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Lecture-Tutorials: A How-To Guide
Lecture-Tutorials: A How-To Guide

December, 2012
Prather & Brissenden; Univ. of Arizona

In This Month's Teaching Strategy, we are highlighting our expanded Lecture-Tutorials How-To Guide with a more comprehensive set of guidelines originally published a few years back. We know we have so many new members of our CAE community of practice that may not have seen it in our Teaching Strategies Archive that revisiting our How-To Guide would be worth it. So, just a reminder, what is a Lecture-Tutorial anyway?

Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy (Prather et al. 2013) are Socratic-dialogue driven, highly-structured collaborative learning activities designed to: a) elicit students, misconceptions, b) confront their nave, incomplete, or inaccurate ideas, c) resolve these contradictions, and d) demonstrate to students the power of THEIR conceptual models. Lecture-Tutorials are based on the topics faculty most often cover, require about 15-20 minutes of class time (5 minutes per page, on average), and are designed for implementation into existing traditional lecture courses. Following is a "how-to" bulleted guide for implementing them in your class.

What You Do Before Class

  • Do the Lecture-Tutorial yourself!! We cannot over emphasize the importance of this.
  • Write complete answers in your best "Astro 101" language. That is, use English, and write the answer you hope your best students would write. Especially for instructors who are using LTs for the first time, or recently started using them, having your full answers in class with you will make it easier for you to help students when they need it. It will also give you insight into what students will be struggling with. In addition, when students see you have actually done the same work you are asking them to do, you get a lot of "street cred" from your students. Lastly, if you have a projection device like an Elmo, you can model elements of good answers for your students.
  • Only after completing the LT, go online to the Instructor Guide for Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy, 3e (Prather et al 2012). Click on the "Resources" tab. Compare your answers to the ones in the guide. Read the basic background knowledge students need before they can do the LT. Also, find insights into common student reasoning difficulties, questions you can ask students to get them back on track, as well as questions you can ask them before and after they complete the LT.
  • Create your lecture slide-set to emphasize the required background knowledge.

What Happens in Class: The Basic Outline

  • You lecture for approximately 20 minutes using the slide-set you made that emphasizes the core required background knowledge.
  • Ask your students the conceptually challenging, multiple-choice question provided to you either in the Instructors Guide or ones you've written yourself. They should demonstrate to the students that they aren't quite prepared for test day to help motivate them to engage in the LT.
  • Have students work in pairs on the LTs. Provide them with a sense of urgency by saying "This is a short activity. I'm only going to give you about x minutes." Or ,This is a long activity. If you don't get after it, you'll run out of time."
  • Give student's additional timestamps throughout the activity to keep them working diligently. The LTs take, on average, five to eight minutes per page. About every five minutes, say, "If you're still on page 1, you're falling behind." "If you're still on page 2, you're falling behind." etc. When you see that most people in the class are nearly finished, ask the class "Raise your hand if you're on the last page." Or "Raise your hand if you're on number x?" Usually "question x" is a couple questions before the end. The idea here is that about 80 percent of your class should be raising their hands, projecting to the other 20 percent that they are working too slowly. At this point, tell students they have a couple more minutes.
  • Call "Time!" This works well to get the whole class to stop and to give their attention back to you.
  • Debrief the LT. Give students a few minutes to ask questions, but don't let them ask "What's the answer to question x?" Especially early on in the semester, model for them what good questions sound like. They should be explaining to you the reasoning difficulties, or struggles, their group was having when trying to answer a particular question.
  • Ask them a series of questions, increasing in difficulty, that represent the types of questions they'll have on test day. When you're done, tell students "If you're getting these questions wrong now, you're going to get them wrong on test day, unless you do something about it between now and then."
  • Continue on with your next topic.

What Your Students Do: Put this on Your Screen

  • Work with a partner!
  • Read the instructions and questions carefully.
  • Discuss the concepts and your answers with one another. Take time to understand it now!!!!
  • Come to a consensus answer you both agree on.
  • If you get stuck, or are not sure of your answer, ask another group.
  • If you're still stuck, raise your hand, and I'll help.

What You Do While Your Students Are Doing the Lecture-Tutorial

  • This is your chance to actually get to know your students.
  • Listen to their conversations. You'll be amazed both at how cool it is to hear them talking good science, as well as by the wrong things they say.
  • Keep track of their incorrect ideas, and use them as distractors on your exam questions.
  • When a group does raise their hand, the first step is to ask them to read you the question word-for-word. *This will solve the problem 60 percent to 70 percent of the time.
  • If they still need help, avoid going back into lecture mode. Try to keep the Socratic dialogue going. What are the questions you could ask them to help get them back on track?
  • Make sure groups are collaborating. Especially early on in the semester. If one student asks you a question, ask the other group member to explain the trouble they're having answering the question, or what they think the problem is.
  • Always be in pursuit of the Teachable Moment!

To learn more about Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy, Third Edition check out the book, or better yet, attend one of our workshops


Prather, E. E, Slater, T. F., Adams, J. P., & Brissenden, G. (2013). Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy, Third Edition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Addison-Wesley.

Teaching Strategies Archive

CAE is housed in the Astronomy Dept. at the Univ. of Arizona's Steward Observatory. CAE is funded through the generous contributions of the NASA JPL Exoplanet Exploration Public Engagement Program. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0715517, a CCLI Phase III Grant for the Collaboration of Astronomy Teaching Scholars (CATS). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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