Encouraging learning in the classroom

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The list below represents what a group of experienced UVic Teaching Assistants (TAs) have identified as key tips or strategies for a TA to encourage learning in the classroom to ensure all students feel supported. Not all suggestions below may be applicable in all departments on campus. Please use the list as a guide only as this list is not exhaustive but encompasses a diverse array of aspects.

To encourage learning, be a role model

TAs represent an important glimpse into the life of academia for the students. In most cases, students can relate to TAs more than faculty and it is important for TAs to uphold high academic values that their students can learn from and emulate. Equally important, the attitude displayed in class by a TA will set the tone of how the class will run (e.g., if a TA harshly brushes away a student’s question, students will be reluctant to ask questions going forward).

Some pointers to consider:


Honesty and timeliness

It is important for TAs to honour their word just as you would expect students to do. It should be stressed that providing feedback, responding to student e-mails, and providing other follow-ups are done in a timely manner to be respectful of both the students’ time and your own time. Remember, learning (and teaching) is a reciprocal relationship.


Show respect

If you want your students to be respectful towards you, then you need to show them that same level of respect. If you are polite, show gratitude, and are compassionate, then you will encourage students to behave in the same way.


Accept and admit when you are wrong

There is no shame in admitting that you have made a mistake. By seeing that a TA can be wrong and that you can openly admit to being wrong, your students will learn to accept and own up to their own mistakes. It will also encourage them to apologize and make amends rather than to pretend the mistake never happened.


Support students' learning journeys

Share resources with students, including sites like Learn Anywhere to assist them with their studies. Consider posting the general outline/schedule for each session on the board ahead of time so that students see the full path for your time together, and can monitor their own progress throughout the class.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)1 is an approach to teaching that facilitates learning for students with diverse needs. Using UDL, TAs can provide opportunities for students to engage with course material and demonstrate learning in many ways. This gives all students, regardless of learning and thinking differences, an equal opportunity to learn.

The UDL framework is built on three key components:

  1. Engagement: Why should students learn something? When students are aware of the importance, application, or context of what they are learning, they are more likely to be purposeful, motivated learners.
  2. Representation: What are students learning? When information is presented in different ways, students learn more effectively. This creates resourceful, knowledgeable learners.
  3. Action & Expression: How can students engage with material and demonstrate learning? Students should actively engage with the subject matter and express their learning in different ways. This creates strategic, goal-directed learners.

Six strategies for effective learning

Learning how to learn effectively increases students’ agency. Six strategies to promote effective long-term learning have been developed by cognitive psychologists 2. You can incorporate these strategies into your tutorials and labs, and encourage students to incorporate into their personal study practices.

  1. Spacing: spread learning opportunities over time.
  2. Interleaving: switch between different topics and then go back to a topic.
  3. Retrieval practice: bring information to mind from memory.
  4. Concrete examples: concrete information is easier to remember than abstract information, so provide concrete examples.
  5. Elaboration: have students find the answers to “how” and “why” questions about a specific topic.
  6. Dual coding: combine words with pictures/diagrams.

Participatory activities – mix it up

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves. Therefore, it is important to use participatory activities in every tutorial and lab. However, you must mix it up. Do not use the same activity every class. 

Here are a few examples you could implement:



  • Every 10 minutes or so throughout a class, ask students to turn to the student next to them and discuss a question.
  • Ask for volunteers to share out their responses.
  • The “turn-to-your-neighbour” approach can be modified to fit any class size and any situation. Students do not have to move from their current seats and the discussion can be guided.
  • This method promotes discussion and helps students to support each other fill in the gaps or ask questions that they may not ask publicly in class.

Active learning opportunities for students

(And avoid a very simple mistake!)

  • Cold-calling on individual students is not recommended; instead pose a question to the whole class and then break the class into small groups.
  • TAs can then ask for a few volunteers to report what was discussed.
  • Consider using student roles for different activities, such as the “Reporter” to share-out with the larger group, or the “Scribe” to write on a shared or collaborative resource.

Provide natural breaks in your classes

  • Students can generally only focus for 10-12 minutes at a time and “chunking” your class or lesson can help with student engagement.
  • Rather than being the sage on the stage, provide space for learners to peer-teach or to work in small groups.
  • Additionally, consider using multiple means of representation and incorporating videos, audio pieces, or even playful strategies in your class. Maybe that is a funny meme or other visual, or perhaps it is a short game activity related to the topic at hand.

Posing questions to the group

  • When questions are posed to the class, it is important to provide time and space for students to think through their answer. Students required at least one minute to formulate a response. Never answer your own question.
  • Consider building in a reflection question or time to write/doodle as they think through the question. For example, “Quiet reflect for one minute on the following ….”
  • Following that one minute, ask for volunteers to share out or for students to turn to their neighbour or engage in a think-pair-share.

The list of participatory active learning examples is endless. It is key to keep in mind that the philosophy in all the ideas is the same: a more engaging and stimulating environment will enhance learning. Different engaging and stimulating techniques should be employed often.

  1. Adapted from Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) guidelines.

  2. Adapted from The Learning Scientists blog post Six Strategies for Effective Learning: A Summary for Teachers.

This guide was developed during the Teaching Assistant Consultants’ (TACs) seminars for the academic year 2009-2010 and updated in 2020-2021.

About this post

This post was last updated:

August 8, 2022

We acknowledge and respect the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees and Esquimalt) Peoples on whose territory the university stands, and the Lək̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

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