Tutorial Strategy in Education

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A (Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D.

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V. (P.G) College, Roorkee, India

It is the fundamental right of every person to get education in democracy. Therefore, instead of individual teaching, group teaching is emphasized so that the large group may be educated at the low rate of expenditure. But it is also true that in group-teaching, a general teacher cannot solve the ‘personal’ problems of every pupil. Its reason is that if he does this, he cannot finish his fixed syllabi in a time-bound manner.

To remove this drawback of group-teaching, pupils are divided into small groups so that the personal problems which came across during group teaching may be solved successfully. Hence, a tutorial is a sub-part of the class in which a teacher tries to solve the problems of the small groups of the pupils through individual teaching.

Aims of Tutorials

Tutorials are generally intended to:

  • Develop students’ ability to think and act like a professional in their discipline.
  • Develop students’ basic academic skills (e.g. identification and evaluation of relevant resources, effective communication both orally and in writing, effective time-management, critical self-assessment).
  • Enable students to learn how to think, for instance to synthesize disparate sources, to formulate a thesis and justify it, to anticipate criticisms of their arguments, and to respond to questions and challenges – thinking ‘on one’s feet’ – in the tutorial setting.
  • Enable students to pursue their individual academic interests within the context of their subject.
  • Help students to gain a deep understanding of the subject matter in their discipline  Helps students to see the significance and implications of their knowledge so they can apply what they have learned in new contexts.

The University’s Education Committee summarizes and defines the purpose of a tutorial as being “to develop an individual student’s capacity to think in depth about a subject area, and to operate with growing confidence within its techniques and methodologies, with the expectation that the process will promote increased understanding of the discipline for both tutor and student.”

Types of Tutorials

Tutorials are of three types :

1-            Group Tutorial. Group Tutorials are conducted to solve the problems of the grown up pupils of average level.

2-            Supervised Tutorial. In the supervised tutorials, the talented pupils and the teachers discuss the problems time to time. The pupils put up their difficulties. Then the teacher tries to solve those problems. In this way, after a discussion between a teacher and the pupils, the solutions to some problems come up.

3-            Practical Tutorial. Practical tutorials are conducted to develop the physical skill and to achieve the objectives of psychomotor skill. Pupils have to work in the laboratory for this.


Some people consider the teacher as primary and pupils as secondary in conducting the tutorials. In such a situation, if a tutorial acquires the form of a lecture, then this will be considered as autocratic strategy. Contrary to this, if the pupils are more active instead of the teacher, then it will definitely occupy its main place in democratic strategies.

Elements in Tutorial

In spite of a wide variety of tutors’ approaches to tutorials, there are common elements which contribute to this uniqueness, and these include:

•             Students meeting individually or in very small groups, with a tutor from their discipline.

•             Students spending time independently reading and preparing written work for the tutorial.

•             Students discussing their written work with the tutor, thus honing their oral communication skills and giving them an opportunity to receive constant feedback from their tutors.

Strategies for effective tutorials

For many graduate students, teaching tutorials is often their first – and in some instances, only – chance to apply and develop their teaching skills. Running tutorials (also called “seminars”) can provide challenges for faculty members. Numerous teaching aspects are involved in making tutorials productive learning events.

Below are few important strategies to help to deal with each one of these aspects:


•             Define guidelines and rules from the beginning. Devote time early in the term to familiarizing students with essential guidelines for successful and productive learning. Tell them your guidelines, and ask for their input and opinions about them. You will also likely have a number of non¬negotiable rules (e.g., due dates), but be flexible when possible (e.g., time for submitting assignments, locations for assignment submission, etc.).

•             Have your supporting materials ready. If you plan to use visual aids, make sure they are legible and concise. If you plan to use the chalkboard, determine how to partition and use itIf you need to demonstrate equipment use, practice before the tutorial.

•             Prepare a lesson plan for each session. Begin with your learning objectives for the session as a way to help you limit your content to 2-3 main concepts for a 50-minute session. Make sure to include time estimates for each section of the tutorial.

•             Tutorials should have their own learning goals. Check that your goals are congruent with those of the course instructor and that they clearly define what students will do. Then communicate these goals to your students. Focus not on “covering material” but rather encourage active learning among your students.


•             Avoid excessive formality, but don’t get too close. Some tutorial leaders may feel insecure or nervous and behave in an overly strict or stand-offish manner. Try to act naturally. If you are close to students in age, you may be tempted to socialize too much with them. Faculties have codes of conduct between staff and students.

•             Comment on student performance and behaviours. With large classes, tutorials may be the only time when students can get expert feedback on their work. Explain what’s wrong, where and why. Put it in writing, if possible. Remember to commend good work too.

•             Do not ignore disruptive student behavior Ask the disruptive students if they have questions. Remind students of expected classroom behavior stated on the first day of class.

•             . Make sure you are not the only one talking in your classroom Encourage students to participate. Mention explicitly that you expect students to participate and that they should feel free to make comments and ask questions. Provide opportunities for participation.

•             Make an effort to learn students’ names and use them. Ask students to say their name when asking questions, or return assignments to them personally. Students will regard the tutorial as more important if they feel that they are known to you.


•             Avoid speaking to your visuals. Whether you use the blackboard or a screen. Remember to point your toes to the back of the room before you speak so that students can hear you and you can see their responses to your teaching.

•             Keep pace with lecture progress. Tutorials normally follow up a lecture. Alternatively, arrange for a pool of students to bring you a copy of their notes after the lectures, so that you have a better picture of what students have learned.

•             Make connections among parts of the course/tutorial. Help students visualize the ‘big picture’ and integrate together the tutorial contents with the rest of their experiences in the course.

•             Use relevant examples. Illustrate points with examples taken from the field under study. Share  real-world experiences to help students visualize practical applications of concepts.

•             Use solid delivery skills. Maintain eye contact during your tutorials so you can see raised hands and develop a rapport with your students. Speak loud enough and with enthusiasm to keep student attention. As well, move naturally around the room.


•             Admit when you don’t know the answer. You will lose more credibility by trying to fake an answer than by stating that you don’t know. If you don’t know the answer to a student’s question, compliment the student on the question, then ask the class if anyone knows the answer.

•             Before answering, repeat questions. By doing this, you will ensure that everybody has a context for your answer. An additional point to remember is to look at the whole class when responding, not just at the questioner. A general rule of thumb is to give 25 percent of your eye contact to the questioner and 75 percent to the rest of the audience. By using this “25/75 rule,” you help to include everybody in the room.

•             Prepare questions in advance. Challenge students to venture beyond their current knowledge and attitudes. To help accomplish this, carefully design questions before the tutorial sessions.

•             Tutorials are the best times to ask detailed questions. Suggest the students  that they jot down questions and issues as they arise during lectures and bring their lists to the tutorial. But also let them know that you expect them to search for answers by themselves before coming to you.



•             Favor high-learning activities. Some subject related tasks that can help students to learn-by-doing are: solving problems, discussing different perspectives, asking questions, answering questions, working out different approaches to problems or case studies, and engaging in debates.

Give clear instructions. Before starting an activity, make sure that students understand what to do. Explain the goals and provide time breakdowns, then form groups if necessary. Write the instructions on the board.



•             Acknowledge and thank participation. Students get disheartened if their response is passed over without comment because it is not what the tutor wants to hear – in ordinary conversation it would be considered extremely disrespectful to do this. However, be sure to provide or elicit an accurate response so the class has correct information.

•             Don’t be afraid to commend good performance.Receiving praise for doing something well is highly motivating. Sincere praise from a tutor for insight, achievement, participation, or helpfulness will make students feel good and more likely to participate again.

•             Never put students down. Showing respect for all students is critical. Students can be highly sensitive to snubs or sarcasm, especially if they’re feeling insecure. You need to act professionally at all times.

•             Students’ attitudes toward tutorials may need changing. Students often regard tutorials as optional and their attendance may be erratic. Be sure that your tutorials add value to the course.


