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In anticipation of the upcoming book talk being hosted by the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning (James Lang, discussing his book Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, on April 7th, 2017), this spring break we challenge you to plan one “small teaching” activity for a course you are teaching or plan to teach in the future. Small teaching, which Lang describes as “small but powerful modifications to our course design and teaching practices” (2), are learning activities that take 5-10 minutes, one-time interventions in a course, or small changes to course design or communication with students. Here are a just a few suggested activities:

  • Opening Questions. As you begin class, consider asking students to recap the previous class, the main theories covered by the course to that point, or other relevant material from earlier in the semester, either orally or in writing. The more practice students have retrieving what they’ve learned from the course materials, the more likely they are to be able to do so successfully in the future. This also helps students contextualize new material, form connections with old material, and follow the logical flow of the course.
  • Minute Thesis. On the board, write the names of materials read in the course in one column and major themes from the course in a second column. Have a volunteer circle a theme and draw lines to the materials. Then, have students think of a thesis for how the materials connect to that major theme. Repeat as necessary to give students practice with developing a thesis and drawing out connections across the different units of the course.
  • Tell a Story. Human brains have a knack for understanding and remembering stories, and students often find them more interesting and motivating than regular lectures. Furthermore, stories bring student emotions into the classroom, allowing for a more holistic learning experience. If you want students to remember a major concept, try communicating it through story! For more on storytelling in the classroom, check out this previous blog post or review the materials from our workshop on storytelling.

An added benefit of small teaching activities: they are designed to be low-stakes exercises so you can try lots of them and determine what works best for you. There are plenty of other small teaching activities to experiment with; for more ideas, check out James Lang’s Small Teaching book, read his series of articles on the Chronicle of Higher Education, and attend the book talk in a few weeks. As always, the Kaneb Center is happy to help you with all of your teaching questions or concerns, big or small. Stop on by soon!

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