Effective Teaching Strategies: Six Keys to Classroom Excellence

What are makes an effective teacher?

This particular list of teaching characteristics appears in an excellent book that is all but unknown in the states, Learning to Teach in Higher Education, by noted scholar Paul Ramsden. In the case of what makes teaching effective, he writes, “…a great deal is known about the characteristics of effective university teaching. It is undoubtedly a complicated matter; there is no indication of one ‘best way,’ but our understanding of its essential nature is both broad and deep.” (p. 88-89). He organizes that essential knowledge into these six principles, unique for the way he relates them to students’ experiences.

1: Interest and explanation – “When our interest is aroused in something, whether it is an academic subject or a hobby, we enjoy working hard at it. We come to feel that we can in some way own it and use it to make sense of the world around us.” (p. 98). Coupled with the need to establish the relevance of content, instructors need to craft explanations that enable students to understand the material. This involves knowing what students understand and then forging connections between what is known and what is new.

2: Concern and respect for students and student learning – Ramsden starts with the negative about which he is assertive and unequivocal. “Truly awful teaching in higher education is most often revealed by a sheer lack of interest in and compassion for students and student learning. It repeatedly displays the classic symptom of making a subject seem more demanding than it actually is. Some people may get pleasure from this kind of masquerade. They are teaching very badly if they do. Good teaching is nothing to do with making things hard. It is nothing to do with frightening students. It is everything to do with benevolence and humility; it always tries to help students feel that a subject can be mastered; it encourages them to try things out for themselves and succeed at something quickly.” (p. 98)

3: Appropriate assessment and feedback – This principle involves using a variety of assessment techniques and allowing students to demonstrate their mastery of the material in different ways. It avoids those assessment methods that encourage students to memorize and regurgitate. It recognizes the power of feedback to motivate more effort to learn.

For more teaching strategies, download Effective Strategies for Improving College Teaching and Learning. This FREE report features 11 articles pulled from the pages of The Teaching Professor. Download your copy now »

4: Clear goals and intellectual challenge – Effective teachers set high standards for students. They also articulate clear goals. Students should know up front what they will learn and what they will be expected to do with what they know.

5: Independence, control and active engagement – “Good teaching fosters [a] sense of student control over learning and interest in the subject matter.” (p. 100). Good teachers create learning tasks appropriate to the student’s level of understanding. They also recognize the uniqueness of individual learners and avoid the temptation to impose “mass production” standards that treat all learners as if they were exactly the same. “It is worth stressing that we know that students who experience teaching of the kind that permits control by the learner not only learn better, but that they enjoy learning more.” (p. 102)

6: Learning from students – “Effective teaching refuses to take its effect on students for granted. It sees the relation between teaching and learning as problematic, uncertain and relative. Good teaching is open to change: it involves constantly trying to find out what the effects of instruction are on learning, and modifying the instruction in the light of the evidence collected.” (p. 102)

Reference: Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. New York: Routledge.


Six Tips for Teaching Lower Level Junior High School ESL Students

Dorit Sasson
Emek Hahula Comprehensive High School (Kibbutz Kfar Blum, Israel)


When I first started teaching weaker learners, I was looking for a way that would help me motivate reluctant readers, who were mainly borderline students and constantly exposed to failure. I didn't have any plan; I just knew there were immediate gaps in their knowledge that needed to be closed.

I looked for ways to motivate my ninth grade students beyond the framework of the text. Many textbooks often have more texts than are needed or texts that may not be suitable in one way or another. In addition, the teacher feels that it is necessary to use additional readings as supplements.

Many of my students became passive when faced with a reading text. I gave them simplified exercises, easier language input, a choice of graded exercises, but this didn't help me with the obstacle of motivating them to read when given a simple text. These students need different techniques or need to be motivated differently. So obviously, the choice of text should not be random. As an ESL teacher, it is important to choose a text that best answers the needs of my students.

Many of these readers have poor reading strategies, others varying degrees of failure, some were too scared to even look at a text. Any teaching strategy has implications to some theory of reading and learning that I have experimented with in the ESL classroom. My approach is based on these understandings:

Tip 1. Teach Topics that are Motivating

Purposely I have chosen the first two important interrelated features that Richard Day points out in “Selecting a Passage for the EFL Reading Class,” which have implications for facilitating second-language acquisition – interest and topic. On a cursory glance, I saw the topics in their reading books were culturally and socially removed from their world. Part of getting students interested in reading is to expand the students' knowledge on topics they like. After taking a brief survey, I realized their favorite topic was music. So, when students were presented with a new short text I had written on Oriental and Middle Eastern Music singers, they were more motivated to read. The students also had enough background knowledge on at least one of the themes.

Now that you have wisely chosen a reading passage, how will you exploit the text? What is your reading plan? This brings me to the second tip.

