TEACHING NOTES: How do I get students to prepare for class?

The time we spend with students is precious (whether they realise it or not)! We may only have the opportunity to see them for an hour or two a week and so we want to cram as much value into that time as we can. Of course, there is a limit to how much we can realistically pack into that time, so the learning activities we design for students often require them to do some preparation, and frequently, it isn’t done …

So, whilst in March we looked at how to get students to read for class, this month we look more broadly at strategies to help students prepare for class so that both you and the students are getting maximum value from the time spent together.

Consider your students’ motivations
Lack of preparation can be for many reasons (lack of time, too much to do, lack of understanding of relevance) but ultimately, if students are motivated enough, they are likely to do the work. Last year we explored motivation (‘Can we plan to motivate?’, July 2018) and the different strategies we can design in to keep students motivated. Think about the following:

  1. How do you prepare the students prior to them needing to do preparatory work?
  2. How are you supporting students whilst they are preparing for their next class?
  3. How will you reinforce the ‘preparedness habit’?
  1. How do you prepare the students prior to them needing to do preparatory work?
  • Reinforce expectations around preparedness and consequences of non-preparation. Be clear with yourself and them about how you will manage this (e.g. in a lab – do they not get to participate?, in a tutorial – do you continue as if they had prepared?).
  • Try using a case study (or testimonial, narrative) that’s relevant and likely to engage the students so that they want to do the preparation, rather than feeling forced to do it.
  • Ask students to be part of the design process in planning the preparation so they ‘own it’ and are more likely to care.
  • Workshop some time management and organisational strategies with your class to help them with preparation.
  • Scaffold preparatory activities so that they can become more complex over the semester but begin as achievable, if smaller tasks.
  • Allow students to collaborate on tasks to boost confidence and split the workload if needed.
  1. How are you supporting students whilst they are preparing for their next class?
  • Design support for preparatory activities in FLO or other easily accessible spaces (e.g. FAQs, video guides, templates).
  • Provide checklists, flow charts, rubrics, sample assignments to self-assess their work against.
  • Be clear about the intended purpose of the preparatory work. Is it about being familiar with content to inform in-class learning activities? Is it about practising a skill to master in class?
  1. How will you reinforce the ‘preparedness habit’?
  • Enforce consequences of not preparing (e.g. not participating in the lab at that time; still being required to actively participate in a group activity on the preparatory work; failing the pre-class quiz).
  • Reinforce the consequences of preparing (e.g. some praise / acknowledgment for those who did prepare; acknowledgment of better outcomes for prepared students – higher quiz scores, deeper discussion etc.).
  • Try to keep preparation activities similar (even if you build upon them over the teaching period). This helps the ‘preparation habit’ become just that; a habit!

Adapted from:

Baker, M. (2015). Motivating students to come prepared to class. Retrieved from https://www.bellarmine.edu/docs/default-source/faculty-development-docs/10-motivating-students-to-come-prepared-to-class.pdf?sfvrsn=62a09081_2


Written by

Cassandra Hood
Lecturer in Higher Education – CILT

Posted in
Teaching Notes

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