Inside the Class

This section discusses general considerations for class teaching at LSE that are relevant regardless of the nature of the class (e.g. virtual or physical, small or large). It will consider:

  • The purpose of small group teaching
  • Planning classes
  • Designing and using learning activities
  • Practical considerations and requirements for any class

Small group teaching at LSE

This year the LSE will employ several modes of class teaching:

You may find that your department employs a third hybrid mode (often called hyflex in the literature) in which each class is held simultaneously both on campus in a classroom as well as online, with students attending either in person or via the web.

Classes may not only differ in mode, but format. For example, classes may be used to:

  • Discuss key questions and/or critique journal articles.
  • Consider problem sets (particularly in quantitative courses).
  • Work through computer-based tasks.

Moreover, your course(s) may consistently use a single specific format or vary between several formats. Ensure you find out what format(s) will be used in your course(s) for the coming year and that you have enough tools/resources/guidance to manage them successfully.

Whatever course you teach, and whatever the mode of delivery or the class format, you will find some degree of flexibility in the learning activites that you can use in your teaching. Do not feel too constrained in your approach - there can be many ways to teach a single class or an entire course, and you should allow yourself some room to experiment. The Eden Centre provides a range of ideas, techniques and other supporting resources to help you explore your teaching.

Do ensure that you discuss the approach you intend to take with the course convenor(s) for any course(s) you will be teaching to both help you understand what is expected and required of you, but also to make your own suggestions. We would also recommend that you discuss your classes with other teachers of the course - not only experienced teachers but new teachers as well.

Planning classes

Your primary role as class teacher is to facilitate and moderate the class, and while this requires you to ensure that the class period is optimally used, this does not mean that you have to do all the work or, even, all the talking. Remember that the class is not simply a matter of your instruction to students. It is a space for your students to: share and explore ideas; resolve questions they may have; pool resources and work together with their peers; and develop their understanding.

In preparation for your class:

  • Make sure you are familiar with the associated reading and topics.
  • Where applicable, identify the most important and useful readings.
  • Inform yourself what students will have studied in any related lectures.
  • Try to identify topics or areas that are likely to be the most challenging for students...
  • ... and consider what questions/activities could be used to help students engage with and understand this content.
  • Try to identify what questions students might raise.

The course lecturer(s) and other class teachers will be an invaluable source of insight and support for many of these actions.

Finally, do not forget that the diversity of educational and cultural experiences that your students bring with them offers a wealth of insight, perspectives and even questions that can make your classes richer.  In a productive class, you should try to give your students space to express themselves (and you to take a breather).

Learning outcomes for your class

A learning outcome is a statement that describes what a student should be able to do upon completion of a particular learning action – this action could be as simple as a particular class activity, to an entire degree programme. They generally describe intended learning in one of three categories: knowledge and understanding; intellectual and cognitive skills, and; other key skills/attributes (practical/transferable).

Well-designed learning outcomes will help you in planning your class design. Using the learning outcomes for your course as a broader context for your teaching will help you prepare specific learning outcomes for each class.

The following prompt questions may help you articulate specific learning outcomes for your class:

  • What are the key concepts (two or three) you want your students to understand (by the end of the class)?
  • Is there a key skill, methodology or process your students need to become familiar with or master (by the end of the class)?
  • Is there a framework you want your students to be able to apply (by the end of the class)?
  • Is there a key theory your students need to understand (by the end of the class)?

Importantly, once you have identified learning outcomes for your class, share these with your students to help them understand what it is they should take from the class, and perhaps how they can best do so.

Classroom teaching and learning activities

In preparing your classes, take time to consider what activities your students will undertake to enable them to enhance their understanding of the topic covered. How are you intending them to engage with the material? What learning processes do you want to use and how will you ensure all those attending, be it in an on-campus classroom or an in an online meeting, can fully participate?

Sometimes classes can appear to lose focus because different students are interested in different aspects of the topic or problem. Consequently, students can feel frustrated by what they see as irrelevant comments by others (including the teacher!). By having a very clear view of the steps of a useful session, the teacher can achieve a balance between over-directing the class and having a more laissez-faire approach.

You may find it helpful to structure the session around a course essay or exam question, which may help to stimulate student engagement, particularly as students can readily see the relevance of such activity. In some courses, the adviser responsible may provide anything from guide questions to specific lesson plans.

