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Lesson materials and teaching aids

This chapter provides information on the materials you need to produce when planning and designing a lecture or training session and the teaching aids which support your teaching strategy and assist learning. There are four sections – lesson plans, instructor’s notes, handouts, and guidelines on using teaching aids. Since the terminology is not employed consistently in the education world a brief explanation is required. Lesson plans, setting out the learning outcomes for a lesson, are sometimes referred to as class objectives; the materials referred to here as instructor’s notes are sometimes referred to by teachers as lesson plans.

It always takes longer than expected for a tutor to create lesson materials. The time involved in the preparation of a new lesson may frequently be about five times the amount of time spent delivering the training. Even when a course has been run before, the ratio will be about 2:1, to allow for lesson materials to be checked and updated – an essential task, especially with electronic sources (CD and Internet), which, in comparison with paper sources, change far more frequently in the way they present information or permit searching.

Lesson plans


  • A lesson plan sets out the objectives or learning outcomes and content of the session for the benefit of the student. When a lesson plan is distributed before the lesson it can be an effective tool in managing student expectations and helping their preparation for the lesson.
  • Lesson plans are extremely useful for sessions in which students are required to undertake supervised activities, but can also be appropriate for lectures, to focus and give direction to the presentation.
  • Together with instructor’s notes they should help a colleague deliver a session in your place, should the need arise.
  • Lesson plans are particularly important for sessions in which PowerPoint is not the main teaching medium. This is because the opening slides of a PowerPoint presentation should include the main elements of a lesson plan, in particular a statement of the learning outcomes and an outline of the content and any activities. It is standard practice for students to be given a handout of the slide presentation.

Layout and content

As a matter of good practice, a lesson plan ought to comprise the following six elements:

  1. Identification of the teaching or service department from which the lesson plan has originated – when sessions are embedded within a teaching module you may be required to follow the house style (if any) adopted by the school.
  2. The course of study, the location of the particular lesson within it (if appropriate) and the title of the lesson.
  3. Learning outcomes stated in student centred terms – the outcomes must be a clear, precise statement of what the student will be able to do at the end of the lesson. In theory, there are three parts to a learning outcome:
    • Task or activity – this should be an observable action stated in active terms, such as to “list, identify, state, select, write, demonstrate, explain, search, distinguish between”. Avoid passive terms such as “understand, appreciate”.
    • Conditions – these state the conditions under which the task will be carried out, such as the range of problems to solve, the tools or equipment to be used, any special aids or manuals provided, environmental conditions. In the context of legal research skills training it may be inappropriate to set conditions to the activities.
    • Standards of performance – these state the standard of performance that the student must achieve. They can be of three main types: accuracy, speed, quality. These must be measurable. Examples include: “without error’“or “within ten minutes” or “in a coherent and well organised fashion”.
  4. Details of pre-lesson reading or other preparation. This is an optional element.
  5. A description of all the activities which will take place in the lesson, especially noting those to be undertaken by the student. It is good practice to include information on whether or not the activities will be assessed.
  6. Including a statement about how and where help on the tasks can be obtained outside the lesson is helpful to students.
    The name of the person who prepared the lesson plan and the date of preparation.

Some institutions have devised templates for the design, layout and presentation of lesson plans, so that a ‘corporate image’ is presented to students.

Many of the points mentioned above are illustrated in the example lesson plan (illustration 9 – available below), which I used for several years for a free standing workshop included in a number of legal research courses for undergraduate and postgraduate students at Cardiff University.

Where the principles of information literacy have been incorporated within legal research skills training and there is linkage between the content of the knowledge (law) and skill (research) lessons, a lesson plan similar to that in illustration 10 (available below) is more appropriate. The structure of the lesson plan is much the same, but an important added element is the section on linkage and re-purposing of the information, which shows how the lesson content is directly connected to those around it and leads through to an assessed piece of work.

