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Strategies for effective tutorials

In this course we have already established there is no one ‘right’ way to teach. This also applies to tutorials, there isn’t just one way to facilitate a tutorial.

A tutorial or “tute” is a class configuration in which a small group of students interact to discuss the content of a previous lecture under the guidance of a tutor. Laboratory, fieldwork and workshop may also be used for small group learning.

One of the main benefits of the tutorial is that it requires active participation from students. The tutorial learning context provides opportunities for students to engage more thoughtfully with the course concepts and discipline knowledge. Conversely the smaller group numbers in a tutorial can be potentially threatening to students who are not comfortable speaking to a group.

In step 2.4 we introduced you to a model of learning that you can use to help you plan your classes whether you are teaching in a lecture, a tutorial or a laboratory. Some of the strategies listed below can support you in setting up tutorials that encourage participation.

Be prepared

Think about your outcomes for the tutorial. Before you go into a tutorial be clear on what it is you want the students to do and what it is they need, that is, the aims and outcomes for the tutorial.

Get to know each other

Spend some time at the beginning of the first tutorial telling the students about yourself and asking them to find out about each other. ‘Ice-breakers’ can be used in the first tutorials (refer to ‘Want to know more?’).

Make your expectations clear

Talk to the students about your expectations of them in terms of contributing to the class and working together as a large group and also in small groups. Ask the students what they are expecting to get out of the tutorial. Together you could come up with a list of ground rules for the group.

Organise the physical environment

Think about the types of activities you want the students to be doing and organise the physical space to meet the needs of the group and maximise opportunities for learning.

Create an inclusive learning environment

In your tutorial groups students will come with a range of diverse backgrounds and experiences which can enrich the learning for all members of the group. As a tutor it is your responsibility to create an environment for learning that supports the diversity, and is inclusive of all students.

Ask students for feedback

Give your students the opportunity to provide feedback on their experiences of the tutorials at some point during the semester so you can act on their suggestions. This can be as simple as anonymous feedback on post-it notes or short questionnaires in your institution’s learning management system.

Talking point

Watch this video where Tim, a tutor discusses his perspective on the role of the tutor. Think about whether you agree or disagree with Tim’s ideas.

Post one strategy that Tim has mentioned that you agree would be effective for creating a good tutorial.


Habeshaw, S., Gibbs, G. and Habeshaw, T., 1998. 53 Interesting ways to assess your students. UK: Technical Education Services, 1998.

Toohey, S. (1999). Designing courses for higher education. Philadelphia: The Society for Research into Higher Education and The Open University Press.

UNSW Teaching Gateway

UNSW Teaching

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic on approaches to teaching there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf for this step.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney