Teaching Tips from the USC Community


  1. Presenting your material
  2. Presenting yourself
  3. Interacting with students
  4. Resources
  1. Presenting Your Material

    Planning a Class

    HAVE A PLAN OF ACTION for WHAT and HOW you want the students to LEARN during any particular time in the classroom. This means that you have to prepare and you must have a sense of what you want to accomplish. You need both a GOAL and a STRATEGY (a teaching tactic) that you think will accomplish the goal. You also should be able to convey that goal to the students at the beginning of the class. (It is always best if you can say to the class: "Today, we are doing to discuss X. By the end of the class you should know how A and B relate to X.") If you can start the class with a puzzler, or a sense of drama, or an explanation about why they should CARE about the topic, even better. Still, most of the work of teaching is about developing this plan: What do you want them to learn? What's the best way to teach this topic? How do you get them involved? Thinking about these questions is what distinguishes a real teacher from someone who merely talks about a topic or asks students if they have any questions. — Howard Gillman

    Be prepared for class…I cannot emphasize this enough. Make an outline for yourself highlighting the important points to be covered. Prepare several different ways to explain the same principle. Try to assess potential problem areas before you arrive to class. Practice your presentation or, at least, certain explanations for difficult topics. Assess potential problem areas before you arrive to class. Don’t get caught unprepared. — Bill Trusten

    Using the Board

    Use the blackboard to write an outline that will mirror what you want in your students' notes.— Sharon Carnicke

    If using a chalkboard or white board, write clearly! Check spellings carefully. If you are writing during the lecture, do not keep your back to the students. You have two choices: either arrive early and write things on the board before class begins OR learn to write while making frequent eye contact with your audience. — Bill Trusten

    Beginning a Class

    Occasionally depart from your normal style of teaching, and do something unexpected. No matter how effective you are in your normal mode, it will freshen up your class and your own energy level to do something different, and your students will appreciate the change of pace. The changes you devise do not have to be dramatic in order to be effective. For example, if you normally begin a teaching session by announcing the topic, doing an introduction, and then lecturing on content, you might consider asking the class why they believe the topic is relevant and important for them to be studying. The ensuing discussion can give you the opportunity to deal with content and important ideas (from your perspective as teacher), but also to actively involve the students in the process and stimulate their thinking. — Joel Schechter

    "You have only one chance to make a first impression." So, on the FIRST DAY OF CLASS: Get to class early! Have your name, extension, office room number, lab number written on the board before students arrive. Be sure that students know your name and how to contact you before they leave. Start the class on time (this will show that you expect students to arrive on time). Consider looking at tips on acting or talk to friends who are taking an acting class. — Bill Trusten

    Using Examples

    Concrete examples, e.g., case studies in my own field, are very useful not only for illustrating abstract concepts but for helping the student remember them. Use lots of them. — Jerry Davison

  2. Presenting Yourself


    Speak slowly and articulately. Speak to the whole room, not just the front row. — Sharon Carnicke

    Don't read your lectures. Very few people know how to write in ways that make for good speaking. Do, however, prepare the first few sentences of your presentation, just as an "emergency" backup if you have trouble getting started. — Jerry Davison

    Look professional. Watch your posture and talk coherently. Avoid "uhs" and "ums" and "OK". Be alert and awake for class—get plenty of rest. Look interested in the lecture class—do not bring other work. Wear comfortable shoes! Pay attention to personal grooming. Remember: you are "on stage" for the class. You need lots of energy! — Bill Trusten

    Walk through the classroom while talking. Be aware of personal space but don't use your desk as an anchor. It can be helpful to return to certain places in the classroom only for certain tasks (i.e., reprimanding students who are not paying attention, or discussing homework assignments). Look at the students when talking. Your lecture notes should be just that: notes (not a word-by-word text for lecturing). You want some spontaneity in your presentation. Practice talking in front of a mirror. Be aware of yourself. — Bill Trusten

    For international TA's: learn to speak English as quickly as you can. In class, speak clearly and distinctly. Speak slowly (the tendency is to speak quickly, especially if you are nervous). Do not speak in your native language in the classroom—even to students who speak your language. The classroom language must be English. This is not fair to those who do NOT speak your language. — Bill Trusten

    Controlling the Classroom Environment

    Do all you can to make the lecture/seminar room comfortable. Psychological research strongly suggests that if, for example, the audience is too warm or if the room is stuffy, they will attribute their negative feelings to YOU. — Jerry Davison

  3. Interacting with Students

    Using Feedback

    Design a formal mechanism, e.g., anonymous questionnaire, for you to get feedback and evaluation from the students early in the course. This will help to establish that you are truly interested in providing your students with your best teaching efforts, and of course the feedback you receive can help you to make thoughtful adjustments that can improve your effectiveness.

    • Find out what is working from the perspective of the students in your class.
    • Address, correct and improve what isn't working.

      — Joel Schechter

    Understanding your Audience

    CONVEY THAT YOU CARE about them, that you want them to learn. Teachers walk into the classroom with lots of personalities; some are gregarious and enthusiastic, others are more soft-spoken. You may not be able to switch personalities, but regardless of your personality you can send a message that you will work hard to help them master the course material. Come to class prepared (point 1); be interactive (so they know that you care about their questions or concerns); make eye contact; solicit their feedback; provide appropriate individual attention; hold office hours; return messages -- you get the idea. Be the opposite of the professor who rushes into class at the last minute, turns his back on students while writing furiously on the board, turns around only to ask perfunctorily "any questions" and then turns back around before anyone has a chance to ask, rushes out at the end of class, and is impossible to reach. Even if you are not the most witty or dramatic or experienced teacher students will be grateful that you were conscientious and that you cared about their well-being as students. — Howard Gillman

    The undergraduate student population at USC is very diverse in all ways--background, culture, ethnicity, talent, prior education, etc. Each student needs to be treated as an individual. Each student has her/his own way of learning. This must be taken into account when teaching. — Bill Trusten

    Get to know the students' names as soon as possible and refer to them by name. Try to figure out early in the semester which students may need extra help. If possible, pair them with students who are excelling. Be scrupulously fair to all students. — Bill Trusten

    Don’t be afraid to laugh. If you make a mistake, try to find some humor in the situation. Remember that you are only human. There will always be something that doesn't go "right" regardless of preparation. You should not, however, ever laugh at a student. — Bill Trusten

    Try to remember what it was like before you knew what you are lecturing on. Don't overestimate the ability even of a talented and motivated audience to grasp what seems second nature to you. — Jerry Davison

    Don't give up on the Red Sox. — Jerry Davison

    Asking and Answering Questions

    Be honest! Don’t try to "bluff" an answer—if you don't know the answer, admit it. Let students help to answer questions you don't immediately know the answer to (this gives you time to recall the information). It will also make students feel comfortable about speaking when they don’t know the entire answer. If you cannot answer the question, tell the student you will find the answer and report back at the next class meeting. Be sure to follow through; don't make promises you don't keep. — Bill Trusten

    Get your students to help each other. When a question is asked, seek the answer from the class rather than always providing the answer. You will find that, if students can answer questions and help each other, you know you are communicating well. This will also help the class to develop a "team spirit." Remember: you're all in this together. — Bill Trusten

    Ask lab directors, faculty and senior TA's about terms you don't understand. Again, don't try to "fake it" — students will see through this. — Bill Trusten

  4. More Resources
    1. The Chronicle of Higher Education - Simple Post-its for Teaching Improvement

<< Back to Teaching & Learning