Other strategies

•             Save time by making time. If you need to be available to students outside of class, set up office hours, post them on your office door or website, and be there.

Keep good records. Make notes about attendance, topics covered, questions asked and student difficulties with the material. Such records will be very helpful if you’re involved in running the same tutorial again and may provide useful feedback to the course instructor.

•             Solicit student feedback. Ask how they are finding their learning experience and what they think you should stop, start, and continue doing. Check whether or not they have mastered concepts that have been covered already.

Creating an effective learning environment in a tutorial

Students are a very diverse group, coming from a variety of ethnic, religious, linguistic, social and economic backgrounds. Tutors need to take this into account and aim to create a safe learning environment so that all participants feel included .Overall, effective (and enjoyable) small group learning sessions often have the following in common:

             Everyone had a chance to participate and the tutor was able to get students actively involved

             Students feel as if they are part of a group. Students are acknowledged as an individual

             Students’ contributions to the group were welcomed and acknowledged but they didn’t feel compelled to contribute. Students aren’t ‘put down’ if they make a mistake

             The students left the session feeling that they had learnt/achieved something

             The tutor can anticipate the difficulties and problems that the students are likely to have. The tutor can demonstrate flexibility: admit to not knowing and be open to learning from students as well as with them

             The tutor challenges students: questions and probes students’ reasoning processes and critical thinking. The tutor varies the activities in tutorials

             The tutor is well prepared, or at least had a good structure for the session. The aims of the session are clear and achievable

             Tutors facilitate and support good relationships within the group. The tutor shows interest in the material and in the group itself

Procedure for starting first tutorial

Successful tutoring, like teaching, is not an exact science; it is based on thorough planning and good communication between students and tutor.

Introduce yourself. Write your name on the board and give a contact number and your office hours. Tell them where your office is. Cover key administrative information – key dates, contact details etc

Do a ‘getting to know each other’ session. This gets the students talking to each other and takes the heat off you for a while.

Discuss expectations about what will go on in the tutorial and negotiate some ground rules. It is a good idea to write the ground rules down so they can be referred to later. Establish participation as one of the ground rules for contributions to the tutorials.

Learn your students’ names, as students will respond to you more if they feel that they know you, and above all, that you know them.

Have a brief warm-up exercise. Icebreaker session. Instead of launching straight into the task for the day consider starting with a brief warm-up exercise. Icebreaker session

Set up the room in a way that encourages active participation. The best arrangement is a circle or semicircle, or you can ask the students themselves what they think would be a good arrangement.

Top Tips to become a better tutor:

Whether you are a seasoned tutor or new to the world of tutoring, you will be well aware that each student is different, and what works for one doesn’t work for another.

  • Ask your student how you can improve: Sometimes, it pays to get to the point and end a tutoring class by asking your student how you feel you can make the class more beneficial to them. Some students will ask for more variety; others will tell you that you are going too fast and they need to spend more time on the basics.
  • Be patient, be innovative: Some students are able to grasp concepts at a quicker pace than others. Don’t despair if you find that you have to repeat ideas you have already spent a considerable amount of time explaining. If you find that your students have problems retaining information, try to use memory retention techniques.
  • Be tech savvy: Most students nowadays have an almost intuitive relationship with technology; indeed, almost 100 per cent  own a mobile, tablet or iPod. Think of how you can incorporate these devices into your tutoring sessions.
  • Cater the lesson to the student’s learning style: Some learners like to thoroughly prepare before each tutoring session and prefer to have access to the material to be covered in class beforehand so they can go over it various times and feel confident in the subject you will be covering. Others may be the total opposite; they like to learn by doing.
  • Keep it fresh: A lesson plan that may be interesting for two or three lessons will cease to be so once the novelty wears off. Surprise your student by introducing new activities in a class.
  • Learn from alternative education methods: For some students, the newest is not necessarily the best. Check out tried-and-tested techniques.
  • Make it personal: You can probably recall a teacher that changed your life, inspired you to become more academic or gave you the gentle push you needed. What made this teacher so special was probably the personal interest they took in you; their gentle understanding of your circumstances, obstacles and goals. This teacher or tutor probably walked that extra mile to bring you a book you needed or told you how much they believed in in your ability. It is amazing how something as simple as a lack of confidence in one’s own skill and capacity can be a student’s greatest downfall. Try to be that source of inspiration for your student
  • Take a look at innovative new ways of teaching: Read up on the latest developments in education; take the best from these new styles of teaching and use them in your tutoring sessions. One new method reporting great success is Spaced Learning. Another new teaching method is called Engagement; it involves encouraging students to visit local businesses so they can see how the subjects they are learning apply to real life.

