Preparing to teach

Contributed by Dr. Nachamma Sockalingam, TLC

Being prepared is essential for being in class, be it as a student or an instructor. Just as we expect students to be prepared, we need to be prepared to teach as well. Being ready to teach does not just mean having the right qualifications and experience but also the day-to-day readiness in motivating our students and inspiring them to learn beyond the time and space of the class. Being prepared to teach is essential for various reasons because

  • It sets the right expectations (and students can follow the good model)
  • Teaching and learning process would be more efficient. For instance, lesser time could be spent on classroom management, such as trying to connect to a resource or waiting for students to form groups.
  • Teachers could use more relevant examples/heuristics that would help students to learn.
  • This in turn would enhance students’ overall learning experience.

Despite the obvious importance of being prepared, we do see student feedback that instructors could be better prepared from time-to-time. Of course we do also see several more comments that lecturers were well-prepared. So what does being well-prepared mean?

What does being prepared to teach mean?

If we probe further as to what students expect, it can be gathered that being prepared  means (and not limited to these): knowing the materials in-depth, not reading-off the slides, being able to answer queries with regards to the learning outcomes/module or assignments (TMA, GBA), being on time (for class, in providing feedback etc.), citing relevant, up-to-date, meaningful examples, being technology-competent, being ready to guide and able to interact with and engage the students.

Tips from UniSIM colleagues on preparing to teach

Here are some ideas shared by our colleagues (associates and TLC colleagues) on “Preparing to teach”. These ideas were shared during the 3rd TEAMS (Teaching Excellence: Associates’ Meeting and Sharing) held on 31 Aug 2012.

1)      Connect with students

  • To connect with the students, perhaps the first step is to contact the students. This should be well-ahead of the class and you may want to use multiple channels such as emails or Blackboard announcements and introduce yourself to the students.
  • However this may not always be possible as in the case of individual project supervision when the student details may not be available in advance. In that case, getting to know the student profile may be helpful. For instance, you may find that a certain student is retaking the module and that would indicate that the student may have some challenges in the subject. Or you may find that the student has scored very well in a module that is a prerequisite for the project and so you know that the student is likely to be prepared.
  • Give a buffer time, of say, 10 minutes before/after or during break time for students to interact with you (instructor) in case they have queries on lesson or assignments. Students appreciate this time.
  • Respond to students emails/queries promptly and make it clear to the students on your availability.

2)      Set clear expectations

  • It is important to note that students need help in learning to learn. As adult learners who have multiple roles to play, multiple responsibilities to be accountable for, it can be very physically tiring for them. However, taking on the part-time course is their decision and they have to be aware of the challenges. To ensure that their learning is meaningful and useful to them, they would have to take ownership of the learning and too much-spoon-feeding even with the good intent may not be the right thing to do. It is in the students’ benefits that clear expectations of study requirements are set to ensure high standards. [In fact, students’ feedback indicates that they value clear goals and expectations (consistent with what we understand about teaching adult students in general)]. And in order to set the expectations, it is important that associates are first of all very familiar with the policies and procedures, guidelines , requirements etc pertaining to teaching at UniSIM.

3)      Prepare materials

  • While instructors may be given prepared materials, it would be useful to incorporate additional materials or relevant examples where appropriate. Examples used need to be not just limited to the course material and should extent to real-life examples. They should be up-to-date and relevant. Examples that are taken from Singapore context is likely to be relevant and meaningful to our students.
  • In order to motivate students, assignments have to be practical, application-based such that they reinforce learning. Some subjects like mathematics may be perceived by students to be too abstract. Hence it is useful to show examples or illustrate how to apply concepts learnt so that students are able to appreciate why they are learning.  This would need the instructor to take time to identify and use relevant examples.

