Practical Teaching Guidelines

Advice for second-level teachers in Ireland.

Practical Guidelines for Teaching

The following guidelines offer some practical helps to probationary teachers and these tips should be adapted to suit the subject, ability, size and age of the class.

(i)    It is important for a teacher to create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning. Factors that help to create this atmosphere include:

  • the teacher’s personality,
  • enthusiasm,
  • appearance,
  • a positive attitude towards all pupils.
  • Courtesy, good manners and a kindly approach evoke a similar response on the part of the pupil.

(ii)    The probationary teacher should first find out the content of the course to be covered and the exact requirements of the course and syllabus. He/she should check this thoroughly if an examination class is involved. If taking over from another teacher (e.g. at 2nd year), he/she should find out from the teacher of that class for the preceding year or from the Principal what exactly has been covered.

Each lesson (or group of lessons) should be well prepared in advance.
Lessons that are well prepared may not necessarily be brilliant but they are seldom really bad. Unprepared lessons are often a major cause of pupil indiscipline.

The preparation should cover:

  • an accurate specific statement as to what the aim of the lesson is;
  • the content of the lesson;
  • the teaching methods to be used;
  • the activity of the pupils (extremely important);
  • the kind of evaluation to be used;
  • a consideration of the natural divisions of the lesson.

Errors in preparation include:

  • lack of specific aim;
  • material too difficult for the class;
  • trying to cover too much in one lesson;
  • absence of variety in approach (e.g. an entire lesson on grammar);
  • inaccurate and/or insufficient information in content and failure to be properly prepared for pupils’ follow-up questions;
  • failure to foresee how the lesson will be presented, that is, how it will be phased with its chief points, sequence, recapitulation and evaluation.

Teaching methods should include a consideration of the type of aids to be used, the organisation of suitable examples, an array of suitable problems, questions and pupil activity.

Presentation of Lesson
Any lack of a methodical and logical layout of the lesson becomes apparent at this stage.

Presentation includes:

  • pace of presentation (often the pace is too fast for the pupils);
  • kinds of illustrations, diagrams, aids, activities that will most effectively promote the aim of the lesson; quite a range of audio-visual techniques and material (hardware and software) is now available.
  • the division of the lesson into appropriate sections e.g. presentation of an aspect of the lesson by the teacher, pupil assimilation and activity, recapitulation, a further aspect of the lesson, evaluation and so on;
  • teaching methods to be used.

The common errors in presentation are:

  • covering too much too quickly;
  • teacher giving too much information, some of which the pupils already know. This knowledge should have been elicited previously by questioning;
  • focusing attention on one section of the class to the exclusion of other (usually weaker) sections;
  • lack of variety in approach, e.g. all talk;
  • completely ignoring any attempt at evaluating the level of the pupils’ assimilation of the lesson; good presentation is constantly regulated as to pace and approach by the way the teacher structures feedback from the pupils.

The following points may prove useful to remember during the course of the presentation:

  • Proceed from the experience of the pupils, from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, from the concrete to the abstract.
  • As a point (or section or aspect) is treated, review it by asking pertinent questions or setting a written exercise. Towards the end of the lesson, review the whole theme in similar fashion. This should be done by the pupils under the teacher’s guidance.
  • Questioning should be specific and individual. Pupils should be obliged to put up their hands and only answer when addressed directly by name. Choral answering should not be allowed. Address the question to the whole class and then select one pupil to answer.
  • When addressing the class, wait for complete silence; never compete with the class for a hearing.
  • Questions from pupils should in general be encouraged but channelled towards the objectives of the lesson. Teachers should be quick to notice ‘red herrings’.
  • Use the standard aids available (blackboards, text book, tape recorder...) and/or the special ones prepared for the lesson (e.g. charts, diagrams...).
  • Your voice is really your most important aid:
    • speak distinctly and not too rapidly;
    • do not speak too loudly as you will tire yourself to no purpose;
    • as a professional person, a teacher should realise that the quality of his/her speech both in and out of classroom is under scrutiny; a course in voice production may be very useful for some.
  • Time must be allotted for recapitulation at the end of the lesson; this may be carried out orally but preferably by a combination of oral and other activity on the part of the pupils.


The Commonest Evaluation Techniques are:

  • questioning;
  • written exercises involving revision and application of new material;
  • oral discussion;
  • problem-solving in either the Arts or Science areas;
  • creative work.


  • Do not include the answer in the question itself.
  • Questions must be clear, concise, positive, exact.
  • Questions should be directed to a particular pupil who should be named after the question.
  • Questions should be asked only once.
  • One question at a time to avoid muddled thinking.
  • A badly constructed question should be cancelled.
  • Economy of language in questions — short questions are most effective.
  • Questions should provoke thought — generally, avoid questions with “yes” or “no” answers.
  • Answers of pupils ought not to be repeated.
  • Wrong answers should be corrected, but not in a discouraging way. If answer is partly correct, help pupil to amend it, if possible, but pupils ought not be confused by a long series of subsidiary questions.

General Comments on Discipline

  • Thorough and detailed preparation is always a positive step towards good order.
  • It is helpful to be in the classroom before the pupils arrive (where possible) or at least to be on time.
  • Pace the lesson to suit the class; be clear about what you are doing; see that the pupils understand what you are doing; revise often; use various techniques; speak distinctly; avoid sarcasm and foolish threats.
  • Avoid being diffident in manner and too hesitant in how you approach the class and or the lesson.
  • Pupils become frustrated if they are unsure about what is required of them or unsure about how to do what is required. It is wiser to eliminate this frustration by planning, discussion and foresight.
  • School work is serious work and good order must prevail. Pupils expect a teacher to act in an adult fashion. Teachers should avoid having “favourites” and should act justly towards all pupils.