Teach the Earth > Career Prep > Preparing to Teach > Daily Class Planning

Daily Class Planning

Photo by Carol Ormand, courtesy of Carol Ormand.

Once you have laid the groundwork for your course for the semester, it's time to think about how to plan each day's class. Research shows that the most successful new faculty members work moderately on teaching. This includes starting before you feel ready and stopping before you feel done. (Boice, 2000, pp. 11-101). Here are some resources to help you do that.

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Jump to developing your own activities or finding existing activities.

For developing your own classroom, lab, or field activities

  • How to plan a single class period, from setting learning goals for the day to assessing whether students have met those goals. This page includes specific geoscience examples and a worksheet you can use to plan a class period.
  • Planning a Class Session, (Acrobat (PDF) 254kB Jan18 06) from the folks at Penn State's Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, also outlines the process of planning a class session, and includes some questions for reflection.
  • Teaching Science: What Research Tells Us about the learning process. This page is a summary of a presentation by Robyn Wright Dunbar on what works, in science education. Robyn is the Senior Associate Director for Science and Engineering at the Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University. She gave the presentation on which this page is based at the Preparing for a Career in the Geosciences workshop.
  • The First Day of Class module provides useful tips for how to engage students from the first day of class.
  • Postings from Rick Reis' "Tomorrow's Professor" Mailing List :
    • Class Preparation Time: How Much Is Enough? This posting debunks the myth that more class prep time is better, and describes how to prepare a good lecture in about two hours. The same approach can be used to prepare a non-lecture class period.
    • Getting Started in the Right Way on the First Day of Class discusses what research tells us about classroom interactions, and how you can use this information at the start and end of each class period, especially in the beginning of the semester.
    • 101 Things You Can Do the First Three Weeks of Class is a long list of short tips to help students make transitions, direct students' attention where you want it to go, challenge students, provide support, encourage active learning, build community, and get feedback on your teaching.
  • Field experiences and field trips. (Microsoft Word 73kB Nov29 05) Chuck Bailey, from the College of William and Mary, describes his approach to field trips: giving students opportunities to observe, measure, and interpret. He includes two field trip handouts, illustrating how he accomplishes those goals in a couple of his classes. This is a clear example of the use of learning goals to construct class assignments.

For finding existing activities that meet your needs

Searchable databases of teaching resources:

Tips from Early Career Geoscience Faculty Workshop Alums

These tips come from participants in the NAGT/NSF-sponsored workshops for "early career" geoscience faculty members.

Jump to communicating content, interacting with your students, or effective use of technology.

On communicating content:

  • [I try to] make sure that I have a clear idea in my head of the actual learning goal of every [class period] (not just the course as a whole, although that's the first step). Why are they sitting there for 50 minutes *today*? What should they have grasped when they walk out the door? Is lecture the best way to get that idea across, or should they do a short experiment or project? .... It all goes back to what your goals for the course are, really–so have that in mind for every [class] period.
  • My best lectures typically have a very narrow focus and involve at least one, long-ish (15 minutes) in-class activity. At most, I want them to learn one substantial concept (e.g. river discharge and its relationship to drainage area).
  • For every [class period], find at least one way in which the material is directly relevant to your students' lives.
  • For an hour-long lecture, if you feel that you must lecture the whole time, try to break the hour into 3 or 4 sub-sections with 2 or 3 minute breaks between them. Use the breaks for students to look over their notes, ask questions, respond to question from you, or just stand up and stretch. Think-pair-share exercises are great just to break the monotony of a straight lecture and they create a sharp focus on some concept.
  • Practice. Be organized. Write an outline or lesson plan ahead of time. Organize the content around a unifying question that arouses student curiosity. Return to course themes or the big picture often. Reiterate main points to reinforce them. Make sure any visual aids are visible from the back of the room. Do your homework, especially if lecturing off-specialty. It's okay to not know the answer to a question, but be sure to resolve it for the next class meeting. Get feedback mid-stream. Pause for questions often; do practice problems in-class to assess what students have learned; use minute papers at the end of class to find out what got across and what was lost, and to check your pacing.
  • Being organized goes a long way. I have found that using PowerPoint gives the image of being organized, and in many ways this is true, but it's not the only way. You have to make sure that your outline is very obvious. Provide a very clear outline and follow it.
  • If you intend to include interactive lectures, you need to set the mood early in the semester. Let them know on the first day that they will be expected to participate, not by saying such, by actually making the first lecture interactive – even if it is just asking a question like "What does geoscience mean to you?" or "What do geologists do?". If you spring it on them mid-semester they will not respond. Also, I have found that if you give the students a few questions to think about before coming to class they are better prepared to participate. Remember, "studies show" it takes 30 seconds for students to think of the answer to a question asked in lecture, but Professors can only bear to listen to 15 seconds of silence before they give the answer themselves.
  • I always try to start each lecture out by establishing pertinence - why is this important to you? I also try to have fun, I show pop culture movie clips, I have prizes for in class problem solving, things like that. Dovetail lectures: start with a review of last time and a preview of today's lecture. Show how the material is related. Take notes about what worked or didn't so that next time you will improve.
  • I have focused on trying to make it logical and to explain the subject to my audience. For someone like me who dreads these types of talks, the strategy of explaining worked.... It seemed to draw in a number of people in the audience, and surprisingly it drew in people with very different backgrounds.
  • These are what my students said on feedback sheets about good lectures:
    1. Sketches on the board during lectures make it easier to understand the material. I do use overhead transparencies or such pre-drawn visuals, but my students like it better when I actually draw step-by-step processes on the board using different color chalks.
    2. Use of analogies/examples that people can relate to while explaining geological concepts. Tapping on watermelons to explain passage of sound waves through different media, [using] processed meat like spam to explain depleted upper mantle.
    3. A sense of humor helps people to relax (I've heard this mostly from my older/nontraditional students, but my younger students agree too).

On interacting with your students:

  • Be humble and view your students as adults and equals, even when some of them don't behave in a way that seems to deserve this degree of respect. On a similar note, just because a student is getting a bad grade doesn't make him or her a bad person; treat the worst students the same way you do your best.
  • Arrive in class early and prepared. Give yourself 10 minutes to chat with students before you begin your lecture. You'll get to know them better. They won't seem like strangers anymore. You'll have more people that you feel comfortable calling on and BS-ing with during lecture. Even if you don't talk to everyone in the class, your attempt at interaction won't go unnoticed by the students.
  • I think that it is very important to have fun when you [teach].

On the effective use of technology:

  • Check out [your textbook] publisher's web pages [and other materials that come with the desk copy of your textbook] for slightly hidden resources like CDs with animations, powerpoint lectures already made (you can alter them later, but having the images and text ready saves hours of time), etc.
  • If you use PowerPoint:
    1. Slow down. It's very easy to go too fast with it.
    2. Use very large font and make sure that everything is legible from the back of the room. Dark background with light text is best.
    3. Avoid straight text slides
    4. Make your lectures available to your students online, AFTER the lecture. I've found that if you give them to them in advance either they don't come to class or they stop taking notes. I also don't provide print-outs of the lecture slides because this also stops students from taking notes.
    5. Number your slides. Let students know that you've numbered them. Let them know repeatedly that they shouldn't just copy the text on the slides: write down the number and add notes that make things more clear. They can go back to the online version after the lecture and correlate their notes with the numbered slides.
    6. Use slides to guide you very blatantly. It's sort of fun to have a big, bold slide that says something like: "Time to go to the board, [instructor's name]!!!" when you need to use the board to draw something.