Professional Development Module
on Teaching Techniques

By Xiaomin Wang, El Paso Community College


Although teachers are very knowledgeable about the subject they are teaching, they often rely on one teaching technique to impart this information. This self-paced module will acquaint the reader with a variety of teaching techniques--providing websites as illustration.

Key Concepts:

Section 1: Brainstorming

Brainstorming is an activity used to generate ideas in small groups. The purpose is to generate as many ideas as possible within a specified time period. These ideas are not evaluated until the end, and a wide range of ideas is often produced. Each idea produced does not need to be usable. Instead, initial ideas can be viewed as a starting pint for more workable ideas. The principle of brainstorming is that you need a lot of ideas to get good ideas. The Internet TESL Journal's article "Brainstorming Before Speaking Tasks" describes research on how brainstorming affects learning and also gives practical implementation tips.

Section 2: Case Study

The Case Study method is for detailed, documented studies and descriptions of a real-life situation, event, or problem. A critical incident analysis is a brief, more narrowly focused version of a case study.
Reed, John H. (2002). A guide to classroom instruction for adjunct faculty. Washington, D.C: American Chemical Society.

The University of Buffalo's website for Case Study Teaching in Science describes this teaching method beautifully:
"Case studies are stories with an educational message. They have been used as parables and cautionary tales for centuries, yet their formal use in the science classroom is recent. So recent, in fact, that until the early 1990s the case study literature in science was virtually non-existent. Until this time, faculty had neither taught with cases, written cases, nor seen one. This only began to change as more and more faculty realized the inadequacies of the lecture method and began to seek novel methods of instruction. Enter the case study, a method imported from business, law, and medical schools."  This site is a goldmine of links to essays and articles about how to use case studies in the classroom.

Section 3: Concept Mapping

Concept mapping is a drawing/diagram with a brief description of how someone or some group thinks certain concepts are related--there is no right or wrong approach. It serves as a conceptual structure pertaining to a subject and is developed by using any kinds of shapes to represent concepts plus segments to represent linking and the relationships between concepts.
Dogan-Dunlap, H. and de Smet, Juana R. Greater El Paso Council of Teachers of Mathematics Fall Conference, 2002.

This article explains the definition, purpose, advantage, and application of the concept mapping technique. “Concept Mapping: A Graphical System for Understanding the Relationship Between Concepts” a synopsis by Eric Plotnick

 “Concept Mapping,” by Steven Hale at Georgia Perimeter College, describes the steps of constructing concept maps and give some examples as illustration.

Concept maps can be developed on paper, on the chalkboard, or on a computer.  The software company Inspiration offers the following observation about the use of visual learning techniques: "Concept maps are ideal for measuring the growth of student learning. As students create concept maps, they reiterate ideas using their own words. Misdirected links or wrong connections alert educators to what students do not understand, providing an accurate, objective way to evaluate areas in which students do not yet grasp concepts fully."  A free 30-day trial of Inspiration software, which students can use to develop concept maps, can be downloaded from:

Section 4: Critical Thinking

Michael Scriven and Richard Paul, writing for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, define the process this way: "Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action."  For more on their philosophy, read "Defining Critical Thinking."

"Critical Thinking Strategies" from Facilitating Online Learning: Effective Strategies for Moderators discusses how to sharpen the focus and deepen the dialogue within an electronic discussion.  Although these methods for fostering students' critical thinking skills apply to web based learning, they can certainly be adapted for regular classroom use.
George Collison, Bonnie Elbaum, Sarah Haavind, and Robert Tinker (Atwood Publishing: Madison, WI, 2000).

“How to Keep Your Students Thinking” adapted from Ellen Sarkisian's Participatory Lectures, from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard Univ., 1992, explains how to use questioning strategies to keep even large numbers of students engaged with learning. Sarkisian notes: "When students engage actively with material, they generally understand it better and remember it longer. Student participation often results in covering less material during a semester. Yet it also can mean that students learn more information than when the material is simply "covered" because they actively use it and have more chances to clear up confusion. Large numbers of students in class do not preclude interaction. The following techniques to open up lectures to student participation have been used in classes of up to 1200 students, as well as with smaller groups."