4)  Organize materials

  • In preparing the materials, it will be useful if the instructor attempts to picture from the point of view of the students in terms and differentiates between “need to know”, “good to know” and the peripheral “interesting” aspect of the learning matter. It will be beneficial to the students if instructors can also help the students differentiate between need to know, good to know, and peripheral concepts so that they can be independent learners.
  •  The instructor could summarize and present an overview in the class instead of going through the slides step-by step. This has additional advantages. It is sometimes difficult to package all the content that needs to be learnt in 3 hours. So instead of going through the chapter in a monolithic step-by-step manner, it will be more effective to summarize and share the overview as well as critical aspects of the chapters (especially where students are likely to have difficulty) and represent the content to drive towards key understanding. This also helps the student to learn how to interpret and represent texts/content, which in turn leads to deeper learning.
  • If needed, instructors may want to utilize scaffolds/ organizers that guide the students on the usage of materials. For instance, which sections in text material or study guide to refer to.

5) Plan for class activities

  • Get students to read instead of telling students to read.  As students (everywhere) typically do not like to read, the alternative could be to utilize activities in class that require students to know the content and therefore read ahead of the class. So instead of asking students to read, it is about getting students to read. However, this requires careful planning.
  • The point of teaching is not (just) to deliver the content via lecture but it is to help students make sense of what they are learning. So, it is necessary to check their understanding from time to time, for instance, by having mini-quizzes that allow for multiple responses which give an opportunity to discuss ideas. Simply asking “Do you understand?” or asking close-ended questions that have only one right answer need not be very beneficial to students. And to be able to ask the right questions, instructors would have to think of possible questions well ahead of class. You may want to refer to an earlier e-post: on questioning skills.
  •  Instructors need to map out the learning journey and help orientate their students to this journey, for instance on what they are going to be learning, what will be the milestones, what will be the potential hazards and interesting aspects. So let us take the case of a lecture. Although the lecture can be for 3 hours, instructors could break down into meaningful chunks and give the students an agenda for the lecture, checking off the agenda as they finish off and pointing out the next steps. It is also useful to draw the students’ attention how the different sub-topics are connected. So the learning journey needs to be mapped out as a lesson-plan well-ahead of the class.

Overall, preparing for class starts well ahead of the class and requires time management given that many of us have other commitments and responsibilities (just like our students) that demand our time. Therefore, there is a need to make a conscious lesson-plan for the class. I am sure that all of us want to do so. Let us continue in that spirit.

The following checklist may come in handy so that you can estimate your level of preparedness.  The more ticks you have, the more prepared you are.


  • I am certain of the module learning outcomes.
  • I am clear on the assessment requirements pertaining to this module.
  • I am thorough with the content material and I have gone reviewed my materials (e.g., power-point slides) in detail.
  • I am familiar with the classroom setting (e.g., computer, lighting etc.).
  • I am familiar with my students’ profile.
  • I am familiar with UniSIM policy and practices pertaining to my teaching (e.g., handling plagiarism, TMA submissions, TMA marking).
  • I have contacted students and set clear expectations.
  • I have prepared the lesson such that it is not just about going through the slides (and that it is about meaningful learning).
  • I have attempted to anticipate what students might find to be challenging in my lesson and prioritized the teaching material accordingly.
  • Where needed, I have utilized thinking organizers that guide the students on the usage of materials. For instance, which sections in text material or study guide to refer to.
  • I have worked out a lesson-plan that includes learning activities, the sequence of activities, duration of activities and objectives.
  • I have thought about how to handle group-work or class activities (if needed) and prepared the necessary.
  • I have prepared a list of open-ended, interesting set of questions to ask students.
  • I have used additional resources such as newspaper, multimedia materials or learning objects- properties  (e.g., demonstration, models) where relevant and useful
  • I have prepared several relevant and up-to-date examples.
  • I have used examples from the local contexts that students are likely to be familiar with.
  • Examples are taken from the course materials, but not limited to the course materials.

About tlcunisim

This is the TLC UniSIM blog: the virtual community space for associates and faculty members to share ideas on teaching and learning. This blog is edited by Dr. Abdel Halim Sykes, Lecturer, Teaching and Learning Centre, SIM University, Singapore.
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