Teaching a New Course: Starter Teaching Tips

Decorative: "Teacher Toolbox" written in front of a drawing of a traditional toolbox


1. "Guide to Tutorials" (doc) is 25+-page, "crash-course"-style guidebook of teaching tips for new instructors who will be teaching a new course (a "tutorial" in Tasmanian terms).

  • It offers practical guidance, helpful questions for you and your students, and a starter set of active-learning activities. 
  • While the Teaching Commons web site has many searchable resources on all the topics below (and many, many more teaching-related topics as well), it's often convenient to have a compact collection or "toolbox" of initial, bare-bones advice and strategies.

2. Topics covered include the following:

  • Planning for a class/tutorial
    • See chart in 3a below.
  • Introducing the first class/tutorial
    • A "checklist that may help you get started"
    • "Some strategies for ice breakers"
  • Delivering the class/tutorial
    • Introducing the class
    • "Assessing prior learning
    • "Encouraging collaborative and active learning" (See 3b below for 29 activities.)
    • "Covering the material"
  • Assessing learning and providing feedback in a class/tutorial
    • Classroom Assessment Techniques CATs)
    • "Principles for feedback"
  • Inclusive practice in a class/tutorial
    • "Inclusive Practice in 5" chart ("Be Approachable, Be Proactive, Be Flexible, Be Planned, Be Human")
  • Evaluating your class/tutorial
    • Self-reflection/self-assessment
    • "Collecting evidence from students"
    • "Collecting evidence from peers"

3. Sample Content 

a. Starter "Planning for a Class" Queries

"The following table outlines what is important in planning."

  • "The column on the right gives examples of questions you can ask yourself when undertaking this planning."
  • "You might like to write yourself a planning template that you can use for each class – this might be electronic or hard copy."
  • "This is useful to refer to in your class – to keep note of timing – and to annotate with any changes or suggestions for future tutorials.
  • "An example template is included as an appendix."

Select topic and determine the goal of the lesson.

What are the key concepts, ideas and theories?

Why are these important?

Determine prior learning and skills.

What understanding do the students already have?

What are their (and your) preconceptions and misconceptions?

Decide on student learning outcomes and indicators of students' progress.

What will students know, and be able to do, by the end of the session?

What indicators will you use to determine if students have achieved these outcomes?

One useful approach is to write lesson outcomes, expressed using verbs to indicate what the students will achieve.

Select and organise resources.

What resources are available to design and use as part of the session?

Some resources you might find helpful are textbooks, colleagues' notes, on-line resources and applicable teaching articles.  

Determine a sequence for the development of knowledge and skills.

What is the optimal ordering of the material to consolidate and extend students' knowledge?

At what stage should background material and notation be introduced?

How will the current theory be linked with previous work?

Select appropriate teaching strategies and assessment tasks.

What experiences will consolidate students' understanding and allow them to demonstrate their achievement of the lesson outcomes?

Reflect on and evaluate the lesson

How can you use feedback from students to respond to the experience and characteristics of your student cohort?

b. Starter Active-Learning Strategies


Each person considers the topic/question and writes down some ideas/answers. S/he joins with one other for discussion. This provides a good basis for wider discussion.

'Buzz' groups

Working in small groups, people discuss an issue. Topics can include:

  • How much they already know about a topic
  • What they are not sure about
  • What they want the lecturer to cover next


Every person takes a turn to make a statement. Useful topics:

  • One thing I need to know about . . .
  • Something that I learned today . . .
  • One important point (about the topic) . . .

Case studies

A ‘story’ or scenario is presented to the group (often, but not always, as a handout). Groups discuss the story or work together on questions.

Group discussion

Groups (up to 6 people) talk about a topic. A set of questions from the lecturer helps to structure the discussion and focus the group. The larger the group, the more difficult it is for everyone to participate actively.


Everyone cooperates to form a line according to their capabilities/confidence/whatever the topic is. For example, ... the number of times they have attended an interview, etc.

‘Tell your partner’

Pairs. Each person explains a topic/concept/answer to someone else. The partner has to listen and then ask questions.


One group discusses a topic. The second group observes the discussion, and each person records [the following]:

  • A partner’s contributions (and gives individual feedback afterwards), or
  • The important parts of the discussion (may be identification of issues, applications, generalisations, etc., depending on the task instructions).

Peer evaluation

The class is divided into pairs. Partners exchange written work or observe each other’s oral presentation. They give each other feedback and work together to identify :

  • What was good
  • What needed improvement
  • How it could be improved

They can focus on delivery and/or content. This activity works best if students already have knowledge on the topic. Giving them a checklist is also a good idea.


Groups/ pairs/individuals ‘act out’ information on a specific topic, often in front of the class or group. If they lack confidence, they can work in pairs without ‘performing’ in front of the whole class. Set a time limit for each group. This activity can be used for formative or summative assessment. It is important to allow time for participants to de-role/debrief.


Individuals or small groups find information on a topic, [and] then prepare and deliver a short informative session to the wider group.


Several ‘experts’ are invited to the session and answer questions from the class. The experts may be from industry, other teachers, and/or students. They may each speak briefly before the question session.

Question-and-answer session

This is a useful activity to check students’ understanding. A time is set aside for a discussion/answer session. Questions may be submitted in writing at the previous session (good for shy students), or they may be oral.


