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Variety of Methods

Variety of methods entails not designing every session of a course identically, but instead using various methods. You can alternate between segments of frontal teaching, such as lectures, with segments that actively engage the students. Content input and direct teaching sessions are important, but students can also acquire new areas of knowledge in other ways. Therefore, you should also make deliberate use of interactive and cooperative teaching methods. Aside from the standard practice of full-class discussion, it is also worthwhile to consider varying the setting and schedule periods of small-group work and solo work (which is best kept short during class time).
Aim for a varied use of media and assorted stimuli. Shift between relatively cognitive and relatively practical approaches so that students can try out, criticize, and interconnect what they have learned. Whenever possible, try to have the object of investigation physically present – if necessary, in digital form. Allow for a multi-layered approach to a topic (media-based, experiential, associative, etc.) and propose different ways to tackle it (experimentally, analytically, historically, empirically, and so forth). During periods of individual or group (project) work, you can usually either give all the students the same material or the same assignment, or you can offer them different learning opportunities in parallel, then bring together and evaluate the different perspectives.

You should consider using a variety of methods, such as by alternating input and output, both within each given class session and across all classes in the semester.

  • Monotony is boring and tedious. Using a variety of methods makes it easier for students to concentrate during the entire class session because there aren’t any long, uninterrupted stretches of only listening. Experience has shown that students generally appreciate the use of a variety of methods.
  • Not all students do well with the same learning methods. By using a variety of methods, it is more likely that everyone will find their own way to make decent progress. Carefully individualized learning strategies allow students with a range of background knowledge to build up their knowledge and skills.
  • Certain methods may pose specific barriers or opportunities for certain students. For very reserved students or those with speech impairments, being asked to speak in front of the entire group can be very unpleasant. That might give you the impression, as the lecturer, that they are unprepared or performing poorly even though the same students could have made strong contributions to a smaller collaborative group. Others might have a very hard time spontaneously collaborating with classmates they do not know and would learn more by tackling the subject individually during or after the seminar. By using diverse methods, you will be helping improve equal opportunity.
  • A variety of methods also enables you to be creative, to try out new things, and to take conscious advantage of the results of various methods (such as highly focused silence or a lively atmosphere of discussion) in order to maintain suspense and interest throughout the semester. Your teaching and facilitation skills will improve as you learn from your experiences and expand your repertoire. You will add to your routine and be able to prepare for classes in less time. You will also discover what you are very good at and not as good at as a lecturer, which areas you might want to pursue in further training, and where your personal strengths lie.

Take a look at our Advice for Different Stages of a Class, learn new methods from our Pool of Methods, or browse our Selection of Subject-Specific Teaching Examples.

When employing new methods, it is important to start by explaining the process clearly and announcing the objective transparently. For example, if you ask students to work on a task alone or in groups, be sure to explain what the results are going to be used for. Will individuals volunteer to present something? Will each group report back? Will you be collecting everyone’s work? If you are collecting the work, will this be done anonymously or are the results attributable to individual students? Do you plan to grade them, or just to get a sense of the students’ knowledge and their questions? Explaining this in advance gives the students a sense of security and is important for many methods’ success.