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Planning a Class Session

Suggestions for effective classroom sessions

Teaching a class is different than delivering a presentation. While both have certain elements in common, teaching a class requires more presenter-audience (instructor-student) interaction and a greater expectation that the audience learns something. The following list of suggestions is arranged according to three phases of a class session: the introduction, the body, and the closing.

The beginning of the class session

  • Share with the class the learning objectives for that class session so the students will know not only what the content will be, but also the level of mastery. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to identify the critical learning objectives.
  • Use an introduction that will catch the listener's interest. For example:
    • Raise a question to be answered by the end of the session. By the end of the hour, you should be able to answer the question "What are possible ways you can test your hypothesis?"
    • State an historical or current problem related to the lecture content. Gauss conjectured that the number of primes up to any point x was less than a certain smooth easily calculated function of x. This conjecture was supported by extensive numerical evidence. However, in 1914, Littlewood proved that, in fact, the relation becomes false for an infinite sequence of large x's. Let's take a look at Littlewood's reasoning.
    • Explain the relationship or relevance of lecture content to laboratory exercises, homework problems, professional career interests, the real world, etc. Today's lecture is about the cost of living indices, a topic in macroeconomics that should help you understand the recent discussion in Congress related to inflation.
    • Relate lecture content to previous class material. For the past few weeks, Skinner, Osgood, and others who take a behaviorist view of language acquisition have occupied our attention. Today, let's look at a different perspective on language acquisition and learning. We'll spend the rest of this week and the next on understanding this view and comparing it with the behaviorist position.
  • Provide a brief overview of the lecture's content either verbally, with a handout, or through an outline on the board. In Victorian England, the conflict between religion and science was well-reflected in the literature of the time. Today we'll look at two poems, "Dover Beach" and "In Memorium," which illustrate this conflict.
  • Tell students how you expect them to use the lecture material. Today, I'll offer a specific model of evaluation and illustrate its applicability in several kinds of settings. When you meet in your discussion groups this week, you'll be asked to apply the model as you discuss the Brown vs. Board of Education decision
  • Define or explain unfamiliar terminology. Today, we’ll be talking about how to evaluate arguments. In this class, “argument” has a precise meaning. It does not mean having a fight or disagreement, rather an argument is when you use one or more statements-called premises-to provide support for an additional statement called the conclusion. Let’s break down each part of that definition…

The body of the class session

  • Allow for some flexibility in the amount of content to be presented in order to respond to student questions and comments.
  • Determine the key points to be developed during the class session. When every nuance, detail, or instance of a topic is discussed, or when too many ideas are presented and not well-developed, students often lose sight of the main idea.
  • Organize material in some logical order. Suggested organization schemes include:

    • Cause-Effect One can demonstrate how the continental revolutionary movements of the late 1700's affected British politics at the turn of the century.
    • Chronological A lecturer explaining the steps in a clinical supervision model talks about the initial steps to be taken, the second steps, and so forth
    • Topical A professor lecturing about the differential features of common diseases in canines and felines speaks about their etiologies, typical histories, predisposing factors, etc.
    • Problem-Solution A lecture on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 may begin with a statement of the foreign policy problem followed by a presentation of the alternative solutions available to President Kennedy.
    • Compare-Contrast A lecture is organized around the advantages and disadvantages of using the lecture method of instruction.
    • Ascending-Descending In a lecture introducing students to animal diseases, the diseases of primary importance may be discussed first, followed by discussion of diseases of secondary importance, and concluding with coverage of diseases of tertiary importance. A chemistry lecture may begin with a definition first of atoms, then elements, next molecules, and finally compounds.
    • Rule-Example-Rule A chemistry lecture may begin with the rule that atoms of unlike charges (anions and cations) are attracted to each other. The rule would then be illustrated using sodium (cation) and chloride (anion) which make common salt (NaCl). The rule that cations and anions are attracted to each other would then be repeated.
    • Example-Example-Rule The American, French, and Iranian revolutions are described, followed by discussion on one model of revolutionary development.
  • Prepare examples to clarify and emphasize key ideas
  • Provide transitions which show the relationships between key ideas.
  • Effectively incorporate audiovisual or support materials.
  • Throughout the lecture check on student understanding by:
    • Asking students to answer specific questions. See Planning Questions for more information on how to make your questions most effective.
    • Asking for specific questions from the students. Don't just ask, "Any questions?"
    • Presenting a problem or situation that requires use of lecture material in order to obtain a solution. Over the last few days we have been discussing regression analysis. How can we use this information to predict your final grade in this course when given your midterm scores and the correlation between midterm and final scores?
    • Using Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs).
    • Checking on student understanding by watching the class for nonverbal cues of inattention, confusion or misunderstanding. Look for puzzled expressions, loss of eye contact, talking, clock watching, frantic notetaking, using a laptop or cell phone inappropriately, and so forth.

The closing of the class session

  • Answer those questions raised at the beginning of the lecture that will help students learn
  • Provide closure for the lecture. For example:
    • Briefly summarize lecture material and preview what lies ahead. Today I have identified five phases of the reflective thinking process. Tomorrow we will see how these phases can be useful for our understanding of human learning.
    • Relate lecture material to past or future presentations. During the next lesson, you will form discussion groups and get some experience applying the evaluation model discussed in class today to the first three case studies in your file.
    • Ask a student to summarize the lecture's key ideas. Who can summarize the key issues developed during today's lecture?
  • Restate what you expect the students to gain from the lecture material. As I stated in the introduction, given the appropriate data you should be able to plot the appropriate supply and demand curve.
  • Ask for and answer student questions.
  • Provide a question for students to answer at the beginning of the next session.