It is essential to bear in mind the general duties of educational institutions to comply with the requirements of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA), which forms Part IV of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). The Act places a general duty on all educational institutions to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled learners are not put at a substantial disadvantage. For example, dyslexic and visually impaired learners may benefit from the following measures:

  • prepare the lesson plan using at least 14 point Arial font
  • use bold text for headings and avoid faint text at all times
  • avoid excessive use of capitalisation, underlining and italicisation
  • leave plenty of space between blocks of text
  • left justify text and leave the right margin jagged
  • use matt finished paper in cream or pastel colours


Where possible, lesson plans should be distributed before the lesson. In their comprehensive and authoritative guide to making the curriculum accessible to students with disabilities, Doyle and Robson (2002) maintain that all students will ultimately benefit when not only lecture lesson plans but also handouts and OHPs are provided in advance. When students are required to undertake preparatory reading it is obviously essential for lesson plans to be distributed in adequate time prior to the lesson. There are several ways of achieving this:

  • by handing out all the lesson plans at the start of the legal research skills course
  • by handing out next week’s lesson plan at the end of the previous lesson
  • by arranging with administrative staff for lesson plans to be available for collection at the relevant school office
  • by placing the lesson plan either on a shared network drive or e-learning software, such as Blackboard or WebCT

Instructor’s notes


Instructor’s notes provide a practical framework and aide memoire for lectures and training sessions. They are for the benefit of the instructor. They should include two elements:

  • information on the lesson content (ie the core points, including examples to be used in the demonstrations)
  • information on the process by which that content is to be delivered; for example, is the content to be delivered only by the instructor (instructor led learning) or through the instructor asking the group lots of questions and developing the content through the responses (student focused learning)? Will the questions be put to the whole group (global questioning) or to named individuals in turn (specific questioning)?

The notes must be simple and clear enough for another person to be able to use them in lesson delivery, should you be absent or sharing the teaching load with others. The notes will also provide you with a reminder of the structure and content of the session when reviewing your teaching in preparation for the following academic year.

Layout and content

The precise format and design of instructor’s notes inevitably depend on the nature of the session and the preferences of individuals. When using PowerPoint, instructor’s notes may be added to each individual slide and printed off using the ‘notes pages’ output format. Much of the following advice applies to instructor’s notes in both PowerPoint and conventional formats. Here are some suggestions for the headings to be incorporated:

  • course title (for example, LLB, 1st Year)
  • lesson title
  • date and time of session (if applicable)
  • location of session (if applicable)
  • a “You will need” checklist of requirements. Examples include:
    • handouts
    • the equipment that needs to be set up
    • evaluation sheets (if applicable)
    • any other special instructions
  • sub-headings together with timing guidelines
  • at the end of the document:
    • the initials of the document’s author
    • the filename given to the document
    • the date of the last revision of the document

If the session is to be delivered by staff other than the person who devised the training session, it is helpful if information on the ‘process’ is summarised after the “You will need” section. In addition, more detailed directions to the tutor can be included at appropriate points in the content part of the instructor’s notes.

The style in which instructor’s notes are written will affect the trainer’s ability to read and deliver them. One way of assessing whether your notes are sufficiently clear and intelligible is to ask a colleague to read them and consider whether they would be able to deliver the session from your notes.

On courses where a team of tutors give legal research skills instruction, ‘product testing’ of notes before they are used in class is essential. The following style guidelines, based on experience, are suggested:

  • use a large font (ie minimum 14 point)
  • leave substantial amounts of ‘white space’ on individual pages
  • embolden headings
  • embolden or italicise points you wish to emphasise
  • use bullet points to clearly group together points within individual sections
  • use colour to highlight points if you find this helpful

The layout of instructor’s notes is a matter for personal preference unless the institution has adopted standards. Illustration 3 (available below) is an example I have frequently used for legal research sessions. For economy in the production of this book, the font size in illustrations 3 and 11 has been reduced below the 14 point recommended. Another style (illustration 11 – available below) used at Cardiff by my colleagues in the University Libraries employs a two column format, with notes of what the tutor is to say in the left hand column and notes on what the tutor is to do in the right hand column. This format is very useful if the tutor is using a computer presentation and/or other equipment and requires clear instruction on when to switch between aids or which image to show in connection with a particular stage in the discussion.



Handouts are used principally to reduce the amount of time students spend copying notes or diagrams from a board or screen.

