Effective Teaching Strategies

Kathy Obear
Amherst, Massachusetts


1. Style of Interaction of Activities

a. presenter to whole group: focus for learning is on the presenter or an activity they initiate

b. presenter to individual group member: individual participants experience activity in a personal and unique way; presenter-directed

c. member to member- participants learn from and with each other

Trainers need to use techniques from all three categories to provide as much variety as possible throughout the session.

2. Tips for when to use different teaching techniques

lecturettes: giving new information; need to cover material quickly; difficult material to grasp; need a break from participatory activities; want to make very clear points; keep lectures as short as possible; use effective visual aids to highlight key points

movies / slides / videos: can help participants focus on emotions; makes concepts more real to them; excellent for visual learners; use with the younger "video generation"; helps people to experience things through another's "eyes" / perspective; keep them short; do an energizer before; give participants an "advance organizer" of what to look for / major concepts / overview

debates: excellent tool to show differences in perspective/opinion; an effective challenge to break down absolute right/wrong thinking; helps members analyze / crystalize own values / beliefs; have speakers of equal skills or participants may not he able to fully appreciate all points of view; screen speakers; give them clear guidelines for the debate; have an assertive moderator; consider having participants be the members of the teams; challenge them to take sides that are different from their current perspective

panels: use when you want to display a variety of views / examples; shows breadth and depth of a subject; emphasizes that different is "ok" and normal; provides group members with a variety of role models; give clear guidelines for process; have an assertive moderator; consider having participants be the members of the panel; have an "empty chair" to represent views from people who can't join the panel; allow time for participants to ask questions / dialogue with panel

large group discussions: use when want to discuss / "process" an activity that all members experienced; use to gather new/different ideas; to process feelings; to give members a chance to "shine" and gain respect / recognition from peers; to develop speaking skills and confidence among members; get more participation; foster disagreements; allow members to challenge presenter; develop feelings of a "team"; presenter needs to have good group facilitation skills; set clear guidelines for process and rules for participation; monitor individual's use of air time; use open-ended questions; follow "SAGA" model for processing activities

small groups: way to "warm-up members for further participation; get more ideas because there is more "air time"; fosters creativity; develops trust/respect among peers; gives a lot of members the chance to "shine"; acknowledges expertise/knowledge of members; solicits more ideas in less time; encourages less assertive members to talk; use for project development, case studies, values discussions; start with smaller numbers in groups and build to 5-8; wander among groups and "check-in"; assign a group leader if needed; if reporting back, have each group a few ideas so that last group has some left to share; encourage several people from each group to report out

individual time: gives members a chance to reflect and organize thoughts before sharing in larger group gives those less likely to compete for air time a chance to prepare; a time for members to be more honest with themselves/to reflect and tune into their feelings/inner thoughts; consider having them keep a journal both in and outside of the seminar; gives presenter time to regroup and prepare for next activity; give a clear time limit; allow them to move about the area; wander among participants in case they have individual questions/comments

demonstrations: teach new skills; lower anxiety of members; role modeling; have members experience something so that they can then tune into their feelings / thoughts for discussion; establishes a criteria for success; helps members see more clearly what you expect of them: use a step-by-step method; move slowly; break down into smaller parts; allow time for processing and questions; use visual aids to complement demonstration; have a step-by-step procedure for them to follow along

inventories / assessments: increases self-awareness; excellent "motivation grabber"; personalizes concepts/information; gives members specific examples to discuss / refer to; helps members tune into their feelings/thoughts; gives participants a common language; allow members to NOT disclose information if they choose; do assessment right before a break to allow extra time for those who read/write more slowly; be wary of bias and implicit assumptions in packaged assessments

skits / role plays: motivation grabber; excellent tool to promote active / participatory learning if members are involved; good for visual learners; helps people see things "through the eyes of others"; loosens people up; fun activity; actors experience feelings of characters; excellent way to teach reverse roles; presenter needs good processing skills; use "SAGA" model to process; give clear instructions; encourage group to avoid oppressive comments/behaviors

fish bowl: have one group in the center of a circle of observers; the inner group can discuss a topic / do a demonstration / role play; give observers clues for what to look for; allows some members to personally experience an activity while others can closely observe; excellent tool to point out issues / problems for processing; simulates a "real" situation; use "SAGA" model to process

