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Teaching Strategies
I. How should I prepare for my discussion section? 1
What is the purpose of a discussion section? 1
What are learning outcomes and why should I use them? 2
Do I need to plan my lesson in advance? What does a lesson plan look like? 2

II. What should I do on the first day of my section? 3

III. What makes for an effective and productive discussion section? 4


Why should my discussion be “student-centered”? 4
How can I encourage students to participate and engage in class? 4
What kinds of questions might I ask? 5
What are some activities I can use to help my students learn the material? 5
I want to make sure to reach all of my students- what can I do to create an inclusive learning
space? 6
How can I effectively teach students who are all at different levels? 6
What types of technology should I use? High-tech, low-tech or no tech? 7
What if a student asks a question that I don’t know the answer to? 8
How do I approach combative and high-resource students? 8

IV. How do I assess participation and grade? 9


How should I measure participation? 9
What are some tips for grading efficiently? 9
What are some suggestions for providing productive feedback on assignments? 10
Why and how should I use measurement rubrics to evaluate? 10

V. What are some tips for facilitating lab sections? 10

I. How should I prepare for my discussion section?

What is the purpose of a discussion section?


As an IA, you are typically not responsible for lecturing, and you should not attempt to do so.
You should model expert-like thinking by demonstrating to the students what they should be
retaining from the materials, and what connections they should be making (see “learning
outcomes”, below), but you should not attempt to turn your sections into additional “mini
lectures”. Instead, your primary function as an IA is to facilitate discussion and assess
engagement. Be sure to clarify expectations for your role with your course instructor… ​IA’s
Checklist for Meeting with the Course Instructor​.

Discussion sections provide opportunities for collaboration and active learning that do not
always take place in the traditional context of the full class. The role of section goes beyond

Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)
Resource Guide for Instructional Assistants at UC-San Diego​ (​click for the navigation page​)

clearing up any confusion remaining after the course material has been presented in lecture or
class. Section also provides students with the opportunity to discuss, ask questions, and apply
course content, resulting in deeper learning.

What are learning outcomes and why should I use them?


What are they and why spend time on them?​ Whether you are in a discussion section or a lab,
every program of instruction, course, or training activity begins with a goal. This goal can be
broken down into specific goals, or learning outcomes, which are concise statements about
what students will be able to know, do, or value when they complete instruction. These are
important for you as the instructor to articulate what you want to accomplish in that session, and
for students to check whether they have accomplished what you intended.

Writing learning outcomes:​ Learning outcomes should be brief, clear statements to complete the
sentence “At the end of this session, students will be able to…”, containing subject matter and
an action which student will perform. In creating your learning outcomes for a session, consider
what you want the students to actually be able to know or do with the content (and what they will
need to know or do for an assessment) -- do they need to be able to list the main points,
compare two concepts, or formulate a new theory? Based on this, a learning outcome should be
measurable and use the appropriate ​action verb​.
Additionally, identify the course learning outcomes from the syllabus or through discussion with
your course faculty: Do your session learning outcomes lineup with the course outcomes? They
will likely be different than the course learning outcomes, but should support what students are
expected to accomplish in the course as a whole. If you are not sure whether your learning
outcomes align with the course learning outcomes, bring them to the course faculty for
guidance.

More about the research behind pedagogical techniques can be found ​here​.

Do I need to plan my lesson in advance? What does a lesson plan look like?
Planning is important for many reasons. A class that is well-planned will run smoother, be more
productive, and ultimately more rewarding for you and your students. In the long run, lesson
planning will make your job much easier. Although it might take more time initially to create
lesson plans, this will be time well spent. A well-made lesson plan can be used again and
again. It can be shifted and adapted for new circumstances, or used as is for the same class
next quarter, next year, or in your first professional teaching position. A good lesson plan can
last, with minor adjustments, through an entire career. But even if you use it only once, the
benefits are worth the effort.

There are as many different types of lessons and plans as there are teachers. Review the basic
guidelines which follow and select those that will work for you. An extraordinarily elaborate plan
that you cannot follow is not as useful as a simple plan that covers the essentials you need. As
previously noted, the first step in any lesson plan must be the consideration of your teaching

Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)
Resource Guide for Instructional Assistants at UC-San Diego​ (​click for the navigation page​)

goals and outcomes. When you develop the outcomes that will enable you to achieve those
goals, you are ready to implement them with a lesson plan.

Coming Soon: Here are some templates that can assist you in planning out your sessions,
whether it is a Discussion Section, Lab Section, or Office Hours.

More tips for teaching discussion sections can be found ​here​.