Handouts can be used in a variety of ways:

  • directly related to the lesson content, for example, a PowerPoint generated handout of a slide presentation
  • as an information sheet – presenting complex, rare or hard to find information
  • as a reading list
  • as a worksheet/job sheet/operation sheet/quiz sheet/proforma/workbook (to be filled in by the student as the lesson progresses)
  • as a practical guide to using a particular resource, for example, a database guide
  • as a permanent source of reference

Whatever type of handout is used, it should be well structured, well designed and checked rigorously for errors. It is good practice to get a colleague to check it too.

It is good practice to make handouts interactive by providing space for annotation, and to inform students that they will find it useful to annotate the information as the session progresses.

Layout and content

The layout and content of a handout is very much a matter for the individual tutor to decide. However, in legal research skills training, especially where students are trying to master how to use a complex paper publication, a step by step guide included in the handout, similar to the example in illustration 12 (available below), has proved popular with students. The example fulfils criteria numbers one, two, four and six in the list above.

When students are learning to use an electronic database it is useful to provide them with a handout which incorporates computer screen or PowerPoint images in reduced size, leaving space around the images for students to write notes. Illustration 13 (available below) is an example of a handout with screen images to the left and space for student notes to the right.

As a matter of good practice, a handout ought to include the following information:

Identification that it has been prepared by a particular teaching or service department – when sessions are embedded within a teaching module you may be required to follow the house style (if any) adopted by the school.
The course of study, the location of the particular lesson within it (where appropriate) and the title of the lesson.

The name of the person who prepared the handout and the date of preparation.

There are generally accepted guidelines on creating documents in a clear and easy to read format. The guidelines help to ensure that documents are generally accessible to students, some of whom may have a disability.

A well designed handout will:

  • be typed
  • use headings and page numbering consistently
  • use bullet points rather than continuous prose
  • make good use of white space
  • use at least 12 point font
  • use a sans serif font, for example Arial
  • keep lines left justified with a ragged right edge
  • avoid excessive use of CAPITALISATION and underlining
  • avoid use of italics or text at an angle
  • leave plenty of space between columns of text
  • avoid starting a sentence at the end of a line
  • be printed on cream or pastel coloured paper – white paper can create glare
  • avoid using glossy paper
  • provide information in alternative formats – disk, large print, on the intranet

As noted above, Doyle and Robson (2002), writing about the needs of students with disabilities, maintain that all students will ultimately benefit when not only lecture lesson plans but also handouts and OHPs are provided in advance. They go on to say (page 22): “Photocopying up handouts from A4 to A3 to enlarge the text is unsatisfactory as it is unwieldy – try to stick to an enlarged font size of A4 paper”.

If the handout provides students with information on how to perform a task, it is good practice to test the instructions with colleagues to ensure the information is clear and correct. This is especially important if the tutor has decided to use the workbook method of instruction (discussed in chapter 4), where students are required to complete the workbook in their own time. It can be very difficult to communicate corrections to the workbook once it has been issued, even with the use of university e-mail accounts which some students access infrequently. The tutor may not be meeting students in a classroom setting for many weeks. Some students will become demotivated if mistakes are frequent and cause them to waste time.

Teaching aids

Teaching aids support the lesson plan and assist learning. In a legal research skills context, teaching aids use the senses of hearing (through audio tapes, CDs) and sight (through visual aids such as handouts, worksheets/books, overhead transparencies, videotapes and PowerPoint). Research indicates that whilst only about 12% of what we learn comes from hearing, 75% comes from what we see.

The range of teaching aids includes:

  • whiteboards
  • slides
  • flip charts
  • Blackboard or WebCT
  • diagrams
  • PowerPoint
  • pictures
  • video cassettes/DVDs
  • overhead transparencies
  • audio cassettes

When designing the structure and content of a lesson, remember to consider all the activities in the lesson and all the possible means of assisting learning. A very effective lesson I have devised on how to use the paper version of Halsbury’s Laws of England involves the use of a handout, a commercially available videotape and overhead transparencies. Using a variety of teaching aids helps to maintain student interest.