Groups of students work together on a project(s) which entail(s) researching and presenting (written and/or oral) information. This is useful for focusing on group and cooperative skills while covering discipline content.


Everyone thinks of as many different ideas as possible. All ideas are accepted and recorded without comment. The ideas are evaluated after a set time period or when inspiration ends.

Student-teacher role swap

The facilitator asks students to write their ideas/information on the whiteboard and then explain them. S/he places several whiteboard pens on the desk and sits with class members. (Sometimes students will be shy, especially at first, and the facilitator may need to sit for a while.) 

Information transfer

This is a paired activity. Partners ask each other questions and give answers to fill gaps on their worksheets. (Each worksheet has different gaps.)


This activity is one way to divide a large group into pairs. Members of the group are given cards which contain either a title or a definition. They have to find the person with the complementary card. In finding their partners, they come across a range of definitions and have to think about the topic. Content can be simple or complex depending on people’s abilities. The pairs then work together on an exercise/problem related to their title and definition. Reporting back afterwards widens the learning.


While the group works together or alone on set work, the lecturer spends time with individual students or small groups. The individual assistance can be rostered through the course so that everyone gets a turn, or it can focus on people who need extra help.


A topic is written on the board (or on butcher’s paper). The class/group suggests and organises ideas and information, presenting them visually, often in clusters. Students often enjoy writing on the board (bring several whiteboard pens). Where numbers are large, this activity is better carried out in groups with a display of the results at the end.

Organising information

Information items are provided out of sequence. Students work (in pairs or small groups) to arrange the [items] in order. The results can then be reported by each group and/or discussed by the wider group. The information can be given to students on a single worksheet or already cut into pieces for them to arrange in order.


The teacher shows students how to do something or uses equipment to explain theory/principles. This activity can also be presented by a student or group. Seeing something real helps students to remember more clearly.


The teacher or the students carry out a practical activity to verify or refute a principle.

1-2-4-more (pyramid)

Each person writes brief notes about the topic and then compares them with a partner. Each pair discusses its combined list with another couple. This provides a good basis for discussion in the wider group. It is a good idea to limit the ‘1-2-4’ stages, e.g. 2 minutes or so for individual and for paired work, 5 minutes for the ‘4’ stage.

Show of hands

This quick check is useful for gaining a rough idea of how many people are confident about a topic. It is worth remembering that confidence is not always the same as understanding. This activity is a good ‘energiser’. It is particularly useful:

  • At the beginning of a session to focus attention OR
  • When the group has been sitting still for some time.


Before the class begins, students consider what they would like to know by the end of the session. They write down some questions -- five is a good number to aim for. Some students might like to share their questions, which can be recorded on the board. The students write more questions at the end of the session. These questions are likely to be different from the earlier ones: they should involve a higher level of thinking. There may well be more of them [i.e. questions], and they can be a useful basis for further private study.


First, you need a question to pose to the students. You can either develop a question for the day or a series of them to use over a few weeks. Ask the students to spend 5 minutes writing down their thoughts on the question. That writing should be what language teachers call ‘freewriting’, that is, the student writes whatever comes to mind, without anyone making judgments about it or corrections to it. (Make this clear to students when you introduce the activity.) Freewriting helps generate thoughts and ideas, so it’s an excellent starting place for discussions. The students finish their 5 minutes of freewriting and then pass their notebook to another student. Everyone reads the notebook in front of them and then spends another 5 minutes freewriting in response to the first student’s thoughts. That process continues through several iterations, until -- after 20 or 25 minutes -- the students have engaged in an extended dialogue with each other, all on paper, and are ready to start talking about their ideas out loud.


Controversy - Method 1: Ask each group for 5 statements of evidence or argument for their case. Write these statements on the board. If a class comes too quickly to agreement on a complex issue, play devil’s advocate to create a controversy. When this is complete, the groups break off again to come up with 5 statements of rebuttal of the other team’s arguments. At the end, ask if any students have changed their minds, and why.

Controversy - Method 2: You act as a moderator, asking students from one group, then the other, to support their position. At set intervals, say 15 minutes, students are allowed to change groups if they have changed their minds. Optionally, the students can then be asked to argue for the other side. At the end, the moderator summarises the main points for and against. By creating a controversy and forcing interaction, these methods encourage all students to participate.

Jigsaw method

(or Expert groups)

Jigsaw Method - This is a collaborative learning method which can help students to make meaning from written material. Students work in groups, with each group having a separate piece of information. They become the experts in that area. The students then split up and recombine in groups where only one person has expertise in each area and they then share their information.

Method (For multiples of 5 participants)

  • Divide students into small groups -- around 5 people in each group depending on your class size. For example, 5 groups of 5 would be good.
  • Divide the information into 5 segments. (This is why it is good to have the same number of students in each group as the number of groups.) For example, with accounting students, you could use different parts of a report for each group (as might happen in the workplace), or you could use different articles on the same topic.
  • Give each member of the group a different segment of information and allow time to read it but not discuss it at this stage. This information, or article, could be given in the previous class.
  • Rearrange the groups so that all those with the same information become an expert group on their own segment. Give students in these expert groups time to discuss the main points of their segment and to rehearse how they would present it to non-experts.
  • Now comes the fun part! The students from each expert group go back to their original group which now contains an expert on each piece of information.
  • Each student presents her or his segment to the group. Encourage others in the group to ask questions for clarification.
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