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Teaching Tips

Teaching tips from the University of Hawaii.

If you have good teaching tips you'd like to share, let us know!

Teaching Tip #1:  BE ORGANIZED
If lecturing, put a short outline on the board or give handouts of the lecture.  Check off topics on the board as you go through the lecture.  Students will be reminded throughout the class period of where you have been and where you are going.
--Thanks to Gene Van Horn (UTC Biology and Environmental Sciences)

Teaching Tip #2:  MAKE A LIST
Make a list of the favorite practices of your past teachers that helped you to learn.  Make another list of your least favorite practices of your past teachers.  Do the former and avoid the latter unless it will help the teaching process to bring in some of the unpleasant practices.
--Thanks to Gene Van Horn (UTC Biology and Environmental Sciences)

Teaching Tip #3: ON FEAR
Use fear sparingly.  You might get students to study harder, but you might scare them away or cause them to give up too soon.  It does not hurt to warn the class that a final exam will be harder than previous examinations.  Sometimes mentioning difficulty will get their attention and help them resolve to conquer the material.  Let them know that it's not you against the students, but you and the students against the material.
--Thanks to Gene Van Horn (UTC Biology and Environmental Sciences)

Teaching Tip #4: ON GRADING
Return papers as soon as possible.  I try to return exams the next class period or post exam results in a timely manner.  You will not save any time by putting off grading.  You might even save time by avoiding having students coming by and asking about their grade.  If you put off grading exams, you might send the message that exams are not important, or that the students should not be concerned.
--Thanks to Gene Van Horn (UTC Biology and Environmental Sciences)

Make it worth something if you want them to do it.
Even the best students will not bother to keep a lab notebook or a journal if they don't think you will collect them, read them, or reward them with a few points.
--Thanks to Gene Van Horn (UTC Biology and Environmental Sciences)

Teaching Tip #6: DON'T FEAR SILENCE!
Students will eventually talk.  While we may think the silence is long, students need time to process your questions and to come up with answers.  Give them a chance to think and they will eventually talk.  In fact, you may want to silently count slowly to 10 or 15 to force yourself to wait enough time for students to think and respond.
 --Thanks to Kathleen Wheatley 

Provide students with sample quizzes and tests. Students can then become familiar with your style of asking questions and testing formats.
--Thanks to Nicholas Boer 

Periodically during the semester, especially at the end of a class in which much has happened, take five minutes to have students (anonymously) fill out index cards answering the following question: "What's the most significant thing you heard or the most significant thing that happened in class today?" Let students know that this doesn't just mean something that the instructor has said or done. The response could address any aspect of the class.  Complete a card answering the question yourself.
    Later, read through all the responses, select one or more that are provocative enough to be useful in subsequent classes, then read them aloud, discuss the issues they raise, etc. Even if you're unable to use one or more responses to follow up directly, these provide a good snapshot assessment of what's happening for students. Their choices are almost always very diverse, and, not surprisingly, very different from what I have chosen as most significant. Inevitably, this exercise acts as a rudder to move my teaching and learning closer to the learning of the students.
--Thanks to David Garrison 

Teaching Tip #9:  BE UP FRONT AND CLEAR
Make sure your syllabus is very clear about how student grades will be calculated.  Designate the percentages for each assignment, how much weight you will give each assignment and what your expectations for each assignment are.
--Thanks to Susan McDonald and Charlie Stresino 

Teaching Tip #10:  ADMIT WHEN YOU DON'T KNOW
Be willing to admit you don't know an answer or tell the students you'll look something up and get back to them.  This can promote ongoing learning.  Be sure to remember to get back with them on the answer.
--Thanks to Debra Phillips for this Teaching Tip

Teaching Tip #11:  REMEMBER TO REVIEW
Begin each class session with a five minute interactive review of the concepts dealt with in the previous class session.  Get students involved with the content!
--Thanks to JoBeth Boyer 

Use practical, real world analogies to bridge the gaps between something students understand and new concepts you are trying to teach.
--Thanks to Monte Helm 