II. What should I do on the first day of my section?

Easy resource: ​Check out this 3-minute animation about ​The First Day of Class​ ​for ideas!
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?6=&v=P_UifGBBnnQ)

Easy resource:​ ​Top Teaching Strategies to Help Students Succeed

The first day sets the tone for the quarter. Here are a few “quick wins” to make that first day
successful and not as stressful:
1. Have a plan​. Students are often wary of speaking up on the first day, and having a
structure in place will help you know what to do next and help your students recognize
the value of attending your sessions. For more guidance, check out the ​Resource
Guide’s section on lesson planning​.
2. Arrive early​. Make sure the room is as you expect it to be, have your materials ready so
you can chat with students as they arrive.
3. Get to know your students​. Ask your course faculty for a copy of the students' pictures
and names in your section, so you can learn names in advance or soon after the
beginning of the quarter-- while you are at it, ask them how to pronounce their names if
you are unsure, and provide the chance to let you know what name they go by. Consider
creating an opportunity for them to share a bit about their interests, backgrounds, or past
experiences through ice breaker conversations or an optional brief ​autobiography​ to
share with you in advance.
4. Be ready to perform​. You may not be on a stage, but you are still aiming to capture and
hold attention as you speak. Practice how you will stand and speak. Talk to your
students, not to the blackboard or your slides. Keep your hands out of your pockets.
Make eye contact (and do not be deterred if you are met with blank stares). UCSD is
fortunate to have two outstanding Toastmasters clubs on campus to help you with
communication and leadership skills: ​UCSD Torrey Pines Speakers Toastmasters Club
and ​UCSD Table Talkers.​ ​The ​Theatre & Dance Department​ also offers a very popular
public speaking course,​ ​TDGE 25: Public Speaking​,​ designed to establish a clear
understanding of the fundamentals of effective oral communication. ​CSI:
Communication & Leadership​ helps you build confidence and develop skills in
leadership, public speaking, interpersonal, intergroup, and professional communication.

Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)
Resource Guide for Instructional Assistants at UC-San Diego​ (​click for the navigation page​)

5. Why should they come?​ Whether your sessions are required or optional for the
students, let them discover the value from attending. Get them started with relevant
material or skills, and give them a chance to grapple with content and interact as they
will during the upcoming quarter.

For more ideas on what to do on the First Day, see ​here​ and ​here​.

III. What makes for an effective and productive discussion section?

Why should my discussion be “student-centered”?


Student-centered teaching​ is a style of teaching that shifts away from the instructor as the sole
source of knowledge in favor of a collaboration between students and instructor. Student
centered teaching makes students an active part of the learning process. This does not mean
the absence of instruction - rather it is the collaboration of instruction and interaction.
Student-centered learning is important because, to put it simply, learning happens when
information is made meaningful by combining new information with prior experience, and this
encourages higher-order thinking skills that engage the critical thinking processes all instructors
seek to bring out in their students. Discussion sections should be student-centered, by design,
because the purpose of these classes is to supplement the lecture by allowing students to
actively engage with the material from the homework and lectures. Again, it is not your job to
lecture - it is your job to facilitate discussion.

How can I encourage students to participate and engage in class?


Here are five simple strategies that will allow for more students to engage in your class:
1. Give time to process and think
- Make sure you are waiting long enough after you ask a question. Research
shows that while teachers wait, on average, 1-3 seconds after asking a question,
many students need more time to process a question and formulate an answer.
Try waiting at least 5- 8 seconds before rephrasing the question or answering it.
- Consider asking students to write down some thoughts briefly, or discuss with a
neighbor, before participating in the larger group. This gives them time to gather
their thoughts and try out their ideas in a less intimidating setting before
contributing to the larger group
2. Allow multiple ways to participate
- Students have different preferences for participating in class. Some students like
to speak in large-group discussion, while others feel more comfortable
participating in small group work or in pairs. Try varying the format of your class
so everyone gets a chance to participate in the way they feel most comfortable.
See the ​upcoming section​ for a list of active learning ideas to try in class.
3. Make it relevant
- Research shows that people learn more effectively when they can connect the
material they are learning with something they already know. Consider: could
your topic relate to something in the news, or in students’ everyday lives? Making

Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)
Resource Guide for Instructional Assistants at UC-San Diego​ (​click for the navigation page​)

these connections will not only make the class more interesting for students; it
will help them learn the material better, as well.
4. Ask good questions
- Question format can have a profound effect on the quality of discussions in class.
Avoid yes or no questions, which tend to shut down discussion. Try asking
open-ended, but structured questions like:
“What factors should we consider in making X decision?”
“How would you paraphrase/summarize X text/process/concept?”
“How might you apply (topic) to (different context)?”
“Tell me a little more. What was your thought process in saying X/solving
the problem in Y way?”
These questions aim to get – and keep – students talking.
See the ​upcoming section​ for more on types of questions to ask.
5. Figure out what they know (or don’t know)
- It can be difficult to figure out from a quiet class what your students already know,
or don’t, about your topic. But finding this out can help you teach more effectively
and engage with your students. Here are a few ideas for activities that can help
you figure out what your students are thinking: (coming soon)

What kinds of questions might I ask?