fantasy: members close eyes and get into a relaxing position as facilitator has them go through some relaxation exercises and then reads descriptions that participants try to visualize; encourage them to "focus on their feelings"; gives participants chance to personalize information/issues; slows down pace; stimulates feelings and different points of view; simulates a "real life" situation; take care not to put people to sleep; avoid using this activity after a meal or in late afternoon; keep it short; know that some people have trouble relaxing and visualizing

brainstorming: energizing; fun; solicits many different ideas very quickly; sets tone for participation; increases creativity of responses; do not allow critiquing of ideas until all thoughts are expressed; be a "gate keeper" and encourage all participants to offer ideas

case studies: excellent activity to help participants to apply new knowledge / skills; give each small group the same or different "real life" scenario / situation to solve / work through; have groups report back to large group

analogies: use to emphasize a point / concept; gives visual learners a mental image; use in conjunction with visual aids; use same theme for a gimmick at end: quote, certificate, gift, etc; use theme in title of seminar

jokes: be careful when choosing your material; always have joke related to content of seminar; screen material for language, concepts and inferences which might be offensive

simulations: small group activity that simulates "real life"; helps participants practice new skills, knowledge and concepts; can be used as motivation grabber or to assess current performance level

overheads: best for graphics, cartoons, short quotes, directions, and key phrases; keep legible, use large letters / graphics; use colored markers; number transparencies to keep them in order

psycho-social dramas: similar to a role play or skit, but facilitator stops action at a climax and processes intense feelings of participants; have participants develop possible solutions to the skit in small groups

interviews: interview "real" people or participants in role plays

soliloquy: one-person role play / skit that reveals his / her innermost thoughts to the audience; can be done during a skit if other actors "freeze"

worksheets: give participants "fill-in-the-blank" worksheets / outlines to take notes on during lecturette / group discussion; can be structured with a specific amount of blanks, or open-ended for personal note-taking

triads: groups of three participants for discussions and skill practicing; one is observer as other two practice new skill; after feedback session, participants switch roles

games: use as review or pre/post test; Family Feud; Jeopardy; What's, My Line; Trivial Pursuit; Password; Hollywood Squares; Wheel of Fortune; $10,000 Pyramid; Beat the Clock; bingo; Quizzard; etc.

body sculpture: participants use nonverbal/pantomime behavior to express feelings / reactions to a stimulus from facilitator; have them add to the "sculpture" one at a time and explain the meaning behind their actions

collages: participants make a collage out of magazine pictures / words that have some related theme; have them explain collages to group

dramatic reading: participants and/or facilitator reads powerful short passage, statistics, quotes, etc., as participants read along silently

individual quiet reading: participants have alone time to read / reflect on powerful passage, quotes, statistics, etc; process reactions in large group

open panel: have open seating on a panel and allow participants to join the panel and present their views, challenge other panelists, etc.

costumes: will add excitement to role plays / skits; very effective if facilitator makes a surprise appearance after a break in character

paper bag skits: participants develop role plays / skits along a specific topic and are given a bag of props to use

group questions: small groups develop questions for facilitator / panel members; takes pressure off of individuals to come up with creative and thought-provoking questions

mystery activities: give participants a task to accomplish without giving them the purpose or any clues to the expected outcome

reaction panel: get volunteers to be panel members who give personal reactions to audience after a group activity, such as: lecture; debate; movie; etc.

individual coaching: facilitator wanders among participants who are engaged in individual or group work; offers personal comments and coaching as needed

discovery learning: facilitator develops a task / discussion for participants where they develop and discover knowledge / skills / attitudes "on their own" without direct intervention from facilitator

newsprint: use large and legible lettering; vary colors; avoid long passages / details; only highlight key words / concepts; number each item; when using a newsprint pad write on every other page to avoid any "bleeding through" of images from other pages; have same information in handouts; use a tab of masking tape to identify prepared pages in the pad for quick access; if posting pages, turn up the bottoms and tape to wall until ready to use; be very careful to use correct spelling, avoid jargon and abbreviations, etc.


Kathy Obear is a diversity trainer and consultant based in Amherst, Massachusetts (413) 283-2503.


Copyright © 1991 Kathy Obear. Permission is granted to copy and use this material for educational and non-profit purposes only. This copyright statement and acknowledgement of authorship should remain intact on materials you copy from this website.