Organizing a Class Session & Helping Students See Connections

Organizing a class requires two skills: 1) the ability to organize a class through the syllabus and the sequencing of material and 2) the ability to help students see connections and relationships.

Organize the Class

Decide on knowledge, skill and attitude goals - What knowledge should a student acquire in a given class session? Naming the specific knowledge areas students are to master helps in course planning and also the development of examinations. (e.g. Students will be able to analyze the rhyming patterns in Elizabethan sonnets.) Skill goals refer to behaviors students are expected to learn to do. (e.g., Students will be able to prepare the materials and complete a pH determination using titration.) Some classes may have as one goal changing student attitudes about the subject matter. (e.g., Students will learn to appreciate modern art.)

Put these goals in sequence - Generally classes progress in some logical way such as early infancy to late infancy or simpler math problems to more difficult ones. What is the logical order of the material in your class?

Divide goals into class sessions - What is the main purpose or what are the two or three main goals for this class session? Faculty can enhance their classroom organization significantly for students by stating the goals at the beginning of the class and restating or summarizing at the end. (e.g., Our purpose today is to explore three theories for explaining economic growth patterns in third world countries.)

Develop reading materials and assignments to meet each goal - Ask yourself, "What other materials or experiences do students need in order to meet the knowledge, skill, and attitude goals?" Students can reach knowledge goals through attending class and through reading and research assignments. Skills are often acquired through labs or through outside assignments that prompt skill development.

Help Students See Connections

When students see how material in a course connects with other material, they can retrieve information more easily, stay more interested, and be more effective learners. There are a number of specific things that teachers can do to help students see connections.

  • Connections across a course - An instructor can tell students at the beginning how a course will flow (e.g., This course will follow the artistic representations of Buddha as the religion moved eastward from India to Japan). Sometimes you can provide a central theme that organizes the class (e.g., Use a geological time line that is referred to frequently throughout the course).
  • Connections within a class session - An instructor can tell students what will be covered in that class (e.g., Our goal today is to explore three causes of the French Revolution); can refer back to the outline, can refer back to the materials covered before (e.g., Last week we talked about 3­month olds. This week we'll focus on 6-month olds.); can refer ahead (e.g., Next week we'll talk about themes of death in 17th century poetry).
  • Connections to the lecture section or to other courses in a sequence - It is helpful for new faculty to find out something about what is offered in other courses in the curriculum so that reference can be made to material covered in other courses (e.g., In General Biology you studied _____________; we will be looking at how that concept is applied in Pathophysiology.
  • Connections to real life - One way that teachers can elicit student interest and involvement is by connecting the course content to real life.
  • A teacher could relate material to something a student might want to do. (e.g., This programming technique is especially useful for figuring out how much it will cost to...)