen. The discussion is then reversed. When Used: As a technique to stimulate interest and to provoke good discussion. It is especially good to get more response from a group that is slow in participating. Procedure: The facilitator and planning group develop questions to be discussed by the concentric circle, then the larger circle. Limitations: Much thought and preparation needed in preparing questions for discussion. A room with sufficient space and movable chairs is needed.

[edit] Reaction Sheet

Description: A method of reacting to ideas that are controversial, are new, really "hit home." When Used: As a way to get the group to react. It can be combined with other discussion methods. Procedure: Participants prepare a topic and reaction sheets. They then explain and distribute the reaction sheets with instructions to write as they listen, watch, or read. A group discussion follows. Limitations: Topic needs to be somewhat controversial.

[edit] Phillips 66

Description: A spontaneous method where six people express their opinions for six minutes. When Used: To add spice and variety to methods of presentation. Procedure: Participants first define the topic of discussion. The facilitator selects six people and allows them six minutes for discussion. A group discussion follows. Limitations: The group and topics of discussion must be used somewhat flexibly.

[edit] Role Playing

Description: The spontaneous acting-out of a situation or incident by selected individuals. When Used: As a basis for developing clearer insights into people's feelings, and the forces in a situation that facilitate or block good human relations. Procedure: The facilitator or group chooses an appropriate situation or problem. The group defines the roles and general characteristics of each player, then enacts the scene. The facilitator observes and discusses specific behaviours, underlying forces or emotional reactions. Limitations: Requires skilled facilitation, so actors play roles seriously, without self-consciousness.

[edit] Picture Making

Description: A way of bringing out ideas or principles on a topic by means of simple illustrations made by group members on a blackboard or large chart paper. When Used: As a technique to stimulate interest, thinking, and participation. Very good for flowcharts and models. Procedure: The facilitator and planning-group members select general principles or questions which would be suitable to illustrate. Facilitator divides the group into four or five subgroups. Each subgroup is given a statement or problem to illustrate. After completing the picture making, each group shows and explains its picture. This is followed by a discussion. Limitations: The facilitator must clearly state the value of picture-making and supply adequate materials.

[edit] Brainstorming

Description: Technique of creative thinking in which group members think about a problem or topic and express their ideas. When Used: To get new ideas and release individual potential in thinking about ideas. Procedure: The facilitator and members of the planning group select suitable problems or questions on the topic selected by the entire group. The leader explains to the group the meaning of brainstorming and the following rules: critical judgments are ruled out; criticism is to be applied late; a large quantity of ideas is wanted; the more ideas generated, the better the chance of obtaining good ones; free wheeling is welcomed; the wilder the idea the better, since it is easier to tame them down than to pump them up; and hitchhiking is legitimate, if you can improve someone else's idea. A recorder lists the ideas. As a follow-up, a copy of the list of ideas is distributed to group members before the next meeting in order to generate more structured discussions. Limitations: Practical with no more than 20 persons. Becomes disorganized without careful planning of material to be covered and skillful direction from discussion leader.

[edit] Media and Audio-visual Material

Description: Media and audio-visual material is employed as a means of presenting information. When Used: When information from various sources is available for group presentation. Students can also be asked to bring relevant newspaper clippings to class over a period of time which discuss or study a topic. Procedure: The facilitator views the material in advance for appropriateness and to devise questions for participants. Specific methods include: television programs, song lyrics, videotapes, audiotapes, pictures, slides, films, film strips, three-dimensional models, posters, demonstration objects, overhead transparencies, multi-media presentations using computers, photos, board displays and diagrams, flip chart papers. The class views the presentation and follows with discussion, role-play, etc. Limitations: The facilitator must spend time reviewing the material prior to class presentation. Special equipment is often needed and must be arranged prior to class time.

[edit] Guest Speakers

Description: A way of bringing new ideas and people into the classroom. When Used: When someone other than the facilitator is an expert in a field and is available for guest appearances. Procedure: The class leader and guest speaker discuss the topic to be covered and details of the class time, how the topic fits into the course, etc. The guest speaker may appear virtually, through videoconferencing or on Sakai discussions. Limitations: Guest speakers are often difficult to fit into the class schedule and often require travel expenses be paid.

[edit] Team Teaching

Description: A way of bringing new ideas and people into the classroom. Similar to guest speakers, but the speaker is involved in the class for more than one session. When Used: When two or more facilitators can effectively combine their interests and areas of expertise, and share the class time and work. Procedure: The facilitators decide who covers each topic and when sessions will be conducted. Each is responsible for a section; sections are taught independently except for discussion on how sections flow together. Limitations: Requires a coordinated effort by the team members or it may be very disjointed.

[edit] Socratic Method

Description: A dialogue in which the leader asks leading questions of the group. When Used: To vary the routine of a regular class and when class participation is desired. Procedure: The facilitator prepares a topic for discussion, then leads the class through it by asking leading questions. Limitations: The facilitator carries the responsibility for the progress of the discussion, and must be well-prepared with questions.

[edit] Demonstrations

Description: A visual way of presenting information to a group; often supplements a written presentation or lecture. When Used: When a topic or idea will have more direct impact if presented visually. Procedure: The facilitator either prepares the demonstration or asks a guest to do so. Limitations: All group members must be able to see the demonstration clearly. It must be rehearsed to work smoothly on the presentation day.

[edit] Case Studies

Description: An actual account of a particular incident and/or problem is presented to the class. How the matter was resolved is included. When Used: When a specific example is the best means of illustrating a topic. This method is often used to supplement traditional lecture approaches to a topic. Can be used to synthesize ideas and apply theory to practical problems. Procedure: The facilitator documents a case study, altering actual names and places if required. The case study is presented to the class and is generally followed by a discussion. Limitations: Case studies require additional work by the facilitator to ensure that they are straightforward and appropriate examples of what is being presented.

[edit] Social Media

[edit] Online Discussion

  • Description: Opportunity to pool and test ideas, experience and knowledge.
  • When Used: As a supplement or instead of a face-to-face discussion.
  • Procedure: Requires access to online discussion area, see Section on Educational Technologies and requesting a course in Sakai
  • Limitations: Guidelines should be established early as to what the requirements for participation are. If expectations are for a certain level of response, then modeling and examples should be provided. If it is not tied to assessment, some students won’t bother to participate.

[edit] Instruction Games and Simulations

Simulations or instruction games involve students in some kind of competition or achievement behaviour in relation to a specific objective. By placing the student in a learning situation, this strategy enables the student to contextualize the problem or situation in order to identify different solutions or alternatives. The advantage of such a strategy is that students are actively involved in the learning process and must react to the information instead of passively receiving the content of the course.

[edit] Tutoring

A tutor guides a student, usually individually, in a particular subject or for a certain purpose. This allows interaction with students who in large settings are uncomfortable about asking questions and seeking clarifications. Independent studies entail use of this teaching method.

[edit] References

  1. Dee Fink, University of Oklahoma
  2. University of Alberta Teaching Resource Manual
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