The following example frameworks give you an idea of how you can provide a definite structure for a class activity yet still allow for student spontaneity and originality. Note that you may actively involve the students at any/all points in each structure.

 Example 1: A “problem solving” structure

1.       Formulate the problem/define the issue

2.       Suggest hypotheses/reasons

3.       Review relevant data

4.       Evaluate alternative solutions, consequences, and implications.


Example 2: Comparing/contrasting different models or theories

1.       Outline/describe competing models

2.       Compare/contrast the models (e.g. through a matrix device)

3.       Conclude on relative merits of the models.


Example 3: Analysis and critique of a given theory

1.       Review key concepts connected with a particular theoretical position

2.       Consider the evidence in support/refutation of the theory

3.       Consider the implications of the theory (e.g. for practice, for future theory development)

4.       Link theory from one session to the next.


Of course, these are simply examples and you may need to adapt or design a framework that suits your discipline and class topics better. However, keeping a clear sequence or structure in your mind may help you to maintain a clear focus in the discussion and to meet the learning outcomes for the class.

As you grow more familiar with class teaching and your course(s) you may find it helpful to consider the structure of your learning activities over a span of several weeks and they relate to each other – especially if particular course learning outcomes are too big for one class.  For example, one approach to developing students’ academic writing skills is to structure individual class activities so that they develop particular essay writing skills: the first few classes may simply ask students to identify/write broad thesis statements for each week’s question; the next few may ask them to identify key arguments/discussion points for each week’s question; and so on, until the final classes may have them sketching out rudimentary essay plans.  Of course, each week may see a new topic, but that should only help students develop these general academic skills.

For many quantitative classes, the aim is formative: students should gain from the class an understanding of the theoretical and technical issues raised by a given set of exercises, and therefore be able to tackle similar problems which they meet in future. Ideally, before the class students should have completed and handed in some pre-set homework, which the class teacher has marked and will use in the class to illustrate those theoretical and technical issues. It is often the case that classes based on problem sets are much more successful where students are encouraged to do the work each week and to hand it in so the class teacher can get a feel for problems arising before the session and use this data to help plan the class.

On some quantitative courses, it is not uncommon for solutions (or sketch solutions possibly with commentary) to be made available to students at the end of the week. This can provide relief to teachers from having to cover entire problems sets in a class, and give them time to explore the harder, or simply more interesting, questions and topics. However, it also means that teachers must consider what purpose their class instruction (e.g. chalk-and-talk commentary of problem solutions) serves in this context. 

Class registers

Whilst attendance at lectures is optional at LSE, attendance at classes is compulsory for undergraduate students. It is also an institutional responsibility to the main HE funding agency that undergraduate student attendance be monitored to some extent. Therefore, a small but important job for undergraduate class teachers (and many postgraduate class teachers) is to keep an accurate class register each week. It is important that your data entry is systematic, regular and accurate as class registers can provide vital “early warning” signals of students who may be in difficulty.

You can access your class register through LSE for You on the School’s main website. Online guidance for LSE for You is available; including an introductory document for teachers, which discusses accessing your registers and timetable. There is also “Help with…” link at the top of most LSE for You pages, providing guidance in using the various sections.

Each student registered to your class(es) should be on the register. If students come to class and are not on your register, you may allow it for one week (particularly at the start of term, where registers are often in a state of flux) but you should request that students sort out their timetable. In order to maintain reasonable class sizes, do discourage students from simply attending the classes they prefer.

In addition to taking attendance for all your sessions, you must also record coursework grades, and provide brief written comments on students’ engagement and performance. The register also includes photographs of the students you teach, which can be a great way to start learning their names and faces so that you can recognise them more easily.

Students who have disclosed a disability which requires “reasonable adjustments” will have an Inclusion Plan. If this has been disclosed to you, it should be taken into account when looking for reasons for absences and when commenting on class reports.

