The Faculty Center promotes research-based instructional strategies and classroom techniques that improve student performance and learning. Because instruction at UCF takes place in many formats, environments, and class sizes, there is no single most effective teaching method for all contexts. However, research does support a practical range of methods that can be adapted to the various circumstances in which we teach. These strategies fall somewhere on the continuum illustrated below between teacher- and student-directed. We hope the resources on these pages will help you develop a repertoire of evidence-based instructional strategies that meet your and your students’ needs. Refer also to our Learning Spaces pages for strategies and techniques to implement active learning in various classroom configurations. Finally, a synopsis of teaching and learning principles from various sources helps frame some beneficial strategies to improve student learning.
We have provided short descriptions and links to more information for best practice for some popular teaching methods below. They are presented in order from more teacher-directed to more student-directed. For a video discussion of the above, please view the following brief video:
Direct instruction is a widely used and effective instructional strategy that is strongly supported by research. In direct instruction, the teacher
- models an interaction with the subject, demonstrates an approach to an issue, or shows example solutions to problems,
- provides opportunities for guided practice, often assigning small group work in class with an emphasis on constructive feedback, and
- assigns independent practice with an emphasis on mastery learning.
Lecture can help students organize extensive readings, but it should not be used to simply duplicate those readings. Because learning results from what students do, lectures should be crafted so that students are intentionally active as much as is reasonable. Direct instruction can be easily combined with other teaching methods and can be transferred to online teaching by using videos for the modeling stage and discussion groups for the guided practice stage.
Worked examples are step-by-step demonstrations of how to complete a problem or perform a task. Concepts are first introduced in their simplest form, then the teacher gradually progresses from simple to complex procedures. Worked examples are a way to impart information. Therefore, the process is considered a form of lecturing. Worked examples are particularly useful in STEM fields, and are most effective when learners are not already familiar with the processes being presented. Students must actually work their way through the examples, rather than skip over them to homework problems, in order to see real benefit.
This sample video from Khan Academy gives a sense of how worked examples play out in practice.
Many instructors build their lectures around questions that students, individually or in small groups, can answer using colored flashcards or polling technologies like clickers or BYOD apps. The advantage to using polling technologies is their scalability, ease of providing collective feedback on student performance, and integration with the online gradebook for uploading participation or quiz points. Other interactive techniques involve short writing exercises, quick pairings or small group discussions, individual or collaborative problem solving, or drawing for understanding.
You can read more about good practices for lecturing at the Teaching Commons website at Stanford University and view the following video:
In the basic structure of a “flipped classroom,” the students first engage the content online (through readings, video lectures, or podcasts), then come to class for the guided practice. It requires explicit communication of learning objectives, procedures, roles, and assessment criteria. It requires a detailed curriculum design organized around scaffolding learning toward mastery. Some critics equate direct instruction with just lecturing; however, here the term is used as “directing” student learning. In direct instruction, the role of the teacher is similar to that of a coach.
For a basic introduction and resources on flipped classrooms, see https://www.edutopia.org/topic/flipped-classroom. For a more theory-based introduction, see Vanderbilt University’s discussion. Finally, please view our brief video:
Socratic questioning involves the teacher’s facilitation of critical thinking in students by dint of carefully designed questions. The classic Greek philosopher, Socrates, believed that thoughtful questioning enabled students to examine questions logically. His technique was to profess ignorance of the topic in order to promote student knowledge. R. W. Paul has suggested six categories of Socratic questions: questions for clarification, questions that probe assumptions, questions that probe evidence and reasoning, questions about viewpoints and perspectives, questions that probe implications and consequences, and questions about the question.
See Intel.com’s article on the topic for a good overview of Socratic questioning, and view our following video:
One of the primary purposes of discussion-based learning is to facilitate students’ meaningful transition into the extended conversation that is each academic discipline. Discussions allow students to practice applying their learning and developing their critical-thinking skills in real-time interactions with other viewpoints. Often, the challenge for the teacher is to get students to engage in discussions as opportunities to practice reasoning skills rather than simply exchanging opinions. One tip for addressing this challenge is to create a rubric for assessing the discussion and to assign certain students to act as evaluators who provide feedback at the end of the discussion. Students rotate into this role throughout the semester, which also benefits their development of metacognitive skills.
See the Tip Sheets at Harvard’s Bok Center for practice ideas on discussion questions and discussion leading.
The Faculty Center also offers the following brief video on discussion-based learning:
Case-based learning is used widely across many disciplines, and collections of validated cases are available online, often bundled with handouts, readings, assessments, and tips for the teacher. Cases range from scenarios that can be addressed in a single setting, sometimes within minutes, to sequential or iterative cases that require multiple settings and multiple learning activities to arrive at multiple valid outcomes. They can be taught in a one-to-many format using polling technologies or in small teams with group reports. Ideally, all cases should be debriefed in plenary discussion to help students synthesize their learning.
For discipline-specific case studies repositories, check out the following:
- National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (Science topics)
- University of California, Santa Barbra Case Method website (Sociology topics)
- Online based-based biology for community colleges (biology/ecology topics)
- Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (History topics)
- Science Case Net (Sciences)
- University of Washington’s Electronic Hallway (Public Administration, Public Policy topics)
- Case Consortium at Columbia (journalism topics)
Learning in groups is common practice across all levels of education. The value of learning in groups is well supported by research and is required in many disciplines. It has strong benefits for at-risk students, especially in STEM subjects. In more structured group assignments, students are often given roles that allow them to focus on specific tasks and then cycle through those roles in subsequent activities. Common classroom activities for groups include: “think-pair-share”, fishbowl debates, case studies, problem solving, jigsaw.
Inquiry-based learning encompasses a range of question-driven approaches that seek to increase students’ self-direction in their development of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. As students gain expertise, the instructor decreases guidance and direction and students take on greater responsibility for operations. Effective teaching in this mode requires accurate assessment of prior knowledge and motivation to determine the scaffolding interventions needed to compensate for the increased cognitive demands on novices. This scaffolding can be provided by the instructor through worked scenarios, process worksheets, opportunities for learner-reflection, and consultations with individuals or small groups. Students are generally allowed to practice and fail with subsequent opportunities to revise and improve performance based on feedback from peers and/or the instructor.
For a basic definition and tips about inquiry-based learning, see Teach-nology.com’s resources.
Often referred to as PBL, this method is similar to the case study method, except the intention is generally to keep the problem, the process, and the outcomes more ambiguous than is comfortable for students. PBL asks students to experience and struggle with radical uncertainty. Your role as the teacher is to create an intentionally ill-structured problem and a deadline for a deliverable, assign small groups (with or without defined roles), optionally offer some preparation, and resist giving clear, comfortable assessment guidance.
To learn more about problem-based learning, go here: https://citl.illinois.edu/citl-101/teaching-learning/resources/teaching-strategies/problem-based-learning-(pbl)
Project-based learning is similar to problem-based learning, and both can be referred to as PBL, but in project-based learning, the student comes up with the problem or question to research. Often, the project’s deliverable is a creative product, which can increase student engagement and long-term learning, but it can also result in the student investing more time and resources into creative production at the expense of the academic content. When assigning projects to groups that include novice students, you should emphasize the need for equitable contributions to the assignment. Assessments should address differences in effort and allow students to contribute to the evaluations of their peers.
Learn more about project-based learning here: http://www.bu.edu/ctl/guides/project-based-learning/