Instructional Aids

A teacher’s purpose is to help students learn. Instructional aids are meant to help communicate information: not dazzle or entertain. Handouts must be simple and easy to follow. Keep board work organized and clean. Keep your teaching as the focus, but support student learning through proper use of instructional aids.

Computers and Multimedia

Using computers and interactive multimedia can make teaching more efficient, effective, powerful, and flexible. Computers and multimedia tools can provide students with individualized activities that accommodate differences in students' levels of preparation. Computers can help you to transform course notes into handouts, create high-quality complex illustrations, do real-time calculations and processing, engage students in interactive collaborations, and bring text, graphics, animation, sound, and video into the classroom.


  • Can be put together in advance and result in a well-prepared lecture.
  • Allows you to present complex concepts, data, and other information more easily.
  • Can encourage student attention.


  • Requires practice and software.
  • May create a distance between you and your students if there is no student interaction.
  • High-tech system can result in high-tech problems.

TIPS for using PowerPoint and other presentation software

  • Remember the 6-8 rule: 6-8 words per line and 6-8 lines per screen.
    You do not have to write everything you want to say on your slides. Remember, you are the primary source of information and the presentation is secondary.
  • 28 pt to 40 pt font sizes are easiest to read from a distance.
  • Sans serif fonts (e.g., Arial) are more clear than serif fonts (e.g., Times New Roman).
  • It is difficult to read underlined and italicized words, so avoid these effects if you can.
  • High contrast colours work best (e.g., white and black or yellow and blue).
  • Slide effects can be entertaining but use them sparingly because they can also be very distracting!
  • Test run everything, then run it again.
  • Focus on the information, not on the technology.
  • Prepare extra material as embedded links.
  • Create hyperlinks to other slides within your presentation (See tutorial)

Notes on using Prezi presentation software

Prezi is a popular web-based presentation software that gives a dynamic “big-picture” view of the presentation. Animation sequences are defined to zoom-in on particular parts of the presentation for a more in-depth view. The same points from using PowerPoint and other presentation software apply as well, but here are some specific tips for creating an effective Prezi presentation:

  • Make sure your overall organizational structure is logical and makes sense. Start with the big picture and zoom into individual points for further details. Points of similar importance should have a similar scale in the overall presentation.
  • The zooming feature is useful for narrowing in on a point but zooming too much and too often can be visually distracting.
  • Use frames to easily define zoomable areas in a path. Invisible frames can be used to maintain organization without having an actual box show up on the presentation.
  • Prezi presentations can be downloaded locally and run on any computer that supports Flash. This is useful in case the website or Internet is unavailable at the presentation location.
  • Prezi presentations can also be exported as PDFs to distribute each frame of your “path” as printable handouts or as a last resort backup if neither the Internet nor Flash can be accessed from the presenting computer.
  • While presenting, feel free to detour from the path by panning or zooming in manually. You can return to the path at any time by clicking Next or using the arrow keys.
  • The free subscription to Prezi does not offer the option to make your Prezis private, but there is an educational version for students and teachers that enables private Prezis and other features.
  • Be creative! Don’t get stuck in the regular PowerPoint framework of one-dimensional static slides!

TIPS for using videos

  • If you are planning to show an online video during class, check that the Internet works in the classroom ahead of time or download the video to your computer.
  • If showing a video found online or elsewhere, ensure you meet the proper copyright and attribution requirements.
  • Having videos uploaded onto video sharing sites such as YouTube or Vimeo allows for easy access for students.
  • If you already have a video sharing account, consider creating a new account with only teaching videos to separate your personal videos from your professional videos.
  • Consider setting privacy settings to private or unlisted, so only students in your class can access the material.
  • Ensure video and audio quality is sufficient for your purposes. A headset will typically capture audio much better than a built in microphone or webcam microphone.
  • A little bit of video editing can go a long way – especially if you are recording a long screencast and can’t manage to do it all in one take.
  • If creating a screencast, ensure that the recording area is not too large, especially if your display is high resolution as students with lower resolution and smaller displays may have a hard time seeing it clearly.
  • Consider adding captions and annotations to your videos for accessibility purposes.
  • QuickTime for Mac offers a simple screen recording feature to record simple screencasts.


Blackboards and Whiteboards

Many people underestimate the value of a blackboard and whiteboards. Boards are an effective teaching tool and visual aid. Some uses for boards include:

  • Outlining the day’s topics.
  • Listing the major points of your lecture or lab.
  • Summarizing ideas raised in class discussion.
  • Spelling difficult names, words or other new terminology.
  • Drawing diagrams, graphs and timelines.
  • Showing formulas, computations, or steps in a proof.


  • Can validate students’ responses.
  • Can help you to pace your lecture.
  • Very little can go wrong with this low-tech tool.


  • Can be difficult to write on and can be messy.
  • Can lead to stream-of-consciousness-based teaching.


  • Practice writing on boards before you start teaching.
  • Put information on the boards before class if possible.
  • Bring a back up dry erase marker to class because the one in teh classroom may not work properly.
  • Use a chalk holder and have a cloth handy so that you can wipe chalk dust from your hands.
  • Break the chalk in half or hold it at a  45° angle in order to avoid squeaking.
  • Read aloud what you have written on the board after you have finished writing it and you are once again facing the students.
  • Use the most visible part of the board for the most important points (the upper left-hand corner of the board is often the most prominent spot).
  • Structure your board work. Use titles, headings, underlining, circling, boxing, and capital letters to differentiate and emphasize items. You can also organize your work by dividing the board into sections. For example, work out proofs and computations on the right-hand panel, and list major theorems on the left. Or list students' arguments on the right, and summarize the conclusions on the left.

General Instructional Aids Tips and Tricks

  • Practice in your classroom before classes start. Find the light switches, the screen switches, and learn how to access the multimedia cables, projectors, and remote controls.
  • Find out who is responsible for troubleshooting technology in your department.
  • Write a few notes on the board, then walk to the back of your room and see if your writing is large and clear.
  • Test run various lighting combinations to see which one works best for the media you use most often.
  • Ask students to tell you if either your board work or your multimedia presentation are unclear. Ask two of your students if you may borrow their notes. Explain that you want to get a sense of how well you are providing information during class. Take note of what information the students wrote down and how detailed that information is. Did they pick up on the essential points of your lecture? (Source: White et al. 1978)
  • At the end of the class return the classroom to its original state: erase the board completely, and turn off all multimedia equipment.