Recitations and Labs: Suggestions for Teaching Assistants

Whether you're teaching a recitation or leading a laboratory session, you'll find these practical tips essential to good teaching.

Preparing for Recitations and Lab Sessions

  • Prepare a handout sheet for your students, listing your name, office number, telephone number, e-mail address, office hours, and any other important information about the recitation or lab you're teaching.
  • Always prepare in advance. If you're unprepared, you'll look like you don't know what you're doing and you'll lose important credibility with your students. You're also wasting your students time. Prepare for each recitation by working out all of the problems in advance. Solve problems or present material using techniques familiar to your students.
  • Prepare for each lab session by doing the lab experiment (including the analysis and write-up). You'll also want to prepare a brief review of the principles and procedures of each experiment. Because you've done the lab you can warn students of any problems they might encounter or any inconsistencies in the lab manual.
  • Make a sample lab report available to your students. Students have a right to know what is expected of them.

Conducting Recitations and Lab Sessions

  • Come to the recitation or lab a few minutes early. Check that the chalkboard is erased, all the lights are on, and the lab equipment is ready.
  • Speak slowly and clearly. Don't be afraid to stop and think. Pauses also allow students to catch up with you and to form questions about the material.
  • Establish eye contact with your students; when using the chalkboard, try NOT to turn your back on your students. Stand aside from your board work while you explain, so students can see what you're doing. Write legibly and large enough so students in the back of the room and see what you are writing. Keep your chalkboard organized.
  • Remember that recitation is not lecture. The purpose of recitation is to help students learn how to apply the information they've learned in lecture. You can help by giving insights into the reasoning that you've used to arrive at a solution. It is important, however, for students to be actively involved in the recitation. If you prepare questions about the material before your recitation, you can encourage student participation.
  • Be patient in waiting for answers to your questions. Give hints, if necessary, but try not to answer your own questions.
  • In lab, it is important to circulate among the groups to make sure that all equipment is functioning properly, and to correct minor errors before they turn into disasters.