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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 6: Introduction to teaching methods

Part 1 dealt with what your students should learn. This part goes on to explain how you can teach them. The two parts should be read and used together, because students will only be well trained if the teacher uses good methods and teaches the right skills.

Part 1 pointed out the importance of training students how to do a job rather than just know about it. Again in this part the main emphasis will be on students "learning by doing" rather than simply listening. This principle could be summed up by the old Chinese proverb:

"hear and forget... see and remember... do and understand".

The aim of this part therefore is to help you to choose the best teaching method for each part of the course and to give some advice on using each method effectively.

The part is arranged as follows. Chapter 6 gives general guidance about problems such as motivating students and making subjects meaningful to them. The three remaining chapters describe particular methods that can be used in teaching attitudes (Chapter 7), skills (Chapter 8) and knowledge (Chapter 9). Chapter 10 brings all the ideas together in a description of how to plan a lesson.

6.1 The role of the teacher

How can the teacher help students to learn? It used to be thought that teachers needed to tell students as much as possible, passing on their knowledge. Now teachers arrange for students to gain experience by working in health centres. They may also advise students to read a few pages from a manual and set questions for students to discuss in groups. In all these ways the teacher is helping students to learn.

Some teachers feel that they must do all the talking themselves. They feel that they are not really teaching unless they are telling the students some new information. But this is quite wrong.

If a teacher gives a lecture and the students do not learn, then the teacher is talking - not teaching.

The following chapters explain different ways in which you can help students to learn. You may already use some of these methods. You may feel that some of the methods will not work for your students. However, all the methods described have been used by teachers. Even if you cannot use a method as described here, you will probably be able to adapt it so that you can use it.

Remember that change is always difficult. It is easier for teachers to carry on using the same teaching methods. When you have prepared a course of lectures, it takes only a little effort to keep on giving the same lectures year after year. If you want to try new ideas you need to work to make those ideas succeed. Some students will find it difficult to use some of the more active forms of learning. You must explain to your students what you are trying to do and make them interested in the new teaching methods. If students have been used to sitting in classes just listening to the teacher it will be uncomfortable for them to learn for themselves. You need to understand this feeling and reassure the students that they can learn from their own experience - with a little guidance from you.

6.2 How well do you teach?

Below there are a list of questions for you to answer about your own teaching. If you can answer "yes" to most of the questions, then you are probably teaching well. If you answer "no" or are not quite sure what the question means, look at the corresponding section. For example, the first three questions are concerned with "clarity", which is discussed in Section 6.3.

Clarity (Section, 6 3)

Can the students hear what you say and read what you write? Do you use simple language? Do you use visual aids? Do you summarize the main points?

Making your teaching meaningful to students (Section 6.4)

Do you relate what you are talking about to the students' lives? Do you give a lot of examples? Do you relate what you are talking about to the work the students will be doing?

Active learning (Section 6.5)

Do you ask students to answer questions? Do you ask students to apply information in solving problems? Do you arrange for students to practice thinking and practical skills?

Giving feedback (Section 6.6)

Do you tell students how well they are doing? Do you point out any errors or faults? Do you explain how students could do better work?

Ensuring mastery (Section 6.7)

Do you check that all your students understand each point? Do you frequently check whether every student has learned the necessary skills and knowledge?

Individualize (Section 6.8)

Do you allow students to work at different speeds? Do you encourage students to learn in their own way? Do you use several teaching methods?

Caring (Section 6.9)

Do you show the students that you care whether they do well? Do you prepare thoroughly for teaching sessions? Do you listen to students' comments about your teaching?

6.3 Clarity

Obviously your teaching must be clear. The students must be able to hear what you say and read what you write. All teachers believe that what they say and write is clear - but are they right? Can your students read what you write? Ask another teacher to sit at the back of your class and tell you whether he or she can see and hear clearly. Look at your board at the end of a lesson and see whether it is set out clearly. Can you read your own writing? If you cannot, the students definitely will not be able to.

The students may be able to hear the words you say but not understand them. If you use words that are unfamiliar to students or speak a different form of the language, it will be difficult for them to learn. Make sure that you talk in a way that the students can understand.