Tip 2. Reluctant Students Need a Step by Step Lesson in Order to Digest Larger Chunks of Text

Start small using bits of text such as word clues, titles and subtitles. Important vocabulary used in a pre-reading activity would serve the purpose of a lead-in to the topic. Keep the number of unknown vocabulary items for each text small allowing a teacher to focus on the goals of the reading course, which is digesting the text or, understanding its deeper meanings. Make sure there are enough warm up and pre-reading activities. Encourage predictions where ever possible. Keep reading passages short and attractive.

Richard Day points out that appearance of the reading passage (layout, print and type size) affects readability. Keep the lines short. This will enhance reading speed. Having a short text is affects its readability and is infinitely better than one long text. Reluctant readers have had many experiences of frustration and failure. Length is a big factor. Paragraphs in each text should be clearly defined. Make sure the font is clear and attractive.

Tip 3. Be Selective and Choosy When Deciding What Text to Use with Your Students

Next time look at the texts from the perspective of your students. Do your reading objectives match the objectives of the unit? Not all texts are exploitable due to their thematic, lexical, syntactic and structural appropriateness. Here are some examples.

·         Lexical exploitability - Do the texts offer an opportunity to acquire some new vocabulary?  

·         Structural exploitability - Can students explore text meanings through the structure and text conventions?

·         Thematic exploitability - Does the text have potential for understanding moral issues for example through discussion?

·         Syntactic constructions - Syntactic constructions in a passage affect its readability. If the texts have new structures that have not yet been covered in class, it might be wise to pre-teach the structure or, choose a text with fewer new grammatical structures.

If a text is exploited well, it will match up with the objectives of the unit and allow the teacher to accomplish the objectives of the reading lesson.

Tip 5. Identifying Phonic and Phonemic Skills are Necessary for a Successful Remedial Reading Program - Automaticity is the Goal

In many of my weaker classes, reluctant learners are also remedial learners who have experienced many failures in reading and tasted very little success.

As part of my reading program design, I take 'inventory' and give mini diagnostic tests at the beginning of the school year.I design questions based on only letter and word level that gives me aclear indication of their decoding abilities.I target those sound blends, vowel sounds, and letter sounds that appear throughout the text that I have chosen and preteach them. Phonemic awareness activities constitute a big part of the lessons for those lower level students who have yet to master basic reading skills. They constantly need help and guidance in recognizing new words. I make sure there are ample opportunities to practice the words with new phonemes and to see them again and again.  

Word and letter recognition is the key. “Word recognition is primary and needed for the later work of comprehension” (Purcell-Gates) When I feel students can decode the words, only then do I introduce them in short passages. This builds up their confidence and gives them a reason to continue reading.

According to LaBerge and Samuels, “comprehension is made possible when readers no longer have to expend all of their cognitive attention on the recognition of letters and words….The faster one becomes an automatic decoder – recognizes words without having to break them down and 'figure them out' - - the sooner one can attend to comprehending text.”

In light of this, I present the students with a story I have written which includes many words with the targeted cluster as possible in of course, a logical context. The students answer questions about the text, and hopefully, they will be able to decode the appropriate phones and extract the correct meaning in its embedded context. Hopefully, by the end of the unit, the students will have achieved phonemic awareness of this specific phoneme.

Tip 6. Put the Emphasis on Authentic and Meaningful Language Communication in Reading and Speaking

Students remember the targeted words chunks of language when it is taught in a meaningful way. More often than not, this involves doing something with the language beyond simply digesting it.

Theoretical Underpinnings:

·         Reading strategies cannot be taught in isolation

·         Reading is comprehension.

·         Comprehension involves the construction of individual meanings.

·         Learners need to acquire a certain threshold in order to process language deeper.

·         Meaningful communication is the goal.

·         Learners need language input from all four modes: listening, speaking, reading and writing recycled and in a variety of methods.

“This teaching first involves students in purposeful (to the student) reading and writing, then pulls out some skills –ranging from decoding to text structure and comprehension – for focused work.” (Pursell-Gates)

Final Words

It is easy (and natural) for a new teacher starting out to put heavy stress of skills grammar, vocabulary development, punctuation, word-attack drills only to realize that s/he hadn't closed the gap at the end of the school year. In most cases, textbooks were one step above their abilities and students entered Junior High with a shallow basic understanding of reading. (technical reading) The success of a reading program (can) and should start when the teacher has an adequate picture of the students' reading abilities.

Students, for the most part, are exposed to a variety of teaching and learning strategies. There is much flexibility in terms of curriculum; students are assessed by their reading progress on various tasks and performance tasks. The focus is on meaningful communication and not simple technical 'shallow' reading or minimal understanding. The program is based to give them tools for learning independence thus making them less teacher dependent.