The class teacher provides a regular point of contact with students through the classes. If a student is experiencing difficulties and begins to miss classes, it is the class teacher who will be the first person to see this. It is, therefore, crucial that concerns are reported to academic mentors and departmental tutors. The online system now automatically emails the student and his/her academic mentor if you mark the student “absent” (with or without reason) from class on two consecutive sessions. If students show irregular attendance at classes, if they do not complete course work and if they fail to attend a class in which they are presenting work, it is worth adding a note to this effect on their online record. Through this early detection system many of the more serious difficulties and course failures can be avoided, particularly for students who are attending your class remotely.

Remember: students (as well as staff from across the School) have direct access to anything you write so keep your reports accurate and polite.

Note that some students in your class register may be highlighted in yellow. These students are being monitored by the Student Progress Panel (because they have already failed some exams). It is particularly important that you keep the reports on these students up to date and note any relevant information. Please do not make the register “public” to the student group, as this could cause embarrassment.

More guidance on writing student reports can be found under the Feedback and Assessment section of this portal.

Managing expectations

Before running a class, you will need to become aware of the implicit set of attitudes and messages you bring into your class with you.

Your reactions, your responses to students, the attitudes you project in your actions all suggest to your students the sort of interaction they can expect. The way in which you field students’ comments will give the most important clue. No one wants to feel that their remarks will be put down or dismissed. Students are also sensitive to what they think you really want (e.g. Do you say you want a discussion but really want a chance to give a lecture on your favourite topic? Do you say you want disagreement but then get defensive when someone challenges you?) Your students will try to read you so that they can respond appropriately. Be sensitive to the clues you give them and do your best to create a “safe” place for open and frank questioning and discussion to take place, irrespective of the subject.

Equally important are the attitudes and expectations that your students bring with them. It is well worth the time and effort it takes at the beginning of a class, with a new group of students, to find out what they are expecting from you and the class. You could simply ask them and some confident students may respond helpfully. Better still, you could ask the students to write down some brief notes about how they see your role and their roles in the class and what they see as the purpose(s) of the class. This would also provide an opportunity for students to explain privately any special arrangements they may need in order to participate fully. If your students are first-years and new to classes at LSE you may even wish to facilitate a discussion about how you will work together.  Moodle allows teachers to set up small anonymous questionnaires which can allow students to share personal details with their teacher in order to better develop a more inclusive classroom.

Some GTAs find it useful to draw up class ground rules. See the Preparing to Teach section of this portal for more discussion of these, as well thinking about your first class and managing your workload.

One expectation that everyone in your class, both students and teacher, should have is that it will provide a positive, interactive learning environment.  Specifically, the class should be a non-judgemental environment that respects other peoples differences and ideas. Encourage your students to find in the class connections and support. Dispel anonymity by incorporating team work and collaboration. Aid development by delivering ongoing feedback and input into their learning, and recognise your students’ feedback to you.

While the notion of ‘safe spaces’ can be a problematic one, we can think about developing a principled space to foster this environment, and we have provided online guidance on how to successfully create and maintain such spaces.  A broad set of guides on inclusive teaching can also be found through the Student Services. Finally, be sure to visit the School’s Inclusive Education Action Plan website to see the extent to which it will inform activities across LSE.

Listening actively and effectively

One of the key personal and communication skills you will need to hone as a class teacher is your ability to listen effectively to your students.

Try to keep an open mind and listen to what is actually said.

Listen for meaning. For example, a student may ask you a muddled question about a small detail when actually what they may be telling you is that they are completely lost and do not understand this at all – or the student may be dyslexic

Try not to pre-empt what a student is saying, by cutting them off mid-question and giving them an answer to a problem as you see it. As much as possible, let them explain their uncertainties and confusions. Concept development often requires that students first understand how the new ideas presented fit with what they already know. If the new concept requires them to let go of some previous understanding, this needs to be actively acknowledged. In other words, you can’t simply overlay a new and contradictory set of ideas before the old ones have been explored and deconstructed. (For example, think about the challenges they may encounter when engaging with threshold concepts.)

Try to find a workable balance between, on the one hand, thinking ahead in the discussion in order to maintain the flow and focus and, on the other, being overly directive and forcing the discussion along your set path.

Effective questioning and student participation

There are several techniques you can use to encourage students to ask questions and to open up discussion. The most obvious is to draw on students’ questions and comments and to expand upon them with your own remarks. You may want to jot down several statements or questions beforehand and use these as a springboard.