A well designed aid should:

  • promote perception
  • promote understanding
  • help reinforce the spoken word
  • aid memory retention through repetition – but repetition through a different medium
  • motivate and arouse interest through requiring students to use different senses to learn
  • make effective use of the teaching time available to learn

Visual aids should be:

  • simple – do not crowd information onto the page or screen
  • to the point, and well related to the lesson plan
  • interesting and attractive

Checklist of good practice for the preparation of overhead transparencies

Remember that overheads should not transmit all the information students need, but be a basis for reminding you of the main points of your presentation and aid students in structuring their notes:

  • keep design and layout simple – use no more than six bullet points
  • use one topic for each transparency
  • use a main heading and subheadings
  • use simple words or keywords rather than sentences
  • use upper and lower case
  • use a sans serif font such as Arial or Comic Sans – they are easier to read
  • keep lines left justified with a ragged right edge
  • if you are using colour do not use yellow or light green – they do not show well at the back of a large lecture theatre
  • use wider spacing between sentences and paragraphs
  • depending on the size of the room in which you will be using the transparency, the type size should be at least 18 point, preferably 24 point, and some commentators even recommend 30 point
  • use no more than two font sizes
  • avoid acronyms and abbreviations
  • limit use of punctuation marks

For students with dyslexia, colour visual impairments and other visual difficulties there are further recommendations:

  • be aware of background and foreground colour combinations, as some are very difficult to distinguish for those with visual impairments
  • do not use colour to convey meaning, as some students may have visual difficulties, for example, colour blindness for red and green
  • for students with dyslexia ensure that the layout of each slide is easy to understand if inserting a diagram, graph, complex table etc

Checklist of good practice for the preparation of PowerPoint presentations

PowerPoint is an extremely popular presentation package and an alternative to using overhead transparencies for the production of interesting and visually attractive presentations. There is a temptation to use PowerPoint just because it exists. Refrain, for technology should not drive the selection of the teaching aid, but the particular teaching aid should be chosen according to its fitness for purpose in that particular teaching situation.

The main advantage in using PowerPoint is the flexibility, both in terms of the content of the presentation and the way in which the information is displayed. Graphs, drawings, tables and organisational charts make your presentation more interesting, but as a general rule keep presentations simple and clear. PowerPoint, like overhead transparencies, is most effectively used to emphasise the main points you wish to make. Many of the guidelines relevant to PowerPoint presentations are similar to those used in preparing overhead transparencies – here are additional points to remember:

  • limit the number of slides, for example, no more than 12 for a ten minute presentation
  • ensure text contrasts with the background, but avoid patterned backgrounds
  • if you are using pictures, charts, tables and diagrams, ensure you are complying with copyright law
  • standardise position, colours and styles
  • use only one or two animation or transition effects

In legal research skills teaching PowerPoint can be used to display screens captured from an electronic database, to illustrate how a search of the database is conducted. It is very useful to have prepared beforehand a PowerPoint presentation of an Internet database to show, should there be a technical problem with accessing the website in the lesson. The advantage of a PowerPoint presentation over a live database demonstration is that:

  • the sequence of database screens can be interspersed with summary screens listing, for example, search steps
  • it is less susceptible to last minute technical difficulties or unexpected events which can befall and ruin a live demonstration

The disadvantage of a PowerPoint presentation is that:

  • the tutor cannot interact with the database to illustrate points raised by students
  • the presentation will usually need to be loaded onto a PC with a hard drive or a networked PC, since captured database screens take up a large amount of disk space and will be slow to load from a floppy disk. PowerPoint can take up to a minute to load a presentation. It is therefore recommended that wherever possible the file is opened in the Viewer before the lesson commences.

If PowerPoint handouts are offered in advance of the presentation it is good practice to put the material on the Web for students to download. But if there are many slides remember the cost to the student in printing them off.

Data projectors

Some lecture theatres and even tutorial rooms now have ceiling mounted projectors connected to a control desk situated near where the lecturer usually stands. This type of projector produces a clearer and stronger image, and the integration of the control equipment, which can include a video player as well as a computer, makes it easier to use than separate units – an OHP, a PC and LCD panel.