The students may be able to hear the words you say, but they may not really understand them.

To help you make writing or diagrams clearer you may be able to use visual aids such as charts, posters, flannelboards and possibly slide-projectors or overhead projectors. These will all help to improve clarity. Some useful tips are given in Section 9.7.

Most teachers use a blackboard or chalkboard of some kind. Sometimes the board will look a mess at the end of a lesson, with no pattern to the words and untidy diagrams. Decide before the start of the lesson what you are going to show on the board. Then during the lesson, write the key words or phrases in order so that they show the structure of the lesson. Remember that students tend to copy the words and the layout the teacher writes on the board. Make sure that what you write would look good in the students' notes.

At the end of the lesson, summarize the main points - as this book does.


Make sure that your students can hear what you say and read what you write. Also check that your students understand the words you use.

At the end of the lesson summarize the main points.

6.4 Making your teaching meaningful


Look for about 2 or 3 seconds at the two diagrams below.


Now turn over the book and try to draw the two diagrams. Then read on.


You could probably draw diagram B. It has a pattern to it that makes sense - three squares joined together. Diagram A was probably much more difficult to remember. There was no shape or meaning to it. But in each case the number of lines was exactly the same.

What does this have to do with teaching? The diagram that was easier to remember has "meaning". It is similar to patterns you have seen before. If you can make your teaching have meaning then your students will learn more easily.

How can you achieve this in practice? Here are some suggestions.

(a) Explain in advance what you are going to say. This can be done by telling your students what the objectives are for a part of the course. In this way the students will know what they need to learn and so they can make more sense of the teaching.

(b) Try to relate what you teach to students' lives. Your students will have a lot of experience which is useful and important. For example, when you are talking about sanitation, find out what your students know about the subject. You can then use their knowledge as a basis for teaching. Do not assume that students know nothing about the subject you are teaching. If you are talking about diseases such as schistosomiasis, find out whether the students know people suffering from the disease. If you do this, the teaching will have meaning for the students.

This book tries to make the ideas meaningful to you by explaining them as problems that you may face in your teaching.

(c) Explain new words. When you are giving information to students, you will have to use and explain new words and concepts. Some teachers like to use long and complicated words just to show how clever they are. This must obviously be avoided, but you will need to use some new words. When you do, you should define them carefully. You should also use a lot of examples to explain their meaning and, if possible, arrange for the students to practice using the words. This may be in discussion or in writing. In this way the students will begin to get a fuller understanding of the meaning of the words or concepts you use.

Examples of explaining a new idea

For example, you may want to explain the concept of circulation of the blood to students. This will involve the use of a possibly unfamiliar word "circulation." It will also introduce the idea of blood travelling round the body, which may also be unfamiliar. To teach this idea you might define the word circulation and then ask students to think of other things which circulate, such as money or traffic.

Then encourage the students to use the concept. For example, ask them to tell you what are the effects of the blood circulation. They might say that it allows certain substances to be carried from one part of the body to another. They might describe what would happen if the body was badly cut. In this way your students will quickly gain an understanding of the concept involved.

(d) Use examples. When you are describing a new idea or a method of treatment, give examples. You might talk about an experience that you have had recently. Even better you might talk about a patient that the students have just seen, or the water supply for a village that they know.

Note that this book uses a lot of examples to explain the ideas.

(e) Relate the teaching to the work that the students will be doing. Information and skills will have much more meaning to students if they know how they will be using the information in their job. You might, for example, want your students to be able to use a microscope. Some students will be interested in microscopes. Others may not be so interested and so will not learn well. However, if you explain that the students will use a microscope in their job as a way of confirming diagnosis of common illnesses, then they are likely to be much more interested and to learn better. The learning will have more meaning for the students.


You can help your students to learn by making sure that what you teach has meaning for them.

- explain in advance what your students are expected to learn
- relate what you teach to the students' lives
- explain new words and ideas
- use many examples to explain what you mean
- relate the teaching to the work that the students will be doing.

