THE FIRST MEETING
Here's a quick way to show students that you're organized, and
in charge (even if you don't feel like it just yet). Write the following
things on the board or overhead before class begins (give yourself plenty
of time to arrive early, it will help you relax and get things started
on the right foot; nobody likes to be kept waiting).
- Course number and title (i.e., Psych 1 - Introduction to Psychology).
- Your name (Jane Doe).
- Office number and phone extension (e.g., Building 429, Room 205,
- Office hours (e.g.., “Monday 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm” or
Monday and Thursday 1:00 – 2:00)
- Outline for today's class meeting. [It will save you from having
to repeat yourself, since students who arrive late can just read over
what's happening in class that day and what has been assigned].
Students need to know that you're a real person, not just the TA, so take
a few minutes and tell them about yourself. But don't overdo it. Here's
BREAK THE ICE
- "First I'll tell you a little bit about myself...."
- I was an undergraduate at ________."
- I am in my ________ (1st, 2nd,...5th) year of graduate school.
- My specific research interests are ________ " (tell what interests
you and why).
This may sound silly at first, but it's a quick and painless way to demonstrate
to the class that you're not just going to treat them as "the students."
EXPLAIN YOUR EXPECTATIONS
- "In order to help me learn your names, I'd like to go around the
room and have each of you give your name, and tell me... (for example)
- the one thing that you want to learn before this course is finished.
- your major or why you are taking the class.
- something about yourself.
- You could also play “Two Truths and a Lie” where students
make three statements about themselves – one of which is a lie
(the other two should be true but interesting and unusual). The class
tries to guess which one is a lie.
- If you are short on time, or have a pretty large class, you might
ask people to raise their hands if (for example)
- If they are from California
- If they are from out of state (you could find who has come from
the farthest away)
- If they are, or intend to be, psych majors
- For some classes you might want to get an idea of their level
of experience by asking things like, who has taken a stats class,
- You could also ask about movies, vacation spots, sports, birth
If there are things that you expect from your students, tell them in plain
language, so there's no chance for misunderstanding (nobody likes surprises
from their TAs). Also, tell them what you're willing and not willing to
do. For example: "Here are a few tips that will make your life easier, and
that will also help me:
ENJOY YOURSELF—These are just suggestions—use only what
you feel comfortable using!
- Keep up with the assigned readings."
- Bring specific questions to office hours. If you say, "Can you explain
chapter 5?" it will be difficult for me to help you.
& HOLDING DISCUSSION SECTIONS
Discussion sections meet weekly. The details of what will
be discussed should be provided in a weekly meeting with the instructor,
and the specifics may change from quarter to quarter, or from instructor
PREPARING FOR THE WEEKLY MEETING
It's important to remember that you are one member of a team.
The goal is consistency, and since there are multiple TAs, the weekly
meetings serve as the place where you run through the game plan. Here's
a list of things you should do before the weekly meeting arrives.
PREPARATION FOR DISCUSSION SECTION
- Obtain the written material regarding what's to be presented next
week (if it doesn't show up in your mailbox, then you may need to request
it from the instructor
- Read/scan the material ahead of time!
- Ask questions! If you are uncertain about the material, make sure
you write down notes and questions to ask at the meeting.
- It’s not fair to the other TAs (or, perhaps to your students)
if you deviate too far from the agreed upon lesson, so if you have an
idea, now is the time to share it.
- If you realize after the meeting that you still aren’t quite
getting it, visit with the instructor or the other TAs in the class,
or with a TA who's done this class before.
Make sure that you read through the material thoroughly! Remember
you are the only instructor during sections and students will ask you questions.
SECTION SUPPLEMENTS & EQUIPMENT
- Ask the instructor or other TAs questions if something doesn't make
sense (you still have time!)
- If the professor (or admin TA) is not getting you the materials until
the day before your section (!), talk to Cindy & Lorna before things
get out of hand or ask to reschedule the weekly meeting so that it is
earlier in the week, or tell the instructor/admin. TA that you have
a hard time getting a whole lesson in order the night before a section.
- If your section is not one of the first sections in the week, it
may help to talk to other TAs after they have taught their sections.
This is a good way to catch any unexpected glitches in the materials,
lesson plan, handouts, etc. -- and a good way to avoid them!
