Effective Classroom techniques

As teachers, how many of us have seen students hurrying come to class, take notes while the teacher lectures then hurry to leave for another class? This activity is repeating every day, throughout the school year. Many students never raise their hand, ask the question, offer their opinion, but quietly come and go and we, as teachers, have no idea how well they learn or whether they are learning anything.

As teachers, what kind of class do we want to teach? Do we want to continue to lecture on what we know and hope that our knowledge will transfer to our students by osmosis? Or do we want our students to participate and actively learning and at the same time, we are learning by working with them too?

Active learning is not new, it has been around for many years. The method is advocated by teachers who are looking for a more dynamic and interactive classroom than the one they experienced when they were students. There are many pieces of evidence on the benefit of this method, especially in the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in schools around the world and many countries have adopted this method.

As teachers, you do not have to switch completely to the active learning method but you can add some active learning techniques into your traditional way of lecturing to help students learning more and maintain their attention during your class.

For example, during a lecture, I often ask students to generate one question based on the lecture to identify how much they have learned. (i.e., “Now we have learned about the Software Lifecycle, can anybody tell me why Design phase must be done after the Requirements phase?) Sometime at the end of a short lecture, I would ask the class to “write any question that happens on their mind” on a piece of paper then collect and read a few of their“writing” to the class to start a discussion. (i.e., Bob wrote: “I do not know the difference between validation and verification. Can anyone answer Bob’s question?) If no one answer, I would wait for a few more minutes or repeat the question again as if I am waiting for an answer to encourage students to volunteer.

Sometimes I would bring a popular newspaper article or a Facebook article to class and ask students to comment and discuss. (I.e., The New York Times has an article today about the use of Artificial Intelligence in the Finance and Stock Market. Did anyone read that? What do you think?). By asking questions or facilitate more discussions, we can help students to improve their attention and motivation, and broaden their knowledge.

Class discussions allow students to consider different viewpoints on a topic. After a student shares the opinions, I often ask others to comment (i.e., “James, since Bob has expressed his view on the issue of data privacy, what do you think?) By adding these simple techniques you can let students learn from others instead of you. By listening to their answers and comments, you also understand whether they have learned something well or not.

By continue to probe into a topic, you can make students think deeply than just reading about it from a textbook or listening to your lecture. Sometimes, they can discover small details that might get lost in the lecture. When students are asking questions or challenge others’ answers, it drives the discussion deeper on a topic and allows the class to engage in a dynamic situation that helps everyone to fully comprehend the topic.

There is issue that happens in class discussion about how to handle the students who volunteer too much, and the students who are hesitant to voice their opinion. In the case of the “shy” students, I would ask them by name to encourage them to participate. (i.e., Jane, you are one of the best students in this class, I like to hear your view on this question.) For the over-volunteers, I would handle it with humor (i.e., Peter, why are you always raise your hand like that? Would you do that when your girlfriend asks you to go to movies?)


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University