Teaching Related Techniques

Teaching Related Techniques

Internal Student Involvement
Questioning Strategies
Small Group Work


“Demonstrations can be absolute disasters. I remember all the times I was missing a crucial piece of equipment or couldn’t get the demonstration to work at all. I learned the hard way how important planning is.” — Anonymous Faculty Member

Demonstrations are valuable tools for teaching both concrete techniques (skills) and abstract concepts (principles). A good demonstration permits a student to learn by observation, a skill we use innately when learning to talk, walk, and even clap our hands. They can be used to teach techniques like conducting a counseling session, using a computer program, or drawing blood for analysis. They can also be used to help students learn concepts like profit margin in economics, Boyle’s law in chemistry, or probability in mathematics.

Essential Planning Steps

For a demonstration to be effective, advance planning is essential (See the Demonstration Plan Sheet).

  • Summarize the concept or state the technique to be demonstrated in a few words. Reading about the concept or talking your ideas over with peers may help increase your own understanding of the concept.
  • Determine a specific example of the concept or technique that can be easily demonstrated. Remember every concept has a referent; however, if you cannot think of a good example, perhaps a demonstration is not appropriate.
  • List the steps to be followed during the demonstration in their correct order.
  • List the key points to be emphasized.
  • List all materials and equipment. List any visual aids, such as graphs, transparencies, drawings, computer driven aids, models, etc., that are needed.
  • Introduce the demonstration. The introduction should: (1) relate the new concept or principle to the students’ previous knowledge or experience, (2) arouse curiosity, (3) give background information, and (4) define new terms. Once plans are complete, preparations need to be made for the demonstration.
  • Prepare the teaching aids listed in the plans.
  • Assemble all necessary materials and equipments.
  • Prepare the physical setting in which the demonstration will be conducted so that each student will be able to see and hear comfortably. A subtle technique may need to be presented several times to small groups.
  • Practice or rehearse the presentation. To improve the performance, it is often helpful to ask a fellow TA to observe the demonstration, or at least the demonstration rehearsal.

Demonstration en route

During the demonstration, give a simple explanation for each step as you proceed. Observe students throughout to make sure your pace isn’t too fast or too slow. Remember to summarize the demonstration or let students summarize it. This can be done either as you proceed through it or immediately afterward.

After the demonstration, review key points with the class. If a significant number of students missed or misunderstood any key points, you may need to repeat the demonstration.

As a follow-up exercise, have students apply the concept to a new situation so they can generalize their learning.

For technique demonstrations, it is often helpful for students to watch the teacher coach a student volunteer through a technique. The teacher’s facility with equipment often hides difficulties which are readily observed in unfamiliar hands. Then have students perform the technique on their own to consolidate learning.

Demonstration of Problem-Solving skills

If you demonstrate solving problems when you teach, here are some helpful hints:

  • Take a problem that is challenging for you and write down your thought process as you solve it.  Now reflect on how you teach problem-solving in the course you teach.  Are you verbalizing all the steps?
  • Students learn by doing. Help them trouble-shoot in class before they have to “do it alone” on the homework.  Put students in small groups of about four individuals with similar competency levels.  Hand out a problem to each group.  Walk around and coach the groups.  Bring the class together for a discussion of how they solved the problem.  Give credit for group work so that the students take it seriously.
  • Try not to solve problems for students. You can distribute or post solutions to problems.  Involve the students in solving problems in the quiz section with you.
  • Put a problem on the board and have the students come up with the steps, which you then write on the board.  Ask them analytical questions to find out if those who are not participating also understand the concepts.  Point out errors without correcting them to let the students find the mistakes.
  • When teaching abstract concepts, make analogies to concrete things in everyday life.  Encourage students to come up with analogies as well.
  • Focus on teaching problem-solving as a skill to be learned.
  • Help students become aware of their own process of problem-solving. Pair students up according to competency and give each pair a problem to work on. One student listens, the other solves the problem while verbalizing his or her steps. The listener may ask questions such as,” What are you thinking now?  Are these equivalent?” to encourage the problem-solver to rethink his or her approach.
  • Demonstrate problems in class that are just as difficult as the ones in the homework.