Supplementary materials, such as handouts, slides, videos, are
often used in discussion sections. Many of the classrooms now have their
own audio-visual equipment, but be sure to check the room out yourself beforehand.
In some classes (e.g., Psych 1), the administrative TA schedules all the
equipment for you. Other times you are responsible for ordering the equipment
such as slide projectors, overhead projectors, TV/VCRs, etc. from Media
Equipment (x 3549).
(Important note: If it's for a review session or something outside of a
regularly scheduled class, be sure to check with Lynne or Jana in the Psych
Department first; media services may charge extra for that, so the department
needs to know about that)
THE LESSON PLAN
- Familiarize yourself with supplementary material (handouts, modules,
transparencies) and with the equipment that you'll be using (overheads,
slides, video, TV).
- Call Joe in case of an emergency (X 2024) with the equipment or call
media equipment if Joe cannot help.
- If the overhead light burns out during class, check for the extra
bulb before you call Joe. If it just won’t work, you can either
pass around the transparencies, draw on the board, or save the lesson
for the following if week (if appropriate).
- Power outages shouldn’t occur, but you never know these days…You
could either do the next lesson plan, attempt to complete the current
one, using the board (provided there are windows), or attempt to reschedule
- If you’re leading a computer based lab and one of the computers
won’t work, you can either: let them use data from another student,
meet the student at a special time, or try to get Jacek or Colin to
What's your plan of attack during class? Prepare a lesson plan
for section. Know what you are going to say and do for the entire length
of the section. Don't just lecture at your students, try to have them participate
as well. Formulate questions and make them think and talk!
THINGS TO CHECK BEFORE YOU WALK INTO YOUR CLASS
- Outline your plan for discussion with specific chronological steps
(ex. First, I'll ask them if they have any questions from the lecture.
Second, we'll go over homework problems. Third, we'll discuss some topics
from chapters 5 & 6)
- Try to make your discussions interactive.
- Some TAs find it easier to do a practice run through the lesson plan
ahead of time.
WHAT TO DO DURING DISCUSSION SECTIONS?
- Your notes/outline
- Notes and textbook from class
- Attendance sheet (if needed)
- Supplementary materials (handouts, modules, transparencies,...)
- Media equipment (if needed)
EXTRA TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS
- Starting a section can be difficult, but beginning with a personal
anecdote, controversial discussion topic, or question to the group can
grab students’ attention and hold it.
- Mention readings to be covered.
- Use the chalkboard or white board to outline format of today’s
section. Students appreciate the structure!
- Go over homework problems, if necessary.
- Cover material thoroughly.
- Give examples, anecdotes, analogies, etc., where appropriate.
- Be attentive to how well the students are “getting it.”
- If a student asks you a question that you just don't know, it is OK
to say "I don't know." Let them know that you will find out the answer
and get back to them.
- Summarize the main points of today’s discussion at the end of
the section. Students like to have a “take home message.”
- If student’s start griping about the professor you can either:
(a) Explain that the professor is very approachable (if this is true),
and that the students should let him or her know how they feel, or (b)
Explain that you will be happy to tell the professor what you have heard,
but that you are not in a position to judge.
- Never bad mouth the professor in front of students! Reflects poorly
on you and the professor…
- Take some time to think about your teaching/learning philosophy before
your first discussion section. Try to be consistent in your approach.
Do you expect students to take charge of their learning experience in
the course? Are grades negotiable? Do you lecture mostly? Do you expect
participation in discussion? What is your style? Are points open for
discussion or not? How much control do you want to have over your class?
- Reinforce students’ contributions and participation.
- Earn students’ trust and take class (and the students) seriously.
- Display enthusiasm for the subject -- show energy!!!
- Send the “right” messages from the beginning of the quarter
by starting class on time, getting to know the students, etc.
- Remember, TAing is gaining you experience in teaching, which will
be a major part of most of our careers -- use the TA experience as an
opportunity to observe good and bad teaching styles and to improve your
own teaching techniques.
Q & A
The question and answer session is the lifeblood of a discussion group.
Remember, the primary goal of a discussion leader is to have people talking,
and asking and answering questions may be the only effective method of
accomplishing this goal.
TIPS FOR SUCCESSFULLY ASKING QUESTIONS:
TAKE IT EASY
You want to give your students a break and ask questions that they will
want to answer. In the discussion section, you want students to be jumping
in and smacking each other to try to answer each question.