Exploratory (​ probes facts and base-level knowledge)


Challenge ​(examines assumptions, conclusions, and interpretations)
Relational ​(asks for comparisons of themes, ideas, or issues)
Diagnostic (​ probes motives or causes)
Action (​ calls for a conclusion or action)
Cause-and-effect (​ asks for causal relationships between ideas, actions, and/or events)
Extension ​(expands the discussion)
Hypothetical (​ poses a change in the factors or issues and asks for possible effects)
Priority (​ seeks to identify the most important issues)
Summary ​(elicits synthesis)

Examples​ of question prompts that encourage students to think more broadly on a topic (also
known as divergent questions): Suppose, Predict, If-then, How might, What are some possible
consequences…

What are some activities I can use to help my students learn the material?
Students need the chance to try out and productively struggle with the material before they can
learn it. They need to be able to try, fail, and receive feedback, and working with you in sections
or office hours are a great time to be actively learning. There are many approaches to
collaborative/active learning. Some common and easily deployed ideas are as follows:

Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)
Resource Guide for Instructional Assistants at UC-San Diego​ (​click for the navigation page​)

Think-Pair-Share: ​Group members work on an assignment individually, and then share their
results with a partner. This allows them time to think before they discuss, which often results in
more coherent and complex thoughts.
Minute Paper:​ Can be used at any time during a class session to have students process and
formulate their own thoughts about a concept. Can also be used as feedback and reflection
during the final 5 minutes, asking students to answer one or two questions on an index card or
paper. Questions can include: "What was the most important thing you learned during the
class?" "What important questions remain unanswered?"
Concept Maps:​ Students draw or diagram key concepts and the connections they recognize
between the concepts.
Clusters:​ Participants in the group discussion break off into pairs or threes, and discuss a more
specific issue within the topic. They then report back to the large group about their findings.
Assigned discussion leader: ​One person is given the responsibility of moderating the
discussion of the larger group, based on the instructor’s prompting. Observe closely to assure
this leader is not taking on the role of sole participant in the discussion.
Invent the Quiz:​ Students write sample test questions related to what they have been learning
and then create an answer sheet to go with the questions.

For more ideas on active and collaborative learning, see this list of ​Simple Strategies for
Engaging Students​, a ​Guide to Getting Started With Active Learning​, and some additional ideas
for ​Discussion Activities​.

I want to make sure to reach all of my students- what can I do to create an


inclusive learning space?
Your students will come into the classroom with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and
ideas. Using evidence-based effective teaching practices and creating a student-centered
learning environment, as discussed already in this Guide, will help create a classroom that is
inclusive and transparent. This starts with providing clear structure and learning outcomes for
your section, and developing active learning experiences for your students to engage and
struggle with the material and receive timely feedback.
There are more simple and concrete strategies that you can integrate into your teaching to
create an environment where learning is supported for all students in this list of​ ​Inclusive
Teaching Strategies​.

How can I effectively teach students who are all at different levels?
In every classroom, each student brings her own unique strengths and weaknesses. Here is a
brief summary of some common challenges that come in teaching to students with variable
course content knowledge, and some helpful strategies to best benefit all students:

Understanding students’ background knowledge


● What’s at stake: ​Even if every student has completed a set of prerequisites, there is
likely to be variability amongst students based on their specific experiences and skill
sets.

Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)
Resource Guide for Instructional Assistants at UC-San Diego​ (​click for the navigation page​)

● What to do:​ Have students complete a ​concept inventory​ or ​background knowledge


quiz​.

Understanding common misconceptions


● What’s at stake: ​Students may hold misconceptions about the topic or may misuse
jargon.
● What to do:​ Point out examples of potentially confusing jargon and other common,
discipline-specific misconceptions.

Acknowledging that students’ goals differ


● What’s at stake: ​Not all students share the same academic goals and they may want to
get different things from the course.
● What to do:​ Provide a variety of different teaching styles and assessments.

Help all students construct knowledge


● What’s at stake: ​Learning new pieces of information can be especially challenging
without a coherent conceptual framework of the content.
● What to do:​ Provide scaffolding to show students the connections between new
information and existing knowledge.

