Initial Publication Date: April 21, 2015

Classroom Vignettes: Characterize your teaching style

How to Use this Page

The vignettes given below describe a range of ways in which instructors might teach. There are two ways to decide where your style of teaching fits in this spectrum.

  1. You can take the following six-item survey that examines where you fall (on a Likert scale) in the context of a series of teaching characteristics.
  2. You can read each of the four vignettes and decide where you are likely to fit or

When you have determined where you fall in this spectrum, there are links to web pages that will give you tools and strategies to adjust the manner in which you teach to become a more student-centered teacher.

Classroom teaching style survey

In the six items below decide where you fall on a 1-5 scale with the characteristics associated with the range of scores given below that. Keep track of the total score after adding scores from each of the items. Use the total survey score to classify yourself according to the vignettes below.

1. In my classroom, my goal is to...
1 2 3 4 5
provide students with knowledge. give students knowledge, but also have them thinking about the material during class. have students construct their own knowledge; I am just the faciliator.
2. In my classroom, I typically...
1 2 3 4 5
talk for more than 95% of the class. talk for no more than 90% of the class. talk for no more than 50% of the class.
3. In my classroom, stududents...
1 2 3 4 5
do no activities during class. will be actively doing something other than taking notes at least 10% of the class period. They will answer questions, work briefly with some material, or examine images I project. They will provide an answer to a question or problem. They will follow the directions I give them. will be actively doing something other than taking notes for >50% of the class project. They will be considering the process of the activity as well as getting an outcome. They may explore with an activity before I present any lecture on a topic.
4. In my classroom, students...
1 2 3 4 5
don't talk to each other. talk with each other about multiple things but at only one scale (just pairs, just small group, just whole class), or just about one thing but at multiple scales (pairs to groups to class as a whole). talk to each other a lot and in different combinations of students (pairs/groups/class as a whole). They debate ideas, evaluate information, reformulate material, predict, and test.
5. I ask students questions...
1 2 3 4 5
seeking a specific answer. Some student will answer fairly quickly or I will move on. orally or with clickers and I wait for one of them to answer and/or I call on different students to answer. Students should be able to answer my questions if they are learning the material. and give them lots of time for all to think of their answer. I solicit answers from multiple students. My questions may have multiple answers, will require that they talk to each other, and ask them to explore, critique, analyze, interpret, consider alternative solutions, and develop predictions.
6. Students...
1 2 3 4 5
seldom ask questions, but I answer them if they do. ask questions (plural) most every class period and I answer them, and if necessary, put the answer in the context of what we have done. ask questions and those questions can change the direction of the class. When they ask a question, I will have other students to suggest and discuss possible answers.

Tally your score and use the following classifications to find your vignette, which you can then compare to your classroom:


Traditional/teacher-centered (Survey score: 6-11; RTOP score 0-30)

Dr. Frodo is excited about his material and teaches what he considers to be a typical lecture. His instructional strategies include lecture, assigned readings and problems students complete on their own. He envisions himself as the "sage on the stage". As such, he spends a long time developing the "perfect" slides with illustrations, diagrams and other visuals. Dr. Frodo begins each class by continuing where he left off in the last class meeting. The few questions he asks to the class are straightforward, often requiring only an answer of only a few words. Students rarely interrupt with questions, but when they do, Dr. Frodo answers them quickly and moves on.


  • Lesson structure and timing are generated by the teacher. Each class begins with new material.
  • Teacher is an authority in their discipline; they make connections between topics, but do not share these connections with students.
  • Students are passive participants in the lecture, though they may be excited about the content.
  • Students ask few or no questions of the teacher during class. Teacher's questions allow for limited discussion.
  • Students talk to each other before and after class, but do not interact during.

Based on your placement in the above vignettes, find out how to increase the student-centered nature of your classroom.

Transitional/teacher-guided (Survey score: 12-15; RTOP score 31-45)

Most of Professor Gollum's class is lecture-driven, with relevant diagrams and equations in a logical sequence. Periodically she likes to begin her lecture by reminding students of what they already know. This may be through a teacher summary, or students completing a short exercise - especially if there's a relevant local or recent event in the news. Gollum pauses multiple times to ask for any questions. She also asks several questions of the whole class to see if they can shout out a correct answer. If they don't respond within a few seconds, she tells them what was expected. Students may interact with each other through short, guided exercises; discussions are instructor-driven, with little room for students to move past observations or reflect on their learning.


  • Lesson is instructor-driven with a few opportunities for student input or brief discussion.
  • Teacher presents concepts, making some connections to the real world or other disciplines.
  • Students may make observations, but limited opportunities available to assess the procedure or test predictions, estimations or hypotheses.
  • Teacher and students ask questions of each other, but answers and wait time are limited.
  • Students interact with each other through short exchanges or guided activities.

Based on your placement in the above vignettes, find out how to increase the student-centered nature of your classroom.

Transitional/student-influenced (Survey score: 16-19; RTOP score 46-60)

Professor Galadriel begins each class by asking students questions about the previous class session to refresh understanding and progress. As she begins her lecture on the main concept of the day she uses a variety of image and diagram types, and sometimes videos, to illustrate a few observations related to the concept before developing the concept itself. Students are commonly asked questions that require using photographs, graphs, or other diagrams to represent and interpret geologic phenomena. Galadriel usually requests answers from more than one student, exploring different ideas. Most class periods have short activities (e.g., worksheets, peer instruction with clickers) that turn students toward one another for idea sharing; students are talking to one another about 10-25% of class time.


  • Lesson is designed to use student input to assess their knowledge of previous topics, and continually engage students to answer questions and talk to one another at least part of the time.
  • Knowledgeable instructor demonstrates a logical organization of concepts and ideas and presents real-world examples and ties between the geologic concept and learning from other classes.
  • Students not only see but use models, drawings, maps, etc. to answer questions.
  • Students interact with one another for at least a small part of class time rather than only listening to the instructor and answering the instructor's questions.
  • Instructor patiently solicits students' answers to questions, including requests for multiple answers and exploration of different ideas; sometimes, these answers change the direction of subsequent instructor comments.

Based on your placement in the above vignettes, find out how to increase the student-centered nature of your classroom.

Reformed/student-centered (Survey score: >19; RTOP score 60-100)

Dr. Gandalf uses the instructional period in a manner that maximizes student interactions with the instructor and with one another. Instruction typically revolves around a discipline-based problem, building on prior knowledge and using sophisticated means or representations of abstract data (equations, cross sections, different plots). Students make and test predictions, influencing the focus of class, and commonly give individual or group presentations. Most or all of the student voices are heard with discussion at multiple levels (small groups and/or class wide) and there are ample opportunities for reflection.


  • Student activities typically dominate the class time.
  • Student activities commonly involve jigsaw or role-playing to explore topics.
  • Student voices generally influence the directions of discussions and activities.
  • There is an exploration of divergent questions and views.
  • A positive learning environment is evident from deep, meaningful student conversations, supported by a patient, listening teacher.

Based on your placement in the above vignettes, find out how to increase the student-centered nature of your classroom.