Cover Image
close this bookTeaching for Better Learning (WHO, 1992, 197 p.)
close this folderPart 2: How you can help your students learn
View the documentCHAPTER 6: Introduction to teaching methods
View the documentCHAPTER 7: How to teach attitudes
View the documentCHAPTER 8: How to teach skills
View the documentCHAPTER 9: How to teach knowledge
View the documentCHAPTER 10: Planning a teaching session

CHAPTER 9: How to teach knowledge

9.1 How important is knowledge?

Obviously all health workers must have some knowledge in order to do their job. But it is also true that other knowledge is not necessary. For example, health educators must know which local foods contain protein, but they do not need to know the chemical structure of each protein. Nor do they need to know the biochemical processes involved in the digestion of protein.

So some facts are very important and some are not at all useful. This means that teachers must choose which facts to teach. They must not just cover everything in a textbook or manual. Nor must they be tempted to show how much they know by teaching students a lot of irrelevant information.

Teachers therefore need to decide which facts are important, useful, and relevant. Task analysis is very helpful here because it shows what information or knowledge is needed to do each task. (Look again at Part 1.)

In deciding which facts need to be taught, teachers should ask themselves:

" What would the students do poorly if I left out this detail?"

If the answer is "nothing", then the information should usually be left out.

9.2 Teaching different types of facts

So far this chapter has explained that some facts are important while others are not necessary. However, the important facts may be important in different ways - so they should also be taught in different ways.


Take as an example the training of a group of health auxiliaries who will be responsible for running an immunization programme. The course may include the following information.

A. Whether the vaccine can be stored in sunlight or whether it must be kept in the dark.

B. How to explain to parents that their children should be immunized.

C. The date when the vaccine was discovered.

D. Safe storage times for the vaccine at different temperatures.


A. Obviously this is important. Teachers must emphasize this fact and make sure that all the students remember it. It should be included in an examination.

B. This is also important - but it is more important that students can do the explaining rather than write down how they would do it. This means that they need to learn the relevant skill as well as the facts. The skill should be tested in an examination but the facts alone need not be tested,

C. It is not necessary for students to know when the vaccine was discovered. However, background information such as the story of the discovery of the smallpox vaccine may well help to make the lesson more interesting. It could be included, provided that your students realize that it is only background information. It does not need to be remembered. Nor should it be part of any examination.

D. The storage times are important and so the students should be told them. For some vaccines the information may be fairly detailed and difficult to remember. In this case, the facts should be recorded in a manual for the students to keep. The teacher must check that the facts are recorded accurately and that the students can refer to them when necessary.

9.3 Where should students get the facts from?

The students can learn facts or information by listening to the teacher. In this case, the teacher is the source of information.

However, there are many other sources of information that can be used. Many manuals are available which contain relevant information for health workers. There are also textbooks, films, film-strips and posters which have been prepared specially for health workers.

Another source of information is the real world. You do not always need to tell students what happens when a sore is left untreated. Nor do you need to describe the food which mothers give to their children. The students will have seen these things for themselves. So they can learn from their own experience. In a similar way, you can send the students out into the villages to collect information. The information gained in these ways means more to the students and is learned better.

Information from the real world means more to students and Is learned better.

Models of the human body are another source of information. These used to be very expensive and easy to break. However, plastic models have now become more widely available. These are strong, usually accurate, and sometimes quite cheap. These models are very useful for explaining the structure of parts of the body. A few working models are also available, which allow the student to practice skills such as inserting an airway. These are useful, although they may be very expensive.

So do not think that you must tell the students everything. Encourage your students to learn from their own experience, from books, from models, and from each other.

9.4 Planning the topics of the lecture

When you have decided that some facts need to be taught, you must plan the teaching session in which to teach them.

A useful way of doing this is to start with the task. Then decide on the main items that must be covered. For example, the task might be to control the mosquito that transmits malaria. Some of the themes you will want to cover are:

- sites where the larvae can be found
- methods of eliminating those sites
- methods of preventing mosquitos using the sites.

When you have decided on these themes, they should be put into a sensible order. (For example, you cannot talk about preventing mosquitos getting to their breeding sites, until you know what the sites are.)

Then think through each theme to decide how much detail is needed:

- what facts need to be learned
- what facts will make the lecture more interesting
- what facts should be recorded for reference.

9 5 Giving the lecture

There are many ways of giving a lecture. The advice given below describes just one pattern. You will need to adapt this and develop your own methods. However, this does give a basic guide which you can follow and improve.

1. Get the students' attention. Explain why the lecture is important to the students or tell a story that shows why it is important. Ask the students what they already know about the topic or why they think it is important.