Tutoring with Interactive Small Groups

Tutors play a key role in giving students strategies on how to learn, and opportunities to use those strategies.

By scaffolding students’ learning by providing them with guidelines on how to approach a problem in their reading, study and exams, you are helping them to become more independent learners who are able to take responsibility for their own learning.

Independent, motivated learners are the key to successful interactions in your small group.

Your support may come in the form of:

3. Providing Feedback

4.  Getting feedback on what students have learned

             Feedback may be formal  or informal.

             Make feedback clear and constructive

             Provide feedback about what the student or group has done well and what needs improvement.

             Clear instructions that explain how to solve a problem step by step

             Key question activity: Key question/problem on overhead. All students given an index card to write their response. Distribute a large envelope to collect responses (anonymous or named).

             Modelling how to approach a problem or read strategically

             Quick quizzes at the start of the tutorial. A one-minute quiz at the end: List one/two/three questions about the work we did today that you still have at the end of this tutorial

             Scaffolding students’ problem-solving by asking a series of questions

             Self-reflection/ self-assessment. Assessment of the class – may be submitted anonymously – partway through semester

             What was the most difficult concept covered in the lecture/tutorial.Which problem/reading did you find most difficult? Why?

5. Strategies for involving “quiet” students

Avoid rushing in to answer all the questions – Give students responsibility for answering each other’s questions, with your guidance. Get people talking to each other using non-threatening situations, such as ‘ice-breakers’

Ask students to brainstorm ideas on paper first, before the discussion begins. They can then pair up with a neighbour to build up a bit of confidence, then share with the whole group (think-pair-share). Other activities you might try are:

o Brainstorms – a task is set and small groups quickly ‘brainstorm’ their ideas and these are fed through to the larger group without discussion, elaboration or criticism. They can then go back through the suggestions to see which are worth pursuing.

o Buzz groups – are pairs or small groups of students who are assigned a task or discussion topic for a limited period of time. A good moment to suggest a ‘buzz’ is when you what members of your tutorial to reflect actively on something and come up with quick ideas. The discussion itself may be enough, or you may get them to report back.

o Fishbowls – students in a small circle of chairs have a discussion. Students in a surrounding larger circle listen in. The outer circle can join in the discussion by swapping seats with someone in the inner circle. This can be useful for a focussed discussion in quite a large group. It’s also fun.

o Syndicates – teams of students work for a longer period of time in parallel on the same task – analyzing a problem or case, studying a text or artefact, preparing a proposal or bid, then each team presents their idea to the whole group.

Alert participants about an upcoming discussion (a week before) so that anyone who is nervous has the opportunity to do adequate preparation, and will feel more at ease about the prospect of contributing.

Don’t assume that silent students aren’t involved. There may be cultural or personal reasons for their silence. Work on a range of activities that allows for individual, pairwork, small groups of 3/4 as well as larger groups.

Recognise that people adopt different roles within a group or team situation. For more information about team roles, read

6. Strategies for managing “dominant” students/talkers

Develop and maintain ground rules. Being able to refer to ground rules will often help defuse a potentially irritating or disruptive problem. If you only let the dominant one(s) talk, others will become resentful and will probably stop coming to the group.

