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Tips for Teaching College Students {Text Summary of Nilson's 'Teaching At Its Best', Chapters 22-28}

Updated on September 13, 2013
Improve students comprehension by integrating these teaching techniques
Improve students comprehension by integrating these teaching techniques | Source

In chapter 22 of "Teaching At Its Best", Nilson discusses the importance of teaching science through effective labs and lectures, and how teachers can be more meaningful in the classroom. The most important sentiments from this reading, in this writer's opinions, is when Nilson reminds teachers to:

  • Anticipate and address misconceptions
  • Help students acquire the hierarchical mental structures
  • Use graphics to aid student understanding

Although the text centered around teaching science, the principle remains the same no matter what the subject matter is. When teachers anticipate questions, and lecture things in a logical sequence students are more apt to be engaged and follow along with the lecture better.

Chapter 23 of the text focuses on ways that teachers can get students to participate in the assigned reading, and how teachers can help students get the most out of that same reading. Granted, getting students to read the textbook can be difficult no matter the subject or grade level, but with college students it's a bit different in that so much reading is done independently out of the normal class time.

When students don’t do the required readings it impedes their learning ability, notes Fernald (2004) as cited in Nilson (2010, p. 211).

Nilson notes that it is not enough to tell students that the reading is important to the coursework. Instead, she suggests that teachers give students a purpose to do reading. For example, teachers should relate course assignments to the textbook reading, papers, assigning oral presentations, and base test questions on the text (pp. 219-222). Students are more apt to do the coursework reading if they realize they will be penalized for not reading it. Besides, everyone likes to know they are doing things for a purpose, and not just for busy work. Reward students for doing what you ask of them by making the assigned reading relative to their coursework.

Essentially, teachers ought to help their students want to complete the reading assignments by integrating the following suggestions:

  • Don’t lecture directly from the textbook- it's boring, and students don’t want to hear exactly what they previously read.
  • Teach students to read academically – help them look for the hypothesis, opinions and facts, which will serve them well in this class and future classes as well
  • Encourage 'active reading' strategies – they are more likely to remember what they read actively than what they reading in passing
  • Explain the structure of the textbook – point out the glossary, application questions, tables and hints for studying within the assigned reading, answer keys in the back of the book may also help students check their work or better understand class assignments
  • Teach students proven reading methods – teach students about active reading techniques, which engage students for better comprehension and retention


When teaching students about writing term papers, remind students to:

  • Pitch to their audience
  • Provide examples
  • Use appropriate terms
  • Know the proper format and requirements

In chapter 24, Nilson (2010) discusses the importance of teaching students to write in the specific discipline you are teaching. Nilson reminds teachers to help students remember their pitch and their audience of readership. For example, teachers should remind students to use language, format and organization appropriate to the paper. This writer plans to provide students plenty of examples and give thorough feedback so students know where and how to improve their papers.

Chapter 25 deals particularly with the differences in learning styles and learning preferences. Nilson reminds teachers to consider the needs of their students and not teach to their own preferences. Using multiple modalities not only reaches the largest number of students possible, but it serves as a type of review for other students in the class. Consider testing students on their learning preferences so they can better understand their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies in learning.

“Knowing and being able to take advantage of students’ learning-style strengths also helps instructors prepare [students] for the real world.” (Nilson, 2010, p. 229)

Chapter 26 discusses the importance of implementing visual aids into the classroom. Not only do visuals add interest to the classroom, their organization can help students understand things normally more difficult to understand. For example, concept maps graphically display material and help explain relationships between concepts. While this writer is not very comfortable creating and using circle diagrams and visual charts, she realizes that her students may benefit from such implementation. Remember, Visuals make learning so efficient because students don’t have to work as hard to process information, commit the data to memory, and to draw inferences.


“As the left side of the brain processes verbal symbols and the right side visuals, material presented in both modes activate[s] both sides of the brain, roughly doubling the number of neurons firing and synapses forming” (Nilson, 2010, p. 240).


Nilson, L.B. (2010). Teaching at its best. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.


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