2. Give a summary. Explain what themes you are going to cover. This helps the students understand how each part of the lecture is related.

3. Test how much students already know. Make sure that all students know the facts that you are going to use. For example, if you think the students need to know some anatomy to understand a point, check that they do know it.

4. Present the facts and information. You can either tell the students the facts or

- use handouts
- ask students to read a part of a book
- ask one of the students to describe the facts
- use audiovisual aids
- show models or equipment
- ask students to examine patients.

5. Set an exercise for the students to do during the lesson. The exercise should make the students use the facts they have just learned. This is a very important part of teaching. For example, you could ask individual students or groups of students "What would you do if... ?" or "How would you... ?" Another kind of exercise would be to write notes on a topic or fill in the missing words on a handout.

6. Summarize the lecture. Repeat the main points that you want students to remember.

7. Test the students. Check whether they have learned the important points.

8. Set an exercise to do after the lecture. Ask students to prepare for the next session by reading, doing some specific work in a hospital ward or the community, or revising what they have already learned.

You may think that this is not the kind of lecture that you used to go to when you were a student. This does not matter. A lecture should involve the students in doing things. Just listening is a poor and slow way of learning.

9.6 How to speak in the lecture

You should not spend the whole time talking. However, when you are talking there are some points to remember.

1. Do you speak loud enough? Often teachers speak to the students at the front of the class. The students at the back are unable to hear the teacher and so cannot learn. If you are not sure whether you can be heard, ask a friend to sit at the back of the room and tell you.

2. Do you speak clearly? The volume may be loud enough, but you may speak unclearly. You should make sure that the words are clear and that you speak to the audience. Do not look down at notes or talk facing the board.

3. Do you use simple words? Make sure that the language you use is simple enough for all the students to understand. This is especially important when the students come from communities where different languages are spoken.

4. Do you sound as if you are interested? Some teachers speak in a flat, monotonous voice. They sound bored and their students soon become bored. Vary the tone of your voice and try to show that you are enthusiastic and interested.

9.7 Visual aids

Some of the ideas and facts in your lecture will be best explained if you show a diagram or picture. So you will need to use a visual aid, such as:

- a chalkboard
- charts (tables, graphs and diagrams)
- a flannelboard
- an overhead projector
- a slide or film-strip projector
- films (movie)
- photographs.

At least some of these aids are likely to be available. Sometimes the material will be prepared for you to use - for example, film-strips, films and photographs. These can be difficult to obtain, but one agency, Teaching Aids at Low Cost (TALC), specializes in making and selling these aids as cheaply as possible.

Their address is:

P.O. Box 49
St Albans
Hertfordshire AL1 4AX

You can prepare other aids for yourself. When you do this you should:

1. Keep diagrams as simple as possible - unnecessary detail only confuses the students.

2. Make sure that all lettering can be read by all the audience. This point applies especially when you are writing on a chalkboard.

3. Talk about each diagram to make sure that the students understand all the symbols. This is especially important when you use graphs or cross-sectional diagrams.

Make sure that all lettering can be read by all the audience.

9.8 Using handouts in lectures

Handouts are one way of adding to lectures. They can be used in two main ways.

· As a guide to taking notes.
· As a permanent record of the facts.

A handout may of course be useful in both ways, but often there will be an emphasis in one area.

Look at the example of a handout below.

Example: A handout for students to take notes on


Signs and symptoms:

Treatment of patients:

Nature of disease:

Who is at risk?

How is malaria transmitted?

Prevention of malaria:

The idea of this type of handout is that it provides a structure to the lecture and so helps the students to organize their notes. Students should write their own notes on the handout while they listen to the lecture. This very simple handout helps to make the lesson more active, and therefore helps learning.

Note that the handout also helps to remind the teacher of the main points. Using this framework you could begin the lecture by asking whether any of the students have had malaria. You could then ask them what it was like (the symptoms) and so on. As each stage was completed, the students would then fill in the main points on their handout.

This second example is quite different. It provides a record of information that the student may need to refer to later. It is unlikely that the student would be expected to know and remember these details.

The teacher could give this handout to the students during the class. This saves time spent in drawing the table on the board and waiting for students to copy it down. This time can then be better spent by asking students questions to test their understanding of the information. For example, "If you do not have a refrigerator, how would you organize BCG vaccinations in your village?"

9.9 Summary

1. Only teach those facts that the students need to know.

2. Plan exercises for the students to use the facts they have learned - do not just talk.

3. Encourage students to find out facts from their own experience, books, models, and each other.

4. Use visual aids and handouts.