Tips for Teaching Undergraduates

Cognitive Development

 The Seven Principles
Chickering & Gamson's Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education 




1. Encourage Contact between students and facutly.  Interact with your students in and out of class.  Faculty members who show genuine concern and interest in the student's success make an immense impact on how undergrads learn.


2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students.  Students learn more when they are working cooperatively with others.  As Chickering said, "Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated.


3. Use active learning techniques. "Learning is not a spectator sport.  Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers.  They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives.  They must make what they learn a part of themselves.

4. Give prompt feedback. Learning is focused when students can determine what they know and what they don't know.  Provide students with "opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement."  This doesn't just mean scoring work, but give sincere suggestions on how to improve.


5. Emphasize time on task. "Time plus energy equals learning.  There is not substitute for time on task.  Learning to use one's time well is critical for students and professionals alike.  Students need help learning effective time management."

6. Communicate high expectations.  "Expect more and you will get more.  High expectations are important for everyone--for the poorly prepared, for the unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated.  Expecting students to perform well becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high expectations for themselves and make extra efforts."

7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.  "There are many roads to learning.  People bring different talents and styles of learning to college.  Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio.  Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory.  Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them.  Then they can be pushed to learning in new ways that to not come so easily."



Motivating College Students:      Effective Techniques

Effectively motivating undergraduate students is paramount to the success of our educational system.  Techniques that proved very effective when implemented in the classroom  included:


  • Communicate high expectations directly and apply the sandwich principle (Praise-Criticism-Praise)

Professors need to be very candid with students about their expectations, and show examples of excellent and poor submissions with student names concealed. By directly showing them what is excellent work and what is shoddy work, the majority of students instantly become motivated to produce far superior work

  • Award high achievers with assignment grades near and above 100

Assignments should be developed so that students are capable of succeeding. Students feel a great deal of satisfaction from receiving a high grade and this motivates them to exert high levels of effort on future assignments. Rewarding students with grades near or at 100 is highly motivating

  • Provide high levels of structure and frequent assignments for students who typically don’t care

The keys to motivating students who don’t care include frequent graded assignments, unannounced quizzes and individual versus group assignments. I challenge myself to motivate not only the high achieving students, but also the unmotivated students who would ordinarily not learn much

Undergraduates Resources

There are many resources available to the undergraduate student. Informing students of these resources will aide them in their academic success.


Student Academic Resource Center: Students are able to receive help in tutoring, advising, and many other services that help the students stay in college.

Peer Tutor: Writing Centers, Supplemental Instructions, and tutoring sections are only a few of the additional help many universities provide to their students for free.

Libraries: Information resource, or a quiet place to study. Online Libraries give students access to information when away from the library.

Counseling Center: counseling centers can provide information and tips on how to set goals and priorities for college life.

Making the students aware of all the available resources can be essential to their academic success. Letting them know there are people willing to help them through this stage can make their college experience more pleasant.

"It's not the biggest, the brightest, or the best that will survive, but those who adapt the quickest".
-Charles Darwin 


5 Ways to Create a More Effective Classroom for Cognitive Development

1. Create a comfortable environment for students in the classroom: Research shows that a warm classroom environment is proven to produce happier students who receive better grades. In addition, getting to know students' individual needs and altering the classroom to be a more "person fit environment" will benefit them greatly.

2. Set goals and expectations: It is critical to layout expectations for students from the first day of the semester. Creating achievement goals will give students a clear idea of what is expected from them over the course of the semester. Moreover, setting goals helps students target areas they want to focus on personally.

3. Create engaging activities for students: Activities that require student participation are likely to keep their interest for longer periods of time. In addition, one researcher found when she created thought provoking and engaging in-class activities for students they were more likely to not only show up to class, but also on time.

4. Promote group discussion/activities: This is beneficial because it promotes participation in class. A great way to have students engage is through assigning problem solving situations. This type of assignment will give each student the opportunity to utilize their skill set and learn from their peers. 

5. Encourage learner responsibility: Students are encouraged to define their needs on an assignment basis. Moreover, if emphasis is placed on responsibility, they are more likely to become long-term independent learners well after they successfully completed their degree.

(Steinberg, 2005). 