For example, you may want to plan out a sequence of short questions aimed at helping students work their way through a particular concept, theory or model. If you can anticipate problems that students will have (either through your own learning experience, or the teaching experience of you and your peers) you might wish to devise questions that can help students explore these ideas further.

When calling upon students, an approach favoured by many teachers is simply to ask questions to the class as a whole and let whoever wishes to respond.  However, this can often lead to certain students dominating the class discussion, which in turn can encourage other students to simply rely on such students, rather than making their own contributions. To mitigate against this, an approach used by some teachers is to go round the class in an easily predictable, or explicitly stated, pattern so students know when their turn to answer is approaching and can prepare.  Other teachers take a more random approach, calling on people by name. This form of cold calling can be unsettling for not only students but teachers as well; however, when done transparently and in a way which emphasises that it is not a punishment or being “picked on” to be called upon, cold calling can increase both the number of students volunteering responses in class, as well as the number of their contributions.

There are of course several factors that make students apprehensive about contributing in class, and it is important to understand your students to understand what both motivates and demotivates their participation in class.  In some educational climates, student participation and questioning are actively promoted and developed; however, this may not always lead to constructive or helpful contributions. In other climates, this may be perceived as a sign of disrespect from students and thus discouraged (either overtly or intrinsically); however, this does not mean necessarily mean such students are passive and uncritical in their learning. Think about how you can communicate the purpose and benefit of your desired approach and talk this through with your students at the start of the course.

If you choose to use a direct questioning approach it is also sensible to think through what you will do when a student cannot answer your question or gives a muddled or an incorrect response. It is likely to fall to the teacher to “rescue” the situation and help re-build the confidence of an embarrassed or flustered student. Because of these potential difficulties it is, therefore, suggested that you do not ask individual students to answer your questions so directly until you have established a good rapport with your class and you have got to know your students better.

Inevitably, students will make errors in class, and the fear of doing so ‘publicly’ can be a major demotivator for volunteering responses. A powerful technique you can employ to destigmatise errors is to frame them more positively.  Errors are indeed learning opportunities for students, and it is perhaps preferable that any errors they make are done so in the principle space of a classroom rather than, say, the impartial context of a summative assessment.

With more discursive subjects, it is generally preferable to open up discussion with open-ended questions which will get students thinking about relationships, applications, consequences, and contingencies, rather than merely the basic facts. Open questions often begin with words like “how” and “why” rather than “who”, “where” and “when”, which are more likely to elicit short factual answers and stifle the flow of the discussion. This more closed questioning approach tends to set up a “teacher/student” “question/answer” routine that does not lead into fruitful discussion of underlying issues. You will want to ask your students the sorts of questions that will draw them out and actively involve them, and you will also want to encourage your students to ask questions of one another. Again it is for you to decide whether to call on students directly or leave the discussion and discussant “open”. Above all, you must convey to your students that their ideas are welcomed as well as valued.

Very occasionally you may have a student in your class who experiences more than the normal level of anxiety or shyness when called upon to contribute to the class discussions or to present their work. Treat such situations with sensitivity and if appropriate seek specialist guidance from the Disability and Wellbeing Service, Eden Centre or the Language Centre.

There are several pitfalls in asking questions in class. Here are the four most common ones:

  • Phrasing a question so that your implicit message is, “I know something you don’t know and you’ll look stupid if you don’t guess what’s in my head!”
  • Constantly rephrasing student answers to “fit” your answer without actually considering the answer that they have given
  • Phrasing a question at a level of abstraction inappropriate for the level of the class – questions are often best when phrased as problems that are meaningful to the students
  • Not waiting long enough to give students a chance to think.

The issue of comfortable “thinking time” is an often-ignored component of questioning techniques. If you are too eager to impart your views, students will get the message that you’re not really interested in their opinions. Most teachers tend not to wait long enough between questions or before answering their own questions because a silent class induces too much anxiety for the class teacher. It can be stressful if you pick on a student for an answer and all the group are waiting for a reply. Many students, particularly those with certain disabilities or dyslexia, students who are not confident in speaking in public, speaking English, or in the subject matter may become flustered in such a situation. Creating a more comfortable space in which to think is likely to induce a better “quality” of answer and increase the opportunities for all students to contribute effectively. Consider ways to create this space in your class following a question. For example, giving students an explicit time span to think about a question is not only a prompt that they do need to think, but can convey the level of cognitive engagement required of the task: 30 seconds suggests a very simple task, while 2-3 minutes indicates a more demanding activity.