Work with individuals. This may mean talking with them before or after class alone, chatting with them when small groups are working. Explain how they might give their peers a chance to contribute.

Affirm the dominant individual. Let them know that you value their contribution, but out of fairness to all members of the group, everyone needs a chance to contribute.

Respond carefully. For example, if the dominant student constantly answers or asks questions, you may use humour sensitively, where appropriate, to let them know that someone else needs a turn! Usually the dominant ones know who they are and respond well to someone who works with them. Sarcasm or putdowns are never the way to go.

Resolving conflicts

Develop and maintain ground rules. Being able to refer to ground rules will often help defuse a potentially irritating or disruptive problem.

Be assertive. This may involve you stating your opinion or request; listening actively to another person’s opinion; reflecting back on what he/she says without comment or criticism; then calmly restating your point of view.

Confront the situation. Confronting has the connotation of aggression, but positive confronting simply means stating your concern about behaviour you find unsettling or disruptive. Self-disclosure can be useful. “I feel it’s unfair on the larger group when a small group does not participate.”

Activities to enhance learning

Read some material – Ask some students to read part of a handout and note their response to it. Alternatively, ask them to read from an overhead transparency, followed by a small group discussion.

 Give an example - Ask students to invent examples of a presented concept and compare them with another student.

 List pros/cons - Ask students to consider briefly likely advantages and disadvantages, or strengths and weaknesses, or a procedure or theory and then discuss.

Read your notes - Ask students to read their recent lecture notes or summary of a chapter in a text. Invite students to exchange and discuss notes to that they can add to their notes and compare approaches.

Solve a problem/answer a question - Set a problem or a question based on a lecture, a chapter from a text etc. Ask students to solve the problem or answer the question, individually, or in small groups, or individually followed by group work.

Watch a video-clip- Show a short video, giving clear instructions on what to look for and then discuss.

Write a question - Ask students individually or in pairs/groups, to write down one or two precise questions on a recent lecture. These can be dealt with in a variety of ways. An effective way is to put them in a hat and draw them out at random and get the whole group to suggest answers.

Concluding the tutorial

A common challenge is running out of time towards the end of tutorials. This often means rushing through the last few minutes of the tutorial which makes students feel frustrated and possibly anxious.

Make sure you conclude in a way that gives students confidence about what they have discussed and a sense of direction for how they will manage their tutorials, lectures and assignments to follow.

Final Tips

  • Be confident: Even the most experienced teachers have bad teaching days and “not so effective” groups. If something goes wrong, have confidence in yourself and the experience you have to share.
  • Be enthusiastic: Students value teachers who are enthusiastic about their subject and sharing with their tutorial group. Maintain your sense of humor.
  • Put yourself in their shoes: The most successful tutors empathise with group members – try to remember how you felt in your second and third year and share this with the group if/when appropriate.
  • Talk to your peers and share ideas: Sharing ideas and strategies is one of the best ways to learn and develop as a tutor.

Evaluating your tutorials

It can be very instructive to do some kind of evaluation before the end of the semester, and then you can make changes if you need to. An informal evaluation might simply involve you asking your students how they feel about the tutorials. You might decide to get students to answer some questions on paper, anonymously.


There is no simple advice about the ‘best number’ of students to teach at a time. An important consideration is that the larger the group, the less possible it is to provide individual attention or to be flexible and match content to the particular level or interests of individual students. Groups of two or three are probably the most effective, offering the advantage of supporting discussion and argument between students: as well as being productive in itself, this can serve to lift students’ confidence in expressing their ideas.

Students generally produce a piece of written work for each tutorial, based on bibliographic guidance provided by the tutor. The form of that written work varies across disciplines. For instance, the Humanities rely most heavily on the essay

All colleges should provide a means for students to give written feedback to Senior Tutors on their tutorials, to report both on the students’ perception of the support they have received, on the progress they see themselves as making and on areas where they feel they need more help. Uptake of student feedback in colleges is typically low, but, when the process is used, it can provide useful insight into the effectiveness of tutorial teaching and into the needs of individual students.



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