Section 5: Distance Learning

"At its most basic level, distance education takes place when a teacher and student(s) are separated by physical distance, and technology (i.e., voice, video, data, and print), often in concert with face-to-face communication, is used to bridge the instructional gap."  Barry Willis and the University of Idaho Engineering Outreach staff have developed thirteen guides covering a wide range of concerns in distance learning.

This essay, which originally appeared in print as: Chickering, Arthur and Stephen C. Ehrmann (1996), "Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever," AAHE Bulletin, October, pp.  3-6, describes some of the most cost-effective and appropriate ways to use computers, video, and telecommunications technologies to advance the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.  On this website, the article's content has been updated to reflect new developments in the fields of teaching, learning, and technology.

Section 6: Group Discussion

"If students are going to feel that discussion invites them to develop and express their ideas in an unpressured way, then the discussion leader must find a way to teach that is neither too dominant nor too reserved." Chapter 10 from Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms by Brookfield, Stephen and Stephen Preskill. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999) discusses at length the roles, responsibilities and actions of a discussion leader. It also provides a checklist of questions that a teacher can use to maintain the balance between "saying too much" and "saying too little."

The article "Suggestions for Leading Small-Group Discussions" from Iowa State's Center for Teaching Excellence, outlines how and when to use small group discussions as a teaching technique.

“Small Group Teaching” by David Jaques focuses on group characteristics and dynamics, instructor interventions, and methods for evaluating how well the technique has worked.

This article discusses how to distribute job duties in group work. An example of an assignment for a group of 4 or 5 students is given. “Group Work: Using Job Duties in the Classroom” by Jennifer Gray, Nevada-California International Consortium, Japan.

"Tips for Grading Group Work" by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and Professor of Sociology, Illinois State University, examines how (and whether) group work should be graded.

Glenn Blackwell's paper, "Group Discussion Techniques in a Technical Course" discusses his use of small group discussions in engineering courses and how these discussions relate to the test format he uses.

Section 7: Lecture

Teaching with Excellence, a UC-Berkeley compendium of best teaching practices by Barbara Gross Davis,  Lynn Wood, and Robert C. Wilson, contains several sections relevant to developing and delivering lectures as a teaching technique.

Lectures play a vital role in teaching. Here are twenty ways to make lectures more participatory. Adapted from Participatory Lectures, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, 1992.

This article, "What Constitutes a Good Lecture?" offers an inside look at how students view lectures.
Jann Lacoss, Faculty Consultant, UVA Teaching Resource Center and Jennifer Chylack, Graduate Student Associate, TC_Fall_1998_Lacoss_Chylack.htm

 “The Muddiest Point in the Lecture as a Feedback Device”discusses the three questions that can be asked at the end of class as feedback.
Frederick Mosteller, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, 1989.

Section 8: Peer Review Activities

Colorado State University's Writing Center walks you through the use of peer review as a teaching technique.  Topics include:

  • Planning for Peer Review Sessions
  • Helping Students Make Effective Comments
  • Helping Students Handle Divergent Advice
  • Resource: Sample workshop sheets

The Bedford Workshop on Teaching Writing Online goes into detail about how to teach students to review other students' writing and then explains additional techniques for peer review, including:

  • Reading Outloud--the virtue of simply sharing for sharing's sake.
  • Center of Gravity--where you describe the focal point of the paper.
  • Believing/Doubting--where you support, then challenge, a writer's ideas.
  • Say Back-- where you recall as much as you can based on what the writer wrote.
  • Metaphor--where you describe a paper in 'other' terms.
  • Nutshelling--where you reveal the essence of a thought.
  • Reading for Flow-- helping writers share their logic and the connections their minds' make.
  • Requirements-- making sure the paper meets requirements.
  • Hovering--where you describe what's almost said or one the verge of being expressed.
  • Proof Reading--serving as your classmate's eyes.
  • Reviewing Reviews--a group activity where you meet with other writers to talk about peer reviews received.