OPEN-ENDED IS BEST
- Ask questions that the “average” student should be able
- Be aware of the subject matter that your students should have prepared,
so you’re not asking advanced or remedial questions.
- Don’t ask questions to which only you know the answer (i.e.
don’t try to make yourself look brilliant at the expense of your
Asking open-ended questions that require them to generate and explain an
answer instead of just guessing “yes” or “no”. These
questions tend to get students talking more as well. The exception is when
you may want to ask a question that only requires a simple answer, just
so you can get someone to talk.
- Poor question: “Does the presence of others always enhance performance
on a task?”
- Good question: “What are some of the effects of the presence
of others on task performance?”
Don’t give up if you don’t get an immediate answer; give your
students more information to help them understand the question.
MERITS OF GUESSING
- If your original question isn’t answered, rephrase it and ask
- Give your students hints by referring to the lecture or chapters
in the text where the topic is discussed.
- Give your students part of the answer and ask for the remainder.
- Give your students some alternatives and ask them to tell you which
one is correct and why.
When all else fails, just have them take a wild guess, and you might be
surprised the number of times you get a correct answer.
- If you announce that you want someone to take a wild guess, it relieves
the pressure of being correct and may get a shy person to answer.
- Having your students blurt out wrong answers is still better than
you answering your own questions.
In many ways, the classroom can be intimidating to students—students
often feel as if they are “laying it on the line” in terms of
displaying their intelligence to the class. So you want to make sure you
give some encouragement to your students when they answer in class to keep
- Be cautious of putting someone who isn’t eager to answer on
- Try to salvage a bad response by finding some kernel of truth in
- If the response is entirely wrong, make the student feel better by
explaining the logic behind their answer.
TIPS FOR SUCCESSFULLY ANSWERING QUESTIONS:
Make sure you have great patience when you answer your students’
DEFERRING IS BEST
- Don’t attempt an answer until you fully understand the question.
- Make them clarify their question by asking them questions about their
- Rephrase the question as you understand it, and ask them if it is
what they are asking.
- After you answer, you may ask students if they’d like you to
In your discussion sections, your goal should be to answer only those questions
- Ask for another student to try to answer the question.
- It’s always good to provide some information and then throw
the question back to the person who answered it.
- Don’t abandon your role, make sure you are still contributing
and acting as quality control.
When you are the discussion leader, you are always in control of the room
and you should be able to determine which questions are appropriate for
the discussion section.
- The question may be too specific to be handled in the discussion section,
and you might want to ask the person to have it answered during office
hours or after class.
- If the question is inappropriate, redirect it to a related topic
that is appropriate for class.
- If you don’t know an answer to a question, call on your students
to help with the answer or agree to provide the complete answer at another
- Remember, it may not be the proper time and place for a specific
question, but no question is bad.
DEALING WITH STUDENT RELATED
PROBLEMS DURING DISCUSSION
The Silent Treatment
You have just finished a short explanation of the controversy surrounding
ethical issues in psychology and you ask the section to give their opinions
on the topic. Everyone is silent. You restate the issue and again, you
are met with silence. What do you do?
The Answering Machine
- Suggest that the entire class shout out answers at once.
- Make a ridiculous and extreme argument to get people to disagree
- Try a different question on the same topic.
- Ask students to discuss the answer with the person next to them.
After three weeks with your discussion section, you notice that one student
continually answers all of your questions, sometimes before you can finish
them. It also seems that the class expects this student to answer, so others
rarely respond. What do you do about this situation?
The Daily Noxious
- Talk to the student privately and ask him or her to please let others
have a chance to become as proficient at answering questions.
- Ask if anyone else has an opinion.
One day in section, you notice that a student in the back is reading The
Daily Nexus. What do you do?
Mutiny on the Bounty
- Explain to the class early on that you don't care if they read the
paper, but that they should leave if they want to.
- Ignore it.
After several weeks with your section, you notice that one student continually
answers questions flippantly and wrong. This student also implies that you
do not know what you are talking about. What do you do?
- Keep saying very calmly, "I'm sorry, that's not quite right," just
like you would say to a less flippant student.
- Talk to the student privately about the problem.
- Try to nip it in the bud, by saying something the first time it happens.