Bright Ideas for Working with Students

Great artists use a variety of tools and techniques to convey their talent. There is both an art and science to great teaching which provides significant learning. The ideas we present are tried and true tips which improved retention and course quality. They saved us time so we spent more time working directly with students. Most importantly, they helped learners learn significantly! We have included several best teaching practices on this page and there are an additional 70 Bright Ideas offered through the chapters of our book Designing Effective Teaching and Significant Learning. These tips have been shared with faculty to increase learning effectiveness and improve teaching efficiency.

  • Give Students a Model Do you give essay exams or written assignments?  If so, consider showing your students an “A” paper from a previous semester, or even from your current class.
  • Accessible Multiple Choice Tests Some students have difficulties just reading certain kinds of formatting on tests.  You can make minor changes that will alleviate these problems which do not interfere with the type of testing you do, or cause extra work.
  • Managing Grading Load One of the causes of teacher burnout is the grading load. The tips below come from experienced faculty in several disciplines. Even a small change can alleviate one common source of stress!
  • Knowing What to Say and How to Say It Communication is complicated and the competition for attention is fierce. With so many sources sending us messages by mail, media, print, and handheld devices it is critical to consider how communication in your course is delivered and received.
  • Learn Student Names Calling your students by their names builds community in your courses. Even in large classes it is possible to do this, and in smaller classes you can learn your students’ names as well.
Course Quality
  • Personalizing Your Course Evaluation You may be permitted to add a few questions to your course evaluation. This is a great way to pose questions that are unique to your course or that address something you’d like student feedback on.
Critical Thinking
  • Asking Probing Questions Good probing questions are short, allow for multiple responses, allow students to solve their own problems, move thinking from reaction to reflection, encourage multiple perspectives, avoid yes/no responses, and elicit a slow, thoughtful response.
  • Developing Analytical Abilities Analysis is an important gateway to more complex thinking and critical thinking. You can design tasks for students that give them practice in analytical thinking.
  • Ten Strategies for Designing Critical Thinking Tasks We all want to help our students become better critical thinkers. These ideas from John Bean can be used in many disciplines.
  • Starting a Discussion Getting a good discussion going in a class is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of asking stimulating questions that lead to critical thinking.
Learning Activities
  • Ten Activities for Learning Partners  Engaging students is easier if you employ active learning techniques.
  • Three Types of Summary  Students often have not had much practice in writing summaries. Further, the expectations of a “good” summary differ across the curriculum. We discuss three types of summaries with tips for writing them.
  • Categorizing Study Aid  Have your students fill in a “Categorizing Grid” for concepts you are teaching.  You list categories and examples of items for them, and students put the items in appropriate columns/rows.
  • Learning from a Returned Test  Many students don’t even look at exams that are returned to them. Help your students make the most of a returned test by pointing out common errors and asking the students to reflect on how they can improve next time.
Student Engagement
  • Breaking the Mold  Motivation flags after a few weeks of a semester.  Can you think of a way to change the “usual routine” in your classes?  Here are some ideas for easy ways to keep students engaged.
  • Getting More from our Students  What do the BEST instructors do to elicit the BEST from their students?
Study Tools
  • Helping Students Take Better Notes   Instead of posting complete lecture notes or handing out your PowerPoint slides, try this scaffolding technique: give your students a set of partial notes.  It will guide your students through the presentation, but allow them to be taking their own notes as they fill in the gaps you have left for them.  Students will learn and remember better if they are the ones producing the notes, especially if they are handwriting them.