Internal Student Involvement[back]

Internal involvement techniques — designed to involve the students without requiring them to respond out loud — are often a useful way to start a presentation and to prepare students for activities that require active participation. Rather than plunging into an active learning situation, some teachers prefer to “warm up” their students with some of the following simple techniques.

  • Examples and Stories
    Punctuate any presentation with frequent real life examples or stories. This helps maintain student interest and creates a subtle nonverbal student involvement. In identifying with an example or a story, the student is internally more active in the class (e.g., “One of the things that got me interested in civil engineering was photographs of the collapse of a bridge in Virginia…”). Make sure that the examples and stories you choose are within the range of your students’ experience.
  • Questions
    Pose questions that will be answered in the presentation. Even if students do not answer a question out loud, they are processing the answer internally (e.g., “Why would Hamlet hesitate to act in the beginning of the play?”). Clearly mark rhetorical questions (e.g., “Think with me about this. Later I’ll ask for your thoughts”). Ask your students to jot down in their notebooks the answers to questions you raise throughout your presentation. Then, when you call on them to answer, they will be more prepared.
  • Visualizations
    Have students develop an internal picture of an event to make it more concrete for them (e.g., “Imagine that you are a newspaper correspondent at the summit conference. What are some of the questions you would ask?”). Ask your students to write down in their notebooks images they see during your presentation, and ask them to share these.
  • Mini-Activities
    Ask students to engage in some simple action to build student involvement (e.g., “Raise your hand if you have filled out an income tax form.”). However, remember not to ask students to respond to a very private question in this manner. Some students may feel you are invading their privacy.
  • Demonstrations and Drama
    One way to capture student interest is to do a very short demonstration or act out a phenomenon. You might ask your students to write in their notebooks how they would have performed differently and why. Later, you can ask them to share their thoughts.
  • Props
    Show them an actual physical object (e.g., “Here is a model of the human muscle system. You can see…”). Pass the object around the room when possible, particularly if you teach in a large classroom, so that all of your students can see it.

Questioning Strategies[back]

Questions should play an important role in every classroom – both teacher questions and student questions. Teachers can create an active learning environment by encouraging students to ask and answer questions.

Teacher Questions

  • Plan some questions as you prepare your lesson plan
    Consider your instructional goals and emphasize questions that reinforce them. The questions you ask will help students see what topics you consider important.
  • Ask clear, specific questions
    Ask clear, specific questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Avoid ambiguous or vague questions such as “What did you think of the short story?” If a student does give you a yes/no or short answer, ask a follow up question that will encourage him/her to expand, clarify, or justify the answer.
  • Use vocabulary that students can understand
    Students cannot respond well to a question that contains unfamiliar terms.
  • Ask questions in an evenly-paced, easily identifiable order
    Students might be confused by random, rapid-fire questions. Use questions to signal a change of topic or direction in the lecture.
  • Ask questions from all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives
    Mixing more difficult questions that require synthesis and evaluation with simple questions that require memory and comprehension keeps students actively switching gears.
  • Use questions to help students connect important concepts
    For example, “Now that we’ve learned about conservation of energy, how does this knowledge help us relate the kinetic and potential energy of an object?”
  • Use questions to give you feedback
    Use questions to give your feedback on whether students have understood the material (e.g., “Which part of the experiment was most difficult for you and why?”).
  • Allow sufficient time for students to answer
    Allow sufficient time for students to answer your questions (10-15 seconds). Students need time to think and organize an answer before responding. Learn to wait until you get a student response. The silence can be uncomfortable sometimes, but it is necessary in order for students to know that you are serious about wanting an answer to your question. You can ask students to write down their response to a question, then call on several students to read their answers. This technique requires all students to become actively involved in thinking about your question.
  • Rephrase Questions
    Rephrase questions when students do not respond in the manner you expected. Admit that your original question might have been confusing.

