Organizing Your Class

Whether your TA duties involve teaching a whole course, giving a few select lectures during the term, delivering a pre-lab demonstration, or simply introducing yourself to a tutorial section, you will be expected to give information to a group effectively. These same skills are also useful during a thesis defense, a comprehensive exam, a professional interview or when presenting a paper at a conference.

There are many ways to deliver information. Some possibilities include:

  • Lecture
  • Lecture with discussion
  • Small group discussion
  • Problem solving or case study
  • Drama, role playing
  • Lab demonstration

Whichever format you decide on your lesson should be organized into three clear stages: Set, Body, and Closure. Without all three of these stages it is often difficult to organize your material and engage students in the learning process. As you become more comfortable with each of these stages you will find more and more ways to become creative with them. A few examples are provided below:

The Set. . .

  • Creates expectations.
  • Focuses your audience on the topic.
  • Tells your audience what (specifically) they are about to learn.
  • Relates this small topic to a bigger picture.
  • Serves as an organizer for the next portion of class-time.
  • Establishes a mood.
  • Motivates student interest.
  • States objectives.
  • Introduces class content.
  • Establishes your knowledge.
  • Provides context.

Examples of sets:

  • A hook (cartoon, music) related to the course topic.
  • A list of ideas related to the topic on the board.
  • A brainstorm session.
  • An organizational template that outlines the days activities.

The Body. . .

  • The information you need to teach (the part we spend the most time on).
  • The key is organization; if you do not organize information, two things may happen:
    • your students will not organize the information either, or
      1. they will, but they will organize material incorrectly.

There are several ways you can organize your lesson. Here are just a few:

  • Temporal: organize the information according to when it happened or when it will happen, i.e., chronological or reverse chronological order.
  • Cause-effect: show how one even brings about another.
  • Topical: divide your subject into categories or levels.
  • Compare/contrast: take two or more ideas and draw attention to their differences/ or similarities.
  • Problem-solution: identify a problem followed by a possible solution. This type of lesson often has just two main points.

Some quick tips for organizing the body of a lesson:

  • No more than 2 or 3 major points per lesson.
  • Clearly state the problems.
  • Explain transitions between ideas and how concepts are linked.
  • Use short, simple sentences.
  • Use nouns (Danny, the car) not pronouns (he, she, it).
  • Use examples & analogies: be sensitive to culturally specific analogies that might not transfer to most of your students.
  • Plan pauses to give the students time to think about what you say.
  • Plan time for questions and be prepared to not get an immediate response. Students require time to process your question and formulate an answer; it is a good idea to use the "seven-second rule" where you wait at least seven seconds for a response before moving on or rephrasing the question.
  • Know your audience and what information they might need.
  • Try to address different learning styles (use a combination of visual examples, aural cues, hands-on activities).

The Closure. . .

  • Is both a summary, and something more.
  • It should have a sense of completion and should relate back to the set.

A few things you could try include:

  • Go over main points, but work to draw them together.
  • Relate this lecture to the whole course, and transition to the next lecture.
  • Relate this new material back to anything that has been covered previously.
  • Provide suggested readings for next class.
  • Suggest related local events or resources.
  • Provide references.
  • Remind students of your availability (email, OWL, etc) and office hours.

Reflection...

As you gain skills and experience as a TA it is important for you to reflect on your own teaching practices. The following suggestions are provided to help evaluate your experience as a teacher and assist you in helping your students learn:

  • Build in opportunities for students to ask questions. The questions they ask can tell you how much of the material they have absorbed, and can tell you if something in your lecture was not clear.
  • Ask a fellow-TA (or your TA-Advisor) to sit in on your class and give you feedback on your teaching. You could ask them to focus on one issue, such as pace and use of silence, or handling student questions.
  • Consider videotaping your own class (with the camera focused on you). Then take the tape home and try taking notes by listening only to the sound track. Then, watch your video and see how much more information you can absorb.
  • Consider posting your lecture notes on OWL or putting them on reserve your library. This puts the onus on students to catch up on notes they missed.