Decide what your objectives are, what you want the students to learn. This can include any of the following:

  • Information.
  • Specific techniques.
  • Study skills.
  • Self-awareness about study skills.
  • Intellectual skills.
  • Character and attitude skills.

These are listed in order of abstraction from the material and thus, to some extent, in order of difficulty. It is easiest to transfer information, hardest to teach intellectual or character skills.

  • Make a realistic selection

    of the goals most important for the class in question. In a general education biology class, your purpose may not be to teach specific information as much as it is to help the students develop an understanding of how scientists approach the world, of how biology affects much of their life, and of how to become responsible stewards of the world around them.
    • Always ask yourself: What do these particular students need to learn in this particular class?
  • Budget time realistically

    according to difficulty of task. Understand that techniques and skills need much practice and often must be broken down into steps, each of which must be learned and practiced.
    • Decide whether the goals you have established (i.e. the particular mix of information and skill) are attainable within the period of time provided.
    • Make a grid of your available class times and distribute the work over the time. If you are having trouble making it fit, you need to make your goals more realistic or find a way to make your teaching more efficient.
  • Create your syllabus.

  • Be explicit.

    • Make sure your grid is reasonably detailed. You should know what you need to accomplish in the first week, second week, etc. Knowing this will help you be aware, as you teach, of whether you are or are not keeping pace with your own expectations. If you find you are not, you may need to adjust your class as you go along.
  • Be ready to revise your syllabus.

    • Even experienced teachers often plan to do too much in a new class. I may end up writing as many as 4 syllabi for a new class (the original syllabus, the revised, the re-revised and so on). You may also need to revise your syllabus if you notice that students are making no progress on a specific goal due to lack of a skill you had assumed they possessed. You may need to revise your syllabus finding a way to incorporate support in the acquisition of that skill.