Try not to lecture for more than 20 minutes at a time.  Break up your classes with other presentation techniques:  group activities, videotapes, discussion, etc.
--Thanks to Peter Symonds

Teaching Tip #14:  USE THE STUDENTS' NAMES
Try to address students by name during teaching sessions--Learn as many as you can and work on the rest.
--Thanks to Jim Gumnick

Involve students in small group discussions and have them share important points through graphic organizers and concept maps.
--Thanks to Sarah Sandefur

Encourage students to use specific learning strategies by:

  • helping them to define their learning tasks
  • teaching them ways to organize their notes and class resources
  • teaching students about learning devices that may work in your discipline (mnemonic devices, concept maps, study diaries, etc.)
  • modeling cognitive strategies (think aloud while demonstrating problem-solving, admit when you don't know something and outline how you'd find out, etc.)

--Excerpt from McGlynn, Angela Provitera (2001).  Successful beginnings for college teaching, Madison, WI:  Atwood Publishing, p. 73.

Show your students examples of both good work and poor work, from previous classes.

List and submit review questions and divide the students into small groups to discuss and provide group answers and solutions.  Ask groups to talk about their different answers (if they have them) and to determine a correct answer.
--Thanks to Larry Lyda

Outline your assessment criteria.Outline how you grade, what your expectations are and what criteria you will use for grades early on.  While most of us list these things in a syllabus, be sure to point out your expectations to the students early on and be as clear as you can about what criteria constitutes A, B, C, D, etc. work.

Teaching Tip #20:  LISTEN
Listen to what students have to say.
Tell and show your students you care about what they have to say.  Don't cut them off, belittle their comments, etc. or soon they will learn not to participate, ask questions, etc.

Vary your teaching style.
Lecture, provide group activities, conduct discussion groups, and plan for other teaching styles to capture all of your students into your content and discipline.
--Thanks to Chris Ryan, UTC Lupton Library

Teaching Tip #22 :  BE ENTHUSIASTIC!
Be enthusiastic!
Come into your class dragging, and chances are your class will drag.  Be enthusiastic about your topic and your class will "catch" that enthusiasm.  Try to convey your love of your discipline to your students.
--Thanks to Brian O’Leary, UTC Psychology Department

Teaching Tip #23:  Keep Students Informed
Regularly update students on the progress of the course and the semester--where you are in the syllabus, where they are in their knowledge and skills.  Relate where students are "now" with where they’ve been and where they are going.
--Thanks to Manuel Santiago, UTC Chemistry Department

Teaching Tip #24: Don't forget to review
Before each lecture, I read over notes and gather my thoughts, no matter how familiar with the material.  Every so often, I will think about a new way of teaching a particular topic or a new example to use.  Even if I can't think of an improvement for my presentation, reading the material helps make the classroom presentation flow so that I’m not just following my notes.
--Thanks to Gene Van Horn, UTC Biology Department

Teaching Tip #25: (January 8, 2003) Start on Time...
Don't let minds drift or conversations begin.  Begin on time and plan activities that take the entire class period, especially at the beginning of the semester.  Don't let students even begin to think that you don't value your time in class by cutting class short or "letting" them out early.  If you require attendance of your students, please consider your actions as well...  If you require students to be there on time, you need to be on time as well.

Teaching Tip #26: Watch for Boredom
You might lose some of your students no matter what the topic, what the hour, or which day of the week you teach.  But, if too many tune out, you should consider changing something.  It might be as simple as changing the volume of your voice, or the rate/pace you talk.  You might begin to include interesting stories or anecdotes related to the classroom material
--Thanks to Gene Van Horn, UTC Biology Department

Teaching Tip #27: Promote Student Success
At the beginning of each class period, select a student to give a short summary of the main points of the last class.  This can help students who might have missed the last class and can help you understand what the students see as important.  In addition, it can help students work on their oral communication skills.
--From Successful Beginnings for College Teaching:  Engaging Your Students from the First Day, by Angela P. McGlynn (2001, Atwood Publishing)