6.5 Active learning

Many experiments have shown that students learn very little when they are listening to a teacher giving a lecture.

They learn a little more if the teacher writes on the board and uses diagrams and pictures. In this way the students can see what they have to learn as well as hear it. But still rather little is learned.

To help students to learn you should give them some exercises to do, such as answering questions, writing notes or explaining an idea (to a friend or to the whole class). The students will also need to practice any skills that you teach them. The importance of these exercises is highlighted in the Chinese proverb at the beginning of the chapter.

“hear and forget... see and remember... do and understand".

Of course some exercises will be more helpful than others. As a rule, the exercise should make the students use information rather than just repeat it. Active learning can also be used in books or handouts. To illustrate the method here is an exercise for you to do.


Imagine you are teaching students how to take a patient's temperature. Which of the following activities would be most useful after you have explained how to do the task?

A. Read a section from a manual on taking temperatures.

B. Copy your notes from the board.

C. Make notes in their own words on how to take temperatures.

D. Write down the temperature reading shown in five drawings of a thermometer.

E. Use a thermometer to find out the temperature of another student.

F. Calculate the change in volume of 5 cm3 of mercury when its temperature changes from 10°C to 40°C.

Write down your answers and give reasons.


With the exception of F. all of the activities are better than no activities at all. E is probably most useful because the students will need to use all the information you have given. They will have to read the thermometer as well as use antiseptic techniques, shake the mercury down, place the thermometer correctly under the tongue, etc.

Activity D is also useful as some students may have difficulty reading off a scale. It would help the teacher to find out exactly which students needed more help.

Activity C is better than B because the students have to explain the task themselves instead of just copying the teacher's explanation.

Activity A might be worth doing so that any points in the manual which were difficult to understand could be explained.
Activity F is probably not worth while because the students will not have to do this kind of calculation in their job. It will waste time and may confuse the students.

You should not use all the activities. Some may not be possible - for example, do you have enough thermometers? Instead, you should choose one or a few of the activities that you feel would help the students to learn best.

There are many different kinds of activities which are useful for different kinds of objectives. For example, you might develop projects for the students to do in which they collect data about health needs. You might use role-playing exercises in which students act the parts of different people they are likely to meet in their work. You might ask groups of students how they would solve a health problem in their community. All these methods will give you more work to do, but they will also help the students to learn. These methods are explained in more detail in Chapters 8, 9 and 10.

This book gives you exercises to do while you are reading. In this way the book uses active learning methods. Do you find that the exercises help you to learn?


It is easier for teachers to keep talking during a lesson, but it does not help learning. Instead, teachers should think of activities that will force the students to use the information that they have been taught. Teachers should use as many activities as are realistic, and so help students to learn.

Do not just talk - make your students do the work.

6.6 Giving feedback

Feedback is one of the fashionable words in education at the moment. What does it mean? Simply that when the students have done a piece of work, the teacher should tell them whether they have done it well. The teacher should also point out any errors or faults and explain to the students how the work could have been done better. This process of telling students how well they are doing is called feedback.

Feedback can also come from written material. If you ask students a number of questions and then give them the answers on a sheet of paper, this is also feedback. If you give guidance to the students they can sometimes give feedback to each other (see self-assessment in Part 3).

Of course, many teachers have been doing this for a long time, so the idea of feedback is not at all new or different. What are the ways in which feedback can be given?

The first point is that if students only listen to a teacher talking, there is nothing to give feedback on. So feedback and activity go together. To give feedback, you must first arrange for the students to do things that can be assessed. This means that there should be frequent tests of the students' ability to do the practical tasks required, to remember the necessary facts, and to use those facts in solving problems or communicating.

These tests may be formal examinations. If these are held, the teachers will have to do a lot of extra work and the students may become interested only in passing examinations and forget the real reasons for their training. A better way is for the activities and feedback to become part of the normal pattern of teaching. The students will be able to assess their own performance or that of other students if they are given guidance by the teacher. The feedback should usually have three parts.