Student Questions

  • Make it easy for students to ask questions
    1. Make your classroom risk-free for asking questions. Banish the phrase “stupid question” from your vocabulary. Let students know the first day that you want and expect questions.
    2. Solicit questions by asking:
      – “What aspects of this material are unclear?”
      – “Can I give another example to help you understand this topic?”
      – “Can anyone add some examples to mine to help clarify this material?”
  • Make time for questions throughout your class
    Do not leave the question time until the last 2 or 3 minutes. Students will assume that “Are there any questions?” is a signal for class to end.
  • Wait for students to formulate questions
    Be sure to allow pause time (10-15 seconds) for students to review their notes for areas that are unclear. Again, you may ask students to write their question and then call on several students to read what they have written.
  • Ask other students to answer student questions.
    This will encourage a discussion among the class.
  • Have students formulate questions prior to class
    Anytime you assign reading, math problems, experiments, case studies, journal writing, etc., ask your students to prepare three questions they had while they were completing the assignment. Also, you might ask them to write three questions they would expect to answer on a quiz covering the material they encountered. Begin class by having your students share their questions in small groups or as a whole. Their questions not only will stimulate discussion but also will allow you to determine confusing aspects of the material. In addition, being able to anticipate questions a teacher will ask on exams is an important study skill for students to develop.

Small Group Work[back]

Educators agree that when students work in small groups, they tend to understand the subject matter more thoroughly.  Small group work transforms the class into supportive learning teams; the group keeps students energized, motivated and provides support to complete complex tasks.  Group work helps students explain, summarize, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate an aspect of the subject matter.  For example, students may answer questions about the content, develop examples, solve a problem, and summarize main points of the readings.  Group work also helps students practice essential social, problem solving and communication skills needed for success in the workplace.  In addition, groups serve as forums where students can personalize their learning experiences and identify and correct misconceptions and gaps in understanding.  Planning and organization are necessary for groups to be productive learning mechanisms.

Before the Group Work – Planning

  • Place students in appropriate groups
    Keep the group small, limit it to four to five members. There are several methods to placing students in groups:

    1. Designate the groups yourself. For example, use 1, 2, 3 numbering system (Students often will want to work only with their friends).
    2. Assess students’ personalities before you assign groups (e.g., placing two very outgoing students in one group may be problematic).
    3. Assign new groups frequently so that your students will interact with everyone in the class (Sometimes, students who are in one group for too long become too comfortable with one another and begin to chat rather than complete their tasks).
  • Use assignments that require group interaction
    For example, if assignments are too easy, one member may complete it on behalf of the group.
  • Explain the purpose of the group work
    Why are you asking the students to work together?  What will they gain from the group work?
  • Explain the assignment clearly and provide a handout.
  • Indicate what specific learning outcome you are expecting from the group
    For example, groups hand in written answers to questions, groups present an oral summary of their discussion to the class, groups list main arguments on an overhead transparency.
  • State a time limit for the group work
    Time allocated to group work depends on the nature of the task.
  • Assign roles within the groups to encourage equal participation
    For example, reporter, note taker, timekeeper, and facilitator.

During the Group Work – Implementation

  • Circulate among the groups to check on student progress
    This gives you the opportunity to assess the extent to which students understand the material.  What content is clear to them?  What questions do they have?
  • Sit in on group discussions
    You can get to know your students better by listening in on the group, asking and answering questions, providing direction and clarification, and praising students for their work.  Your joining the group also can help motivate students to complete the task in a timely fashion.
  • Remind students of the time remaining to complete the task
    Check with groups to see whether they need more time.  Be flexible.

 After the Group Work – Report and Reflection

  • Bring the class together and ask the students to share their work
    Highlight main issues learned from the groups, possibly use the board or the overhead projector to summarize.  Provide feedback on both the content and the group process. Reflect on the group work and student learning and incorporate what you have learned into your planning for the next class.
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