Piaget's Theory of
Piaget's theories of cognitive development and how it applies to undergraduates and how they think
    Undergraduates face many different situations when they begin to attend college. Yet, the one thing that they have to take with them is their creative, abstract ways of thinking that continually develops as they progress in life and in college. 
    According to a well renown child and adolescent psychologist, Jean Piaget, undergraduates began to think abstractly when they were going through puberty. Piaget found that, "[adolescents] can think logically about abstract concepts, hypothetical ideas, and statements." Even before these undergraduates reached college, they were able to think abstractly, formulate intricate questions, and be creative in finding solutions to certain problems.
    Piaget identified different "stages" of cognitive development in children and adolescents. The certain stage that adolescents fall under is the "Formal Operations Stage". This stage begins around when the child is 11 or 12 years of age and is the last and final stage of cognitive development. The Formal Operations Stage is the stage where logic settles into the diverse, creative way of thinking. It is defined as a stage where, "logical reasoning processes are applied to abstract ideas as well as concrete objects and situation." This basically means that undergraduate and late adolescents can think in creative ways, yet still find their ways of thinking applicable to concrete, learned situations and concepts. 
    Since these late adolescent and early adults are still developing, both cognitively and in other ways, one of the best ways to help exercise their abstract, creative ways of thinking is to challenge them to use their ways of thinking and apply them to what you have to teach them. Not only will they learn more, but their development will be more enriched as well.  


Tips for Teaching Undergrads

Teaching Techniques
Ways to implement the Seven Principles into your teaching

Active Learning

1. One Minute Paper - This is a great method for confirming the students understanding of the material.  Students are to use a blank sheet of paper.  They are given one or two minutes to answer a question that the teacher has posed.  The question can be as simple as "What items did we discuss today?" to higher thinking questions such as "What were the reasons that the United States entered into the Vietnam conflict?"  This exercise will tell the teacher what the students are getting out of the class.

2. Muddiest Point -   "Ask the students to write a paper about the point that was the most unclear or clear to them in that day's lesson. The teacher should allow the students more time that in the previous activity.  

3. Affective Response - In this exercise the teacher asks the students to write about their reaction to a specific point in the lesson.  This can even be useful as a starting point in some lessons to see what the students already know.  

4. Reading Quiz - The purpose of the reading quiz is to ensure that the students have read the material.  It is the teacher's responsibility to ensure that the questions asked are relevant to the information that the students are expected to learn from the lesson.

 5. Clarification Pause - After presenting a lesson give the students time to absorb the information.  Walk around the room, some students may be more likely to ask questions during this pause period rather than in front of the whole class.  

6. Teaching to Multiple Learning Styles - In order to maximize student learning, a teacher must accommodate all their learning styles (auditory, visual, or kinesthetic).

7. Debate - Provides the ideal forum for practicing the most key skill a student can develop; critical thinking.  Debates require students to actively decode, process and respond.  

"Socratic Method"

8. Wait time - After asking a question,  the teacher should wait before requesting an answer.  Make it clear to the students that you do not want them to raise their hand until they are called to answer. The students will all be more focused on answering the questions if they believe they may be called on to answer.  The wait time will give all students the opportunity to gather their response.

9. Answers Summary - After a student has answered a question, call on another student to summarize their answer. Many students are only engaged when the teacher is speaking.  Asking the students to summarize each other will force them to be actively listening to everyone in the classroom. 

10. Quiz / Test questions - Encourage students to be involved in the test making process.  Have each student submit questions, they believe are important from the material, on index cards.  These questions can then be used to construct the test or even for a review session. 

Immediate Feedback

11. Finger Signals - The teacher asks questions and asks the students to respond with their answer by holding a signal (for example one finger for yes and two fingers for no).  The students should hold their fingers in front of them so that students are discouraged from copying.  

Share / Pair

12. Note Sharing - Bad notes is one reason that students may perform badly.  Have students pair up and review each other's notes. The students are to fill in missing information in each others notes. 

Cooperative Learning

13. Concept Mapping - Students are to make a concept map for the lesson.  This will demonstrate connections that are to be made between concepts.

14. Cooperative Groups in Class - A questions is assigned to each group.  The group works together to answer the questions.  The teacher should take this opportunity to move around the room and answer any questions that each group may have.  The groups should then share their findings with the entire class.  

Study Habits for Undergrads



Chickering, Arthur W. ,Gamson, Zelda F. (1987 March). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. AAHE Bulletin.
Heller, P. (2011). Motivating college students: effective techniques. Retrieved from

Paulson, Donald R., Faust, Jennifer L. (2008 June). BioSucceed Supplementary Teaching & Research Tool. Retrieved on April 15, 2011, from North Carolina State University Web site:  

McDevitt, T, & Ormrod, J. (2010). Child development and education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Steinberg, L. (2005). Cognitive and affective development in adolescence.Trends in cognitive sciences9(2), 69-74.