1. Feedback should give some encouragement and praise for what has been done well.

2. Feedback should give an indication of the overall standard of the work. For example, "8 out of 10" or "Pass".

3. Feedback should point out any errors or faults and show how the performance can be improved.

Example of giving feedback

You might watch a student practicing how to bandage a patient to provide support for an injured arm. When the student has finished, you might say " Well done. You have done quite a good job. The bandage is tied firmly so it should not come undone by itself. You have also used the right method of bandaging, so overall the standard is satisfactory But you should have made sure that the lower arm was held level You have made the bandage lift the patient's hand slightly higher than his elbow To do this better you should...

Note that this example shows the teacher giving some praise - "well done".

The teacher gives an indication of the standard of the work - "quite a good job" - "it will not come undone by itself" - "right method" etc.

The teacher also points out the faults and shows the student how to do the job better - "you should have made sure that the lower arm was held level".


Give as much information as possible to students about the standard of their work. Praise the good things, but also show how they can eliminate errors.

6.7 Ensuring mastery

The phrase "ensuring mastery" simply means that you make sure that all the students know the facts and skills that they need at each stage.

Ideally this is done at the beginning of each lesson.

When you are teaching some topics, the students may need to have understood ideas taught in an earlier lesson. For example, if you are discussing a growth chart for babies, the students will need to know what a graph is and how to record data on a graph. These ideas may have been taught some time ago, so the students may have forgotten or possibly never have understood. This means that they will not be able to understand the growth chart.

"... so the students may have forgotten or possibly never understood".

To overcome this difficulty you should check at the beginning of the lesson that all students know the necessary facts and skills. Do not ask "Does everybody know about graphs?" If you do, the students will probably say "yes", whether they understand or not. Nobody likes to admit that they do not know something. Instead you should give a very short test. For example, you could draw a graph on the board and ask the students to write down what a specific point on the graph means.

You should also find out how much your students know at the end of the lesson - or even at various stages during the lesson. Again, do not just ask "Do you understand?" Instead ask the students to use the skill or tell you the facts.

This technique may seem obvious. Most teachers think that they do "ensure mastery". In fact if you talk to students and find out exactly what they know, you may be surprised at how little they remember from previous lectures.


At the beginning of the lesson, check whether all your students know the facts and skills that they will need Then, at the end of the lesson, make sure that ail the students have learned these essential facts and skills

6.8 Individualize

Most teachers agree that different students learn in different ways. Some students are very intelligent, while others seem to be rather less clever. Some students may be very good at learning facts but rather poor at doing practical work. Others are the opposite. Some students can learn from books, while others prefer to listen to the teacher talking. Other students learn best by practical experience of doing the job.

However, schools often treat all students as if they were identical. All students go to the same teaching sessions. There they listen to the same lecture and then do the same practical work.

Of course, it is much simpler and cheaper to treat all students in exactly the same way. It is also easier to keep control of their whereabouts because the timetable will say where every student should be at any given time. But is this the most effective way of learning? Does it prepare students to take more responsibility for their own learning? Remember that after they leave the training school they will usually need to work and learn on their own.

Schools often treat all students as if they were identical.

What can teachers do to help the individual students to learn? Here are a number of suggestions which would be realistic in many training schools.

(a) Make sure that there is enough time for students to learn on their own. To do this you may have to cut down the number of lectures. Some people suggest that there should be as much as 2 hours of time free for individual studying for every hour in a class. This would allow the students to learn at their own pace outside the lecture room.

(b) Use some different teaching methods. Some students learn better from books, while some learn better when topics are discussed in a group. Some students learn well from films or film-strips (if these are available).

It is not usually possible to give a choice of teaching methods. However, teachers can use a variety of methods and so meet the needs of a larger number of students.

(c) Make more use of project work. To do this you set students a large-scale task such as finding out what village people think are their major health problems. Project work allows a lot more scope for students to learn in their own way. It also gives a contrast to the lectures.

(d) Talk to students individually. If you talk to the students by themselves you will find that some students are confused by one idea while others find the idea quite easy to understand. You will then be able to explain the idea yourself, or tell the students where to find the relevant information.