Section 9: Questioning Strategies

Questions should play an important role in every classroom - both students’ questions and teachers’ questions. Teachers can create an active learning environment by encouraging students to ask and answer questions. This excerpt from the TA Handbook on the University of Delaware’s Center for Teaching Excellence website discusses how teachers should ask questions and how to encourage students to ask questions.

The article "Questioning Techniques for Active Learning" by C. M. Wang and Grace Ong provides tips on asking good questions as well as links to other issues of the online journal Ideas on Teaching, Center for the Development of Teaching and Learning, National University of Singapore, 2000.

In the paper “Wait Time: Slowing Down May Be A Way of Speeding Up,” Professor Mary Budd Rowe discusses the concepts of wait time 1 (pausing after asking a question) and wait time 2 (pausing after a student response). Based on her research, the conclusion is that the quality of discussion can be markedly improved by increasing up to 3 seconds or longer the average wait times used by teachers after a question and after a response.
Rowe, M. B. (1986). Wait Time: Slowing Down May Be A Way of Speeding Up! Journal of Teacher Education,  43-50.

Section 10: Role Playing/Simulation

"Role-play is the name given to one particular type of simulation that focuses attention on the interaction of people with one another. It emphasizes the functions performed by different people under various circumstances. The idea of role-play, in its simplest form, is that of asking someone to imagine that they are either themselves or another person in a particular situation. They are then asked to behave exactly as they feel that person would. As a result of doing this they, or the rest of the class, or both, will learn something about the person and/or situation. In essence, each player acts as a part of the social environment of the others and provides a framework in which they can test out their repertoire of behaviours or study the interacting behaviour of the group."
van Ments, M., The Effective Use of Role Play: A Handbook for Teachers & Trainers. Revised ed. 1989, New York: Nichols Publishing. 186.

In role playing, students assume the roles of various characters, such as historical or literary figures, scientists, political theorists, employees, etc.  The role players may practice particular behaviors or skills while the other students observe and then critique the performance and the outcome.
Reed, John H. (2002). A guide to classroom instruction for adjunct faculty. Washington, D.C: American Chemical Society.

In this article by Patricia J. Tomkins, the role playing/simulation method is analyzed using the formats of approach, design, and procedure.

The Educational Simulation Website describes three broad types of simulations and gives related links:

  • Group or Meeting--No props, no costumes, (but lots of preparation) … pretend to be a group you're not…
  • Facility Simulation--require a special facility or maybe a few props -- from the modest to the sophisticated
  • Virtual Reality--You need a computer...or computers... but these simulations can be amazing!

With the popularity of computer gaming, it was only natural that real-life role play games would be translated to virtual reality.  "Pedagogical Foundations of Web-based Simulations in Political Science" outlines and discusses some of the pedagogical foundations of an innovative "learning architecture" which combines the power of goal-based learning, role playing, the capabilities of the World Wide Web and the traditional method of lectures and tutorials.
Linser, R., Naidu, S., & Ip,A., "Pedagogical Foundations of Web-based Simulations in Political Science." in Winn, J. (ed) "Conference Proceedings: ASCILITE 99 Responding to Diversity", pp. 191-198

Section 11: More Teaching Tips

“What is Good Teaching?” by K. P. Mohanan, Center for the Development of Teaching and Learning, National University of Singapore, 2000

“Good Teaching: The Top Ten Requirements” by Richard Leblanc, York University, Ontario

List of strengths and limitations of 14 teaching methods, such as lecture, lecture with discussion. brainstorming, videotapes,  class discussion, small group discussion, case studies, etc.

Practical tips on improving your teaching.

Ten things that teachers can do to help students with learning differences succeed in the regular classroom, adapted from Learning to Learn by Carolyn Olivier and Rosemary Bowler (Simon and Schuster)

This website, Some Characteristics of Learners, with Teaching Implications, provides helpful comparison tables examining:

  • adult learners vs. youth learners
  • instructor-centered vs. student-centered teaching
  • styles of thinking
  • styles of learning


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