Teaching Tip #28: Help Your Students Learn
Think about ways that you can help your students set short term academic goals--ones that are challenging, but attainable.  For example, you might review some goals with a class that will be met over the next couple of weeks.  After you have done that, ask your students to set their own goals dealing with a particular content area.  The students could then outline what they need to do to meet those goals and identify what resources they need from you to help them meet those goals.  By helping students realize what THEY do to control their own learning, you can help students begin to take responsibility for their own learning

Teaching Tip #29: One Minute Papers
These quick, short bits of writing can help students check what they know.  Cut 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper into quarters.  Hand out paper slips to your students or ask them to pick them up as they come into the classroom. Ask students to write an answer to a question about the content, lecture, or chapter for one minute (yes, time them!).  Collect the papers for review or ask students to review each other's answers and discuss.  If you want, you can just use this method as a quick way to check student attendance.  You don't need to tell students whether or not the papers will be graded until after you collect the papers.
--From Teaching creatively:  Ideas in action by Alison Morrison-Shetlar & Mary R. Marwitz (2001, Outernet Publishing, LLC)

Teaching Tip #30: Demonstrate Enthusiasm for Your Discipline
Are you a teacher that makes things happen, watches what happens or asks “what happened?” Enthusiasm about a subject matter (or a lack of such) is catching. If you’re not enjoying your time in the classroom, your students won’t either. And, as far as I know, fun is NOT the opposite of hard. So, you can be enthusiastic and having fun, while still challenging the students to think.
--Eison, J. (1990). Confidence in the classroom: Ten maximums for new teachers, College Teaching, vol. 33 (1). P. 21 – 25.

Teaching Tip #31: Pictures and Images
A Picture is Worth Thousands...Ask students to draw a pictures of their mental understanding of a topic or a concept. This is a great way for students to synthesize material and to visualize it in relation to other concepts. You might ask them to share their drawing with a classmate as a way to begin discussion on a topic.
--Morrison-Shetlar, A.I. & Marwitz, M. R. (2001). Teaching creatively: Ideas in action. Eden Prairie, MN: Outnet Publishing, LLC.

Teaching Tip #32: Student Feedback Can Help You Improve Your Teaching
Here are some questions you might want to ask your students to get a feel for how the class is going. What I usually do is give the students index cards and ask them to label each side...1 and 2. Then give the students 3 – 5 minutes to answer the following questions. (They do NOT have to put their names on the cards). I usually time the process (3-5 minutes). Questions to ask...

  1. What do you think of the class so far?
  2. If you were the professor, what would you do differently?

Teaching Tip #33: Ask Questions Frequently
Ask questions frequently during each class. Students will think if you make them do so. Try to make your questions thought-provoking. Try to ask “open-ended” questions--questions that may not have a single answer. Stay away from “closed-ended” questions--questions that can be answered with a simple, regurgitated answer, or a “yes” or “no.” Be patient when waiting for answers. Count to five or ten slowly to yourself. If you answer your own question, then students will learn to let you do so--always! Give your students time to think before they answer the question.
--Browne, M. N. & Keeley, S. M. (1985). Achieving excellence: Advice to new teachers. College Teaching, vol. 33 (2), p. 78 – 83. For more information about developing questions, see Getting Them To Speak Up! Questioning Skills to Promote Discussion

Teaching Tip #34: Ask For Student Questions
Ask students to create the test questions...Ask students to submit test questions to you. Allow all of the questions submitted to be viewed by the students as a study tool. Pool all the questions and select questions from the list for your test. You might also want to discuss some of the “good” questions vs. poor questions from those that are submitted. This can also prompt a discussion of higher levels thinking.
--From: Morrison-Shetlar, A.I. & Marwitz, M. R. (2001). Teaching creatively: Ideas in action. Eden Prairie, MN: Outnet Publishing, LLC.

Teaching Tip #35: Cool Web Site to Increase Vocabulary
This web site is so cool... If you type in a word, several words appear with similar meanings. You can then click on any of those to get even more words. Check it out!