Data projectors are often found in IT training rooms linked to a ‘master’ PC. Increasingly they are being fitted in ordinary small group teaching rooms. There are now portable data projectors which can be plugged into the back of an ordinary PC. Data projectors make possible the projection of data from video, CD, PowerPoint and the Internet. Some teaching and training rooms are equipped with touch sensitive screens, so that the projected display can be controlled by the tutor simply by touching a keyboard projected onto the edge of the projection screen.

The main tip about data projectors is that they usually require several minutes to warm up before they are ready to display images. Always set them up before beginning the class.

LCD panels

This aid has been largely superseded by data projectors. But, since many smaller teaching and training rooms may not be fitted with data projectors, the following guidance is provided. A Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) panel connected to a PC and placed on an overhead projector will enable you to project computer generated images onto a display screen for the whole class to read. To be effective LCDs usually need to be placed on an overhead projector which contains a very much more powerful lamp than is available in the usual type of projector. Even with a powerful lamp some LCDs do not produce a very sharp or clear image in a large lecture theatre. This is particularly noticeable if the image is from a computer database screen containing subtle shades of colour, lacking great contrast, which blur or disappear when viewed at a distance. Further, there is quite an art to arranging all the cables and connections between the various pieces of equipment to ensure they can be used safely.


As with any teaching aid it is important to make adequate preparation:

  • devise an appropriate spoken introduction explaining why you are going to show the videotape to the class
  • give clear instructions as to what activities you expect students to be doing while the tape is running – should they make notes or should they concentrate on listening and watching
  • discover if a student manual is supplied with the videotape and which can be copied and distributed to students to form as a permanent record of the instruction provided on the tape – this good practice for students with disabilities
  • set up the equipment before the lesson and run the tape so that the ‘lead’ into the beginning of the instruction is as short as possible and the class (and tutor) are not left wondering whether the tape is going to play
  • before the lesson check that sound and vision levels are adequate at the back of the room

After showing a videotape it is always beneficial to students if simple exercises are set which require them to use the skills demonstrated. If the videotape has described how to use a particularly complex publication, optimum student learning is achieved if the videotape is shown at a small group session and the class is required to undertake exercises in using the publication immediately after the screening, to practice the skills shown. Further, at the end of the lesson more complex exercises may be set for students to undertake in their own time, without the aid or assistance of a tutor. Ideally, the answers should be collected in at the next lesson and marked by the tutor.

There are very few videotapes relevant to legal research skills training. The reason may lay in the fact that law libraries, publications and databases change in small details and sometimes in more obvious ways with such rapidity that the huge investment in making a videotape introduction cannot be recouped through sufficient sales. Videotape is also a linear learning tool, in which the viewer is passive. The advent of electronic learning (see chapter 6) offers the opportunity for the student to interact with the medium, which has advantages over video.

However, where a tutor led approach to learning is desired, the use of video provides an alternative medium for learning and can add variety to a presentation, saving a great deal of tutor effort, especially if the principles of library or database use have to be repeated to many groups over a short period of time.

I am aware of the following videotapes:

  • A guide to legal materials – 2 × 20 minute VHS tapes made by Sheffield University Television (1995). A print version of the script is supplied, but no student or tutor manuals. I have found the tapes suitable for introducing law undergraduates to a wide range of legal sources both paper and electronic, though the second programme tends to cover too many sources in the time available.
  • How to use Current Law – 1 × 12 minute VHS tape made by Sweet & Maxwell (1994). Includes a student manual, which can be copied and used as an aide memoire after the showing, and four worksheets of questions for students to research to help reinforce the instruction. A well planned and visually attractive video suitable for undergraduates (but best used in the second or third phase of legal research skills instruction) and postgraduates. Although Current Law is now available electronically, the details of what it contains and the principles of when to use the source remain valid.
  • Using Halsbury’s Laws – 1 × 12 minute VHS tape made by the University of Central Lancashire (1993). Includes a student manual, which can be copied for and followed by students when viewing the tape, and tutor’s notes on how to use the video as part of student instruction. I have used the video to train postgraduate vocational course students (Legal Practice Course) and newly appointed law librarians. Although Halsbury’s is available as an electronic source – Halsbury’s Laws Direct – the details of what the paper version contains and when to use it remain valid, especially since the electronic version does not have a subject index to browse.

