Introductory Section

The term “recitation” harkens to a time when students were assigned to memorize and recite texts to their classmates. Today, recitation sessions are meetings in which instructors clarify lectures or texts, give and assess assignments, all the while relating it to the lecture material. Recitations are also more intimate, allowing instructors to relate more closely with the students and helping them achieve meaningful learning during the course.

Recitation sessions can take many forms and will vary depending on the discipline, department, lead instructor’s requirements, student personalities, and current needs in the course. Recitations can include short reviews of lecture topics as well as many different kinds of activities to help students explore and expand on what they learned in lecture.

Being a recitation instructor doesn’t mean that you are merely supplementing teaching time for the lead instructor—you are a teacher, too! Students will still see you as their instructor and will expect many things of you. You should therefore plan and prepare just as much as any other instructor would. Because recitation sections are usually smaller, you are able to interact with students more closely— something they will probably be lacking in the lecture portion of the course.

Because your responsibilities will vary depending on department or the needs of your students, it is up to you to find out how much leverage you have in designing certain elements of the recitation, and which responsibilities you will have for recitation and/or the lead instructor’s lecture. For example, make sure you know whether or not it is your responsibility to design your own recitation course schedule. Also make sure you know whether it is up to you to design activities for students. If so, you will most likely be the person who grades those activities, so it is important to plan wisely. The lead instructor may ask you to grade papers, quizzes or exams from lecture in addition grading recitation assignments. The majority of your responsibility as recitation instructor is to help students become comfortable with the course material. Because they will have covered most of the material in lecture, recitation offers you the place to be more creative in designing activities or assessments that will achieve the goals of the course as a whole.

Recitations sections are typically tied to a lead instructor’s lecture section, so you will be interacting on a somewhat regular basis, depending on your department and/or lead instructor’s preferences. Depending on their expectations and the structure of the course, you may work closely with the lead instructor during lectures by helping them hand out papers, grade lecture materials, etc. In other cases you may not attend lectures at all, in which case you will have to figure out how closely you are required to work with the lead instructor. Regardless of whether you attend lecture, find out how strongly connected the lecture is to recitations. If recitation depends little on lecture content, you will likely have greater autonomy in structuring recitation as you please. However, if part of recitation requires reconnecting the material to the lecture, then it may be good to attend lectures to help you get familiar with the subject matter before teaching. 

Tools and Strategies

The content and the structure of the recitation session depends on the specific course that you are teaching. You may be expected to create your own materials and activities for your recitation sessions or the lead instructor may provide them for you. However, you should be ready to use various techniques that will engage students in learning.

Tips to prepare for a recitation session:

  • Avoid coming to recitation unprepared. Use your expertise to find activities that will engage students actively, and reinforce the material.
  • Arrive early and stay a few minutes late to address individual student questions.
  • Be ready to answer basic questions from lecture or from the textbook or other readings, and have a few ideas up your sleeve. For example, why not spend a few minutes before recitation to find a recent news article that relates to the subject matter? Students will be able to connect the material to something new and relevant.
  • Students may expect a quick review of important concepts from lecture. This does not mean that you should recite verbatim what was said in lecture. You can be creative! For example, have students ask each other questions, or ask students to spend a few minutes reviewing lecture notes and have them teach each other. If you plan to give your own mini-lecture, make sure you highlight important points, and only use extra examples to reinforce concepts.
  • Use this time to find out what students don’t know or what they are still confused about. Perhaps you can re-visit these questions or content to help your students retain and understand the material.
  • Be ready to handle questions that you don’t have the answers to. You can always look up the answer or ask students to find a solution for the next recitation session.

Regardless of what you are doing during recitation, it is important to have a game plan for what you and your students should accomplish during recitation and how you will get there. Being organized will go a long way in creating a productive and engaging classroom environment, and will be noticed and most likely appreciated by your students.

Strategies for structuring a recitation session:

  • Set expectations: On the first day of recitation, make sure to tell students how you plan to lead recitation and what your expected role will be. Will you be doing a lot of talking or do you want them to guide the session along? If you plan to use a lot of discussion, get students involved from the beginning so that they know that they are expected to participate. Be up front about your expectations for your students and begin modeling your ideal recitation session from the get-go.
  • Provide an agenda: For each recitation session, provide your students with a clear outline or a daily agenda, which will give them a sense of what you want them to accomplish by the end of the session.
  • Plan for time limitations: Recitation time can be very limited. If the lead instructor requires that you review lecture material, make sure you decide how much time you want to spend on it, and which format you want to use (discussion, presentations, etc.). Plan and use your time wisely.

The options for recitation activities are all up to you. There are many resources that provide some excellent and exciting ideas to make recitation engaging and fun for your students, but here are some examples that will encourage active participation.

Tips to engage your students:

  • Discussion: Facilitating a discussion can be challenging but is a great way to get students involved in a topic. One of the main challenges is getting all students to participate, in which case it may be wise to have students discuss the topic of interest in small groups before opening up the floor to the entire class. You can also enforce a rule that everyone needs to say at least one thing before they leave class. Note that if you plan on using discussion, you should come prepared having read the material you are using, and have good questions to present to the students.
  • Group/collaborative activities: Classrooms on campus are often designed to allow students to sit in groups, so take advantage of this structure. While group work can present challenges, it is a great way to get students to learn from their peers. For example, if you want to get a general idea about how students understand a particular concept from lecture, pose each group with a question, and have one member in the group teach the rest of the class about the subject. Having students work in small groups often helps more reserved individuals feel more comfortable before sharing their thoughts with an entire class. If you have a probing question about the material, whether from lecture or other resources, have students think by themselves, then pair up to share their thoughts, and then give students the opportunity to explain their answers or opinions. You can also try having students write down their answers or ideas first, then following it up with sharing.

While the general structure of recitation courses differs between departments and even between courses, here are a few tips to help recitation instructors work with the other members of their course’s teaching team.

Tips for working with the lead instructor and other recitation instructors:

  • Introduce yourself: make sure to introduce yourself to the lead instructor before class. Also introduce yourself to the other recitation instructors for the course—you may need them as resources for discussing grading, other course policies, etc.
  • Be consistent: remember that students communicate with one another—make sure you don’t give extra credit in your section when other recitation instructors aren’t. Students will expect that the opportunity to get points will be equal among the different sections. You want to ensure that your recitation session policies are consistent with the larger policies for the entire course.
  • Set up meeting times: If the lead instructor doesn’t offer, you should suggest a time to meet outside of class each week, where you can discuss potential problems or solutions. Since students will be spending a lot of time in lecture as well as recitation, it can help to put you, the instructor, and any other recitation leaders on the same page as far as material, due dates, or other projects.
  • Be aware of expectations: Know how much of a role you will be playing in lecture itself; establish the instructor’s expectations for how you to participate in lecture, such as by handing out materials, taking attendance, grading, or even giving guest lectures. While the structure of recitation is usually up to you, you should find out whether there are particular topics that you are expected to discuss in recitation. You will also want to be in communication with the lead instructor and other recitation leaders about how assignments are graded, and what grading scales, rubrics, and methods are used.

Case Studies and/or Examples

Extra Resources

Brief information from the ITA UCAT page about what a recitation leader is and what their roles may be.

A good source that includes tips about how to lead recitation, things to think about when preparing and conducting a recitation, and other information.