Teaching Tip #36: Start each class with specific goals and objectives in mind
Plan specific educational goals and objectives for each class that relate to your overall goals and objectives. These should be directly related to what the students will learn in each class; not what you will presenting each class. Develop your goals and objectives around a variety of activities: demonstrations, experiential activities, specific critical thinking skills, writing skills, attitudes and values, etc., or the personal implications found in the course content.
--Eison, J. (1990). Confidence in the classroom: Ten maximums for new teachers, College Teaching, vol. 33 (1). P. 21 – 25.

Teaching Tip #37: Asking Questions
Ask only questions that will give you an idea of what the student is learning. Avoid “wasteful” questions like: “Does everyone understand?” “Are there any questions?” or “Is that concept clear?” Replace these with questions like: “What is your understanding of…” “Can you explain the concept of xxx in your own words?” “"What is the relationship between concept x and concept y?,” “Why do you think so?” Plan out questions for each class session. Think about including higher order question like “What evidence is there for X?” or “What important information is missing from y?”
--Browne, M. N. & Keeley, S. M. (1985). Achieving excellence: Advice to new teachers. College Teaching, vol 33 (2), p. 78 – 83.

Teaching Tip #38: Teach More, Better
Don’t overwhelm your students with your whole knowledge base. Focus on the course content and objectives. Spend more time on reinforcing those goals and objectives for the students who may have had little background in the course content area. By not overwhelming the students, their long term retention of the content should go up.
--Eison, J. (1990). Confidence in the classroom: Ten maximums for new teachers, College Teaching, vol. 33 (1). P. 21 – 25.

Teaching Tip #39: First Days:  Opening Days—Getting Students Excited about Your Course
It's the first day of class--How many of your students come? How many of your students expect to be given the syllabus and then get to leave early? What message are you sending by not taking the this first opportunity to get your students pumped up about your course? Try to plan a fun activity that exposes the students to the content/discipline right off the bat. You might consider asking them to list ways in which the content can be useful to them in future careers or in their current daily life. You might ask them to solve some problems (which would also give you a sense of where they are in their current knowledge and skill). Think of ways to use the time to give the students the message that coming to class is important because they will do things that are not covered in the text and that help them make sense of the class content. Yes, you might review the syllabus, but you might also consider doing this last, just before the class period is over.
--Bennett, K.L. (2004). How to start a teaching a tough course. College Teaching , 52 (3), p. 106.

Teaching Tip #40: Encouraging Contact between Students and Faculty
Good Practice in Undergraduate Education…Encourages contact between students and faculty
Some ways to do this: Advise your students (not just advisees) about career opportunities in your field; share past experiences, attitudes and values with your students; attend events sponsored by student groups; know your students by name by the end of the second week of the term; make an effort to be available for your students outside of class; serve as a mentor or informal advisor to students.
--Chickering, Arthur W. and Gamson, Zelda F. (March 1987). Seven Principles For Good Practice In Undergraduate Education. [Online]. Available: [2002, September 16].

Teaching Tip #41: Stimulate Classroom Discussion
Get those discussions started by beginning class with a discussion of an "issue of the day." Discussions can last for 10 - 15 minutes and can revolve around issues of the field or discipline, an issue from current events (as it relates to your course content), or a generic campus issue.

Teaching Tip #42: Good Practice in Undergraduate Education…Encourages active learning
Ways to do this: Ask students to present their work in class; ask students to summarize similarities and differences of theories, research, etc. as they relate to your discipline; ask students to relate outside experiences to the course content; ask students to undertake research or independent study; encourage students to challenge your ideas, the ideas of other students, or those ides presented in the reading material or other course material; give students concrete, real-life situations to analyze; use simulations, role-playing or labs as a part of your classes; encourage students to suggest new readings, research projects, field trips, etc. that relate to the course content; arrange field trips, internships, etc for students; carry out research projects with students.
--Chickering, Arthur W. and Gamson, Zelda F. (March 1987). Seven Principles For Good Practice In Undergraduate Education. [Online]. Retrieved from [2002, September 16].