Use group work and collaboration to your advantage


● What’s at stake: ​Students will likely have varying degrees of knowledge and different
strengths relating to the course content.
● What to do:​ Use these different strengths to students’ advantage by asking students to
work in specialized groups where students can draw on their individual expertise.

What types of technology should I use? High-tech, low-tech or no tech?


Instructional technologies (IT), or Educational Technologies, include not only computer-based
technologies but more conventional low-tech items such as chalkboards, planned worksheets,
and overhead projectors as well. Students appreciate appropriate selection and use of
instructional technology, digital or otherwise; their most pointed criticism is of trying to use a
digital tool that an instructor is not sufficiently skilled with. Effectiveness within an instructional
context, not technological sophistication, is the key. For example, while a multimedia
presentation using PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides with embedded audio and video can
engage students intensely around a topic, there are times when the best vehicle to get an
essential conceptual point across is a simple diagram on the chalkboard. IAs must experiment
and evaluate if and when visuals or other electronic resources are useful for the discipline, the
content, and the way they want students to use what they learn.

Examples of Instructional Technology include: Chalkboards and whiteboards, TritonED/


Canvas, Student response systems (​Poll Everywhere​, ​Answer Garden​, ​Kahoot​, Google Slides,
Plickers​), Doc cameras, Presentation software (PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides), Blogs,
Podcasts, Twitter, Screencast, VideoScribe, Padlet

Resources:

Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)
Resource Guide for Instructional Assistants at UC-San Diego​ (​click for the navigation page​)

Educational Technology Services ​(ETS; formerly ACMS) and I​ T Service Catalog


Check out​ technology support ​and ​services​ for faculty/instructors at UCSD
TritonEd​ and suggested ​solutions to TritonEd issues

For more about Teaching with Technology as an IA, see ​here​.

What if a student asks a question that I don’t know the answer to?
This will likely happen, and that is ok! The most important thing is to never fake it-- do not make
up an answer. Students understand that you may not know everything, and they will appreciate
an honest response.
Start by acknowledging the student and question, and clarifying the question. Then respond,
perhaps by:
● “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but that is a good question. I will find out and
get back to you.” (And do get back to them promptly!)
● “Let’s turn that back to the class- does anyone have any ideas or thoughts on this?” or
“Let’s take a moment to look that up- can anyone find the answer in the book or online?”
(if no clear answer emerges, make sure to clarify the answer later for them)
● If the topic is coming up later, can defer until then

How do I approach combative and high-resource students?


Often when a disruption occurs in class you must decide whether to deal with it immediately or
defer it to office hours. There are no hard and fast rules in this situation, and often you have only
a split-second to decide. This is where your knowledge of the class and your plans for the
section come in handy. If the issue in question is clear-cut and can be dealt with immediately,
then by all means do so. However, problems often arise that must be taken out of the classroom
to office hours.
● When a student is frustrated or upset​: “I understand/hear your frustration about X. We
need to move on right now, but let’s discuss this further after class/at office hours.”
● When a student brings up a topic of question that is off-topic:​ “That’s an important
point/question, and we’ll get back to it (if you will)/I’d be happy to talk about it further (if
you won’t). Since we have limited time today, I’d like to redirect us back to…(your topic
or question for the day).”
A difficult situation to deal with is a challenge of authority; such as when a student is making
demands or trying to intimidate you in front of the class. A simple phrase like "Let's deal with this
in office hours" or "I don't think we need to take up class time for this, let’s talk about it
afterwards" can serve to relieve the tension of the situation and defer it to a more productive and
less threatening forum. This also lets the student in question know that the issue will be dealt
with at a specific time. If the disruption has occurred in the context of a class discussion, an
additional suggestion is to pause the class discussion, and give everyone a few minutes to write
out their thoughts on the issue at hand.

Knowing when to defer and when to deal with a situation comes only with time and experience.
In general, the rule of thumb is to defer major conflicts and antagonisms, and deal in class with
simple disruptions. In the case of more difficult problems, such as violations of academic

Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)
Resource Guide for Instructional Assistants at UC-San Diego​ (​click for the navigation page​)

integrity, it is vital to be proactive and let the class know how you intend to deal with the
situation before it arises and then be consistent in your response if it does arise.

For more about responding to disruptions in the classroom, see ​here​.

IV. How do I assess participation and grade?

The impartial and consistent evaluation of assignments, tests, and participation for your section
is equally important to your role as discussion facilitator. It helps to recognize the differences
between ​assessment​ (gathering information to understand how much your students have
learned), ​measurement​ (assigning points based on rubric or criteria), and ​evaluation​ (making a
judgement based on the assessment and measurement). As an IA, you may be asked to do all
three of these, as you often will assess your students’ understanding and abilities during
section, with or without associated points or grade, and may be asked to measure and evaluate
assignments, exams, projects, papers, and participation.