Once the students have confidence that you will give them time to think their responses through, and you show them that you really do want to hear their views, they will participate more freely in future.

Asking students questions about work that they have not done is clearly a different issue from those noted above and comes back to issues around agreeing ground rules with students to ensure that they prepare adequately for class. It is important to agree on working patterns from the start and follow them through.

Giving a clear explanation

The first piece of advice here is to try not to do too much explaining in class. This may sound a little strange but it is all too easy to be drawn into the trap of giving mini-lectures rather than facilitating learning. However, there are times when your students will look to you to help in clarifying points or linking class discussions and course work with related lectures.

In giving a clear explanation you should start from where your learners are. You may choose to summarise “what we know already” or indeed ask one of the students to do this task for the group. These are four quick tips to help structure your explanation:

  • Structure what you say so that you have a clear beginning, middle and ending
  • Signpost your explanation to make the structure clear to everybody
  • Stress key points
  • Make links to the learners’ interests and current understanding.

You can do the latter through the use of thoughtful examples, by drawing comparisons and by using analogy.

It is worth reiterating that classes should not turn into lectures. In fact, if there is something you think your students need to know, ask them to state it first and if they cannot, then tell them.  That is, encourage as much self (i.e. student) explanation from students as possible, and provide as much instructional (i.e. teacher) explanation as necessary.

Concluding a class

There is inevitably pressure on time, as many class teachers try to cover as much as possible in the time available. Finding that time has simply run out is a common experience. With that in mind, it is useful to plan the end of sessions as carefully as planning the beginning. As such, you may wish to:

  • Use the summing up more as an opportunity to identify any “gaps” or issues that haven’t been addressed, key readings which you have noted students have not yet read but probably would benefit from spending time on, and in giving students some pointers as to further work they may engage with
  • Prompt students to plan ahead, to make links to the next lecture and next class, and ensure that everyone is on track to make the most of the next class in the series
  • Ask students individually, in groups or collectively to contribute key points to the summary.

The end of the class should not come, or appear to come, as a surprise to you.  At least 10 minutes before the end of the session you should be aware of the imminent ending so that at least 5 minutes before the end you are able to smoothly bring the class to a close.

Disseminating class materials

Teachers can use Moodle, the LSE’s Virtual Learning Environment, to allow students online access to reading lists, PDFs of lecture slides and links to recordings of lectures (where available) and other resources. If you are unfamiliar with Moodle, consult the LSE Moodle Guides.

As already noted, legislation requires that you anticipate a wide variety of needs and make “reasonable adjustments” to your teaching resources and handouts to ensure that your teaching remains inclusive. For example, you may need to provide handouts in large font size for students with visual impairment or to accommodate the needs of a dyslexic student who wants to record your classes (either online or on-campus). One possibility is to make handouts available via Moodle in advance of classes, so that students can use them in an appropriate format. Please also check with the course convenor before teaching begins to see if you have any students known to have Inclusion Plans so that you can respond to their requirements where possible. If you have any concerns about how to support any disabled students in your classes please do consult with the Disability and Wellbeing Service.

Specific considerations while teaching

The guidance above is intended to be broadly applicable no matter the mode or format of your class.

Other areas of this portal will consider specific considerations when teaching either online or in physical classes.

Further resources

General teaching advice

  • Gibbs, G and Habeshaw, T (1992), Preparing to teach: an introduction to effective teaching in higher education, Technical & Educational Services Ltd, Bristol, pp255. LB2393 G43
  • Habeshaw, S, Habeshaw, T and Gibbs, G (1992), 53 interesting things to do in your seminars and tutorials, Technical and Educational Services, Bristol, pp136. LB1032 H11
  • SEDA, the Staff and Educational Development Association, is also publishing Gibbs’s “53 Powerful Ideas All Teachers Should Know About” on its website.
  • Brookfield, Stephen D and Preskill, Stephen (1999), Discussion as a way of teaching: tools and techniques for university teachers, Open University Press, Buckingham, pp191. LB2393.5 B87

 Specific advice