Strategies for Preparing Effective Pre-Lab Talks

Strategies for preparation

An effective pre-lab talk is the direct result of careful preparation. Weekly planning for your lab section should include the following steps.

1. Read the lab manual and pertinent sections of the course text.

Developing a thorough understanding of the theory on which the lab is based will help you to clearly explain abstract concepts and calculations to your students while also allowing you to identify connections between the lab exercises and the course material. This advance preparation will translate into confidence when responding to student questions about the theoretical aspects of the experiment.

2. If possible, perform the entire experiment in advance.

Consult with the course or lab coordinator and arrange for a time, preferably a few days prior to the laboratory, to practice the lab. By conducting the experiment yourself, you will become familiar with
the equipment, timing and common difficulties that your students may encounter. If a practice session is not possible, seek out the lab coordinator or an experienced TA and ask for any advice they can offer about procedural or technical issues that may arise
during the lab.

3. Make notes and develop a personalized pre-lab plan.

Based on your readings and practice session, make notes about the theory, procedure, equipment, timing and lab report requirements. Use these notes to develop a ‘pre-lab plan’ – this plan may include
key definitions you’d like to introduce to your students, samples of images or graphs you’d like to draw on the blackboard, sample calculations, reminders about common difficulties the students may encounter or tips about effective data analysis. Your pre-lab outline will serve as an excellent reminder of important points that you wish to address in your talk. It will also help to keep your comments focused and to define the length of the pre-lab.

"The best pre-lab talks..."

In their feedback to TAs, undergraduate students indicate that the most effective pre-lab talks…

  • Are succinct, clear and emphasize the main objectives of the experiment.
  • Help students to understand the theories and principles addressed in the lab procedure.
  • Ensure that students know how the lab is related to the course content.
  • Highlight how the lab also relates to students’ daily experiences, career aspirations or larger scientific questions.
  • Briefly outline the lab procedure and methods of data analysis.
  • Demonstrate new equipment or experimental techniques.
  • Alert students to common difficulties they may encounter over the course of the experiment.
  • Emphasize safety precautions and emergency procedures.
  • Provide students with examples of how to organize data and complete their experimental write-ups.