Works Cited

·         Day, Richard R. “Selecting a Passage for the EFL Reading Class” ERIC Digests, 1994.

·         LaBerge, D & Samuels, S.J. (1974). “Towards a theory of automatic information processing in reading.” Cognitive Psychology, 6, 293-323.

·         Purcell-Gates, Victoria. (1997). “There's Reading…and Then There's Reading: Process Models and Instruction.” NCSALL, 2, issue a

For additional advice, check out the Top 10 Tips for Successful Classroom Discipline.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: Varies

Here's How:

1.        Begin each class period with a positive attitude and high expectations. If you expect your students to misbehave or you approach them negatively, you will get misbehavior. This is an often overlooked aspect of classroom management.

2.        Come to class prepared with lessons for the day. In fact, overplan with your lessons. Make sure to have all your materials and methods ready to go.Reducing downtime will help maintain discipline in your classroom.

3.        Work on making transitions between parts of lessons smooth. In other words, as you move from whole group discussion to independent work, try to minimize the disruption to the class. Have your papers ready to go or your assignment already written on the board. Many disruptions occur during transitional times during lessons.

·         Efficient Use of Class Time

4.        Watch your students as they come into class. Look for signs of possible problems before class even begins. For example, if you notice a heated discussion or problem before class starts, try to deal with the problem then. Allow the students a few moments to talk with you or with each other before you start your lesson to try and work things out. Separate them if necessary and try to gain agreement that during your class period at least they will drop whatever issue they have.

5.        Have a posted discipline plan that you follow consistently for effective classroom management. Depending on the severity of the offense, this should allow students a warning or two before punishment begins. Your plan should be easy to follow and also should cause a minimum of disruption in your class. For example, your discipline plan might be - First Offense: Verbal Warning, Second Offense: Detention with teacher, Third Offense: Referral.

6.        Meet disruptions that arise in your class with in kind measures. In other words, don't elevate disruptions above their current level. Your discipline plan should provide for this, however, sometimes your own personal issues can get in the way. For example, if two students are talking in the back of the room and your first step in the plan is to give your students a verbal warning, don't stop your instruction to begin yelling at the students. Instead, have a set policy that simply saying a student's name is enough of a clue for them to get back on task. Another technique is to ask one of them a question.

7.        Try to use humor to diffuse situations before things get out of hand. Note: Know your students. The following example would be used with students you know would not elevate the situation to another level. For example, if you tell your students to open their books to page 51 and three students are busy talking, do not immediately yell at them. Instead, smile, say their names, and ask them kindly if they could please wait until later to finish their conversation because you would really like to hear how it ends and you have to get this class finished. This will probably get a few laughs but also get your point across.

8.        If a student becomes verbally confrontational with you, remain calm and remove them from the situation as quickly as possible. Do not get into yelling matches with your students. There will always be a winner and a loser which sets up a power struggle that could continue throughout the year. Further, do not bring the rest of the class into the situation by involving them in the discipline or the writing of the referral. More on dealing with confrontational students in your classroom.

9.        If a student becomes physical, remember the safety of the other students is paramount. Remain as calm as possible; your demeanor can sometimes diffuse the situation. You should have a plan for dealing with violence that you discussed with students early in the year. You should use the call button for assistance. You could also have a student designated to get help from another teacher. Send the other students from the room if it appears they could get hurt. If the fight is between two students, follow your school's rules concerning teacher involvement as many want teachers to stay out of fights until help arrives.

10.     Keep an anecdotal record of major issues that arise in your class. This might be necessary if you are asked for a history of classroom disruptions or other documentation.

11.     Let it go at the end of the day. Classroom management and disruption issues should be left in class so that you can have some down time to recharge before coming back to another day of teaching.


1.        Recognize the warning signs of disruption. Obviously this comes with practice of classroom management. However, some signs are fairly obvious.

2.        Sarcasm should be used sparingly if at all. If you do use it, make sure you know the student who you are using it with well. Many students do not have the capacity to know that sarcasm is not meant to be taken literally. Further, other students could find your sarcasm as inflammatory which would defeat your purpose of greater classroom management.

3.        Consistency and fairness are essential for effective classroom management. If you ignore disruptions one day and come down hard on them the next, you will not be seen as consistent. You will lose respect and disruptions will probably increase. Further, if you are not fair in your punishments, making sure to treat all students fairly then students will quickly realize this and lose respect for you. You should also start each day fresh, not holding disruptions against students and instead expecting them to behave.

4.        It's easier to get easier. Start the year very strict so that students see that you are willing to do what it takes to have your classroom under control. They will understand that you expect learning to occur in your room. You can always let up as the year goes on.

5.        Classroom rules must be easy to understand and manageable. Make sure that you don't have such a large number of rules that your students can't consistently follow them.