No matter what kind of class you are teaching and/or grading, there are some very basic
aspects of evaluation which you should become aware of. A major concern relates to clarity and
understanding. ​It is vital that all students understand the requirements and expectations
of the course, and that they understand these in the same way that you do.​ You and the
students must be in agreement concerning these requirements and the criteria on which they
will be graded. Such a consensus will avoid unpleasant evaluation situations, and keep
everyone on the same track. When you evaluate, make sure you do so based on specific,
well-defined, and well-delineated material. Let students know exactly what areas will be covered
by exams or papers, and stick to that announcement. Vague assignments and vacillating
themes can only lead to misunderstanding and a lack of communication. Be aware of trends in
assignment due-dates and testing schedules. Let students know about assignments and exams
well in advance, so that they can plan ahead and try to schedule their time accordingly. Being
aware of these concerns early on saves much distress later.

How should I measure participation?


Clarify with your course faculty how you are expected to measure participation, and consider
whether you can measure engagement of the students with the material, rather than simply how
frequently they speak up in class. Do they actively engage in small group and pair discussions?
Do they contribute thoughtful responses on in-class writing reflections?

What are some tips for grading efficiently?


Before grading assignments, exams, papers or projects, check that you are on the same page
as your peer IA’s and course faculty - making sure your measurement and evaluation falls within
the grade norming boundaries is essential to fair grading. You also need a plan going in, and
the two most key components of that plan are providing feedback to the student, and using
measurement guidelines, such as rubrics. By having proper documentation and consistent

Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)
Resource Guide for Instructional Assistants at UC-San Diego​ (​click for the navigation page​)

criteria, you will feel more confident in your grading and be able to have a more productive
conversation with students if they choose to question their grade.

For more about grading efficiently, see ​here​.

What are some suggestions for providing productive feedback on assignments?


It is crucial to provide timely and relevant written feedback not only on all essay assignments,
but also for tests and homework. When students are analyzing or recalling information,
developing arguments, or expressing opinions, well-directed feedback can have a powerful
effect in helping them develop their cognitive skills. Your responses, which should be
constructive, corrective, and encouraging, will influence the tone in your section.

For more about working with student writing, see ​here​.

Why and how should I use measurement rubrics to evaluate?


Rubrics are one of the most efficient ways to ensure consistency in measurement. Rubrics can
be used to score just about anything, from the observation of performance or behaviors
(presentations, mock interviews, role playing) to written or visual projects (abstracts, journals,
reflection papers). A rubric is a guide that specifies characteristics of an outcome and describes
levels of achievement for each characteristic. There are two major types: ​Holistic and Analytic /
Descriptive​.

A successful rubric should:


● Make expectations explicit
● Facilitate communication
● Allow the IA to directly assess learning
● Identify areas for teaching improvement
● Identify areas for teaching strengths
If your course faculty does not provide a rubric, you can ask if you may create one to guide your
grading and feedback. This ​website​ can help you get started.

For more about rubrics and grading strategies, see ​here​.

V. What are some tips for facilitating lab sections?

Discussion sections are by design more collaborative than most lab sections. Still, participation
is just as integral to assessing a lab section grade as it is for discussion sections. One equitable
teaching strategy that can be applied to lab sections is ​Individual Presentation. ​Unlike
“assigned discussion leader”, the individual giving the presentation delivers the results of their
independent research to a group of their peers, typically followed by a brief question and answer
session.

Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)
Resource Guide for Instructional Assistants at UC-San Diego​ (​click for the navigation page​)

Almost all graduate students in the sciences will teach a laboratory at some point in their
graduate careers. Labs should be a process of discovery for students as they uncover the
mechanisms behind important scientific principles. The IA’s role is to lead students through the
learning experience by giving them the conceptual basis for the lab, and to guide them through
the investigation so they can make discoveries on their own. It is common for students to miss
the point of a lab. IAs can substantially improve the usefulness of labs by providing the
framework that students miss. What is the question we are answering? How will the data we
collect answer this question? How can we collect this data?

Labs are a unique challenge as they combine many different aspects of teaching, including:
● Lecturing
● Organizing group work
● Leading hands-on learning
● Asking meaningful questions
● Creating assignments
● Evaluating student work

More information on facilitating lab sections can be found ​here​.

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Resource Guide for IAs: Teaching Strategies


Compiled and written by Engaged Teaching, Teaching + Learning Commons, Fall 2017 (updated Fall 2019)