(e) Use self-instruction methods. Where possible use tape-slide programmer or programmed texts. Where this is not possible because of lack of equipment or suitable programmer, you can help students by giving them written notes. These notes can guide the students in using manuals for health workers. Notes can also be used in practical work to remind students of the skills that they need to learn.


Remember that your students are individuals. They learn at different rates and in different ways. They have different interests, experiences and abilities Try to find out what each student is like. Then use this information to vary your teaching so that as far as possible each student can learn in his or her own way.

6.9 Caring

Students will often do things for one teacher that they will not do for another. How then can you use this to help your students learn?

One thing that encourages students to make more effort is the belief that the teacher cares about them. Note that it is not enough for the teacher to care. The students must know that the teacher cares.

This does not mean that you should give higher marks than other teachers or allow poor standards of work or behaviour. This gives the opposite impression. Nor should you be content to say "I care about...". Simply saying the words will not persuade many of your students for very long. Instead, the way that you as a teacher behave will show whether you care or not.

Look at the list of statements about a teacher. Which statements would you like to be true of you?

A. She wears clean and tidy clothes.

B. He always arrives for teaching sessions on time.

C. She prepares thoroughly for teaching sessions.

D. He shows that he is very knowledgeable about the subject by using all the technical words.

E. She is a very important and very busy person. So she has to hurry away from teaching sessions to do other work.

F. He never smiles or jokes, because learning is a very serious business.

G. She always praises students' work, however bad it is.

H. He talks to students and finds out what their personal interests and ambitions are.

I. She asks students to comment on the teaching sessions so that the sessions can be improved.

J. He ignores the comments students make about the lessons.

K. She requires the students to do work of a high standard.


The "correct" answers are probably obvious. The only statements that need expanding are D, G and H.

Statement D reflects one of the worst things that some teachers do. Teachers should not use technical words just to show how clever they are. They should take pride in the way they make ideas easy to understand.

Statement G is typical of teachers who are trying to encourage their students. But leachers should not praise bad work. Your aim should be to praise whatever is worth praise, but point out the weak points and insist on a high standard.

Statement H may seem unrealistic. Teachers do not have time to talk to all their students for long periods of time. But you should try to talk and listen as much as possible. When you are talking, try to find some shared interest. For example, you may know someone from the students age. You may be interested in the same sport as the student. The important point is for you to show the students that you care.


If the students believe that the teacher cares about them, they will have an extra reason for learning.

6.10 Motivation

Some mention must also be made of motivation. It is often said that motivation is the key to successful teaching. All that a teacher needs to do is motivate students and they will learn.

How can teachers motivate students? The answer is simply to use the ideas described in Sections 6.2 to 6.9. Each of these ideas will help to make the courses more interesting, easier to learn or more relevant to the student's career. Above all they will help students realize that you care about their success. All these ideas will help to motivate students.

6.11 Conclusion

Some people argue about whether teaching is an art or a science. In other words, some people believe that the talent for teaching is a natural gift that good teachers are born with. Other people believe that teaching is a science which is controlled by rules.

This part of the book is designed to show you that there are some general rules for teaching. If you follow these, your teaching will improve. If you do the opposite to these rules, then your teaching will almost certainly be poor and the students will not learn.

In order to teach well, you will need to apply the rules for your students, your subject and your school or college. You still have to think of ways to make your teaching sessions have more meaning for your students. You have to be imaginative and think of activities which will be useful to your students. You have to take the trouble to give feedback to your students and to show that you care about their success.


1. Make the learning active - ask questions, set problems and organize projects.

2. Give feedback - explain how well each student is doing and how his or her work could be improved.

3. Make your teaching clear - check that the students can hear what you say and see what you write. Speak loudly, use simple language, write tidily, and use visual aids.

4. Make your teaching meaningful - explain how it will help students to do their job better.

5. Ensure mastery - check that all students know the necessary tasks and can perform the necessary skills before and after each session.

6. Allow for individual differences - let students learn at their own pace, leave enough free time for individual study and use a variety of teaching methods.

7. Show that you care whether students learn - set high standards and get to know each student.