Preparing the room and equipment

Before the lesson – preferably hours or days before the lesson:

  1. Check the accommodation to make best use of what has been allocated to you;
    move tables, chairs and equipment to support your students’ learning – ensure everyone will be able to see/hear the aids you intend to use. Go to the back of the room and get a student’s eye view of the aids. If the room arrangement is not satisfactory you may need to ask students to move so that they can see/hear the aids when you use them. Remember, if yours is not the next teaching session in that room, to re-arrange the room to the layout in which you found it.
  2. Ensure lighting or blackout arrangements are satisfactory, but also ensure that lighting in the darkened room is still adequate for note taking.
    Check how to make the room as quiet and yet adequately ventilated as possible.
  3. If you are going to write on a whiteboard or flip chart practise how large and neatly you have to make the writing for it to be seen clearly at the back of the room. Go to the back and check.
  4. Familiarise yourself with the equipment you intend using and how it is operated. Check that the overhead projector, Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), data projector, video playback equipment and PC, if used, work and are set up so that cables are not a hazard to you or the students.
  5. Check that the display can be seen from the back of the room – go to the back and check. If you are using an OHP, check that the image is properly focused:
    • that it is sharp over the whole area of the screen, by adjusting the height or direction of the mirror above the transparency
    • that there is no ‘halo effect’, a circle of colours at the edge of the image, by adjusting the wheel at the side of the projector box (on some models only)
    • that there is no ‘keystone effect’, the image at the top of the screen is wider than at the bottom. This can be cured by slanting the screen away from the wall at its top and ensuring that the light beam projected is at right angles to the screen
  6. Check the suitability of network access (if used) and equipment proposed for the lesson.
  7. If you are using the internet, check that the webpages you wish to use display properly. Run these before the start of your lecture to facilitate quicker access.
  8. Practise delivering at least a portion of your lecture. It is important to get a feel for the dynamics and atmosphere of the space.
  9. Check that microphones are working properly – this is important in large lecture theatres. Try to gauge the extent to which you will need to project your voice. Ideally, get a colleague to sit at the back of the lecture theatre to comment on your audibility.
  10. Decide where you will position any handouts which you might want to distribute at the start of a session. Many lecture theatres have two entrances, so you might want to consider placing handouts in separate areas.

To enable a student who lip reads to fully participate in a small group lesson, arrange the seating in a semi-circle so that the student can see everyone’s face.

During the lesson

  • check that students can see/hear the aids; if they cannot, alter the seating arrangements – DO NOT plough on with the class regardless; you will lose student interest
  • ensure you do not block students’ view of visual aids; stand to one side of the white board or the overhead projector
  • give students a chance to read the image on the screen before you talk about it
  • include copies of transparencies or screen images in the student handout (see illustration 13 – available below) and refer students to them – suggest they make notes on the copies
  • when showing information on a projection screen, talk to the students NOT the screen

When using an OHP projector:

  • use a pointer placed on the transparency rather than pointing to the screen – laying an ordinary ball point pen on top of the transparency, with the tip pointing to the text you wish to draw to students’ attention, is entirely adequate
  • select the transparency display technique most appropriate to the information it displays – either reveal all the information on the transparency at one go or use a slow reveal technique, with a piece of paper or card laid across the transparency, uncovering each line of information only as you speak about it

To enable a student who lip reads to fully take part in the lesson, always face the whole group so that the student can see your face. Also, in a small group lesson, only allow one individual to talk at any one time. Repeat what the student has said. Use a flipchart or whiteboard to note key points in the discussion. For the benefit of blind or visually impaired students ask anyone who speaks to introduce themselves, including yourself.


The design and use of lesson plans, instructor’s notes and handouts has been described. The preparation of a range of teaching aids to generally accepted standards of good practice has been explained. In the next chapter the use of a virtual learning environment (VLE) to teach legal research skills is discussed. Whilst the use of VLE in universities is increasing, many of the general principles of design used for conventional lessons, materials and teaching aids carry over into the design of a good legal research course delivered through the medium of the VLE.


Last Modified: 4 June 2010