Preparing to Teach

Last updated on 2023-06-29 | Edit this page

Estimated time 65 minutes



  • What can I do to prepare to teach my lesson for the first time?
  • How should I communicate lesson setup instructions to learners?
  • What information should be recorded for instructors teaching a lesson?
  • How should information be collected as part of the feedback process?


After completing this episode, participants should be able to…

  • Summarise lesson content as a teaching plan.
  • Add Setup Instructions and Instructor Notes to the lesson site.
  • Create a feedback collection plan.

By now you should have developed objectives, exercises/formative assessments, and examples for at least one of the episodes in your lesson. In order to prepare to teach it (for the first time in particular) you’ll need to create a teaching plan and design a method to collect feedback on your lesson.

Teaching Plan

A teaching plan outlines the structure of your teaching session, including details, estimated duration and materials needed to deliver it. For example, a teaching plan may contain the following:

  • welcome, introductions and motivation for the lesson - to introduce yourself, aims and objectives of the lesson and how it will help learners
  • setup - to check if everyone is ready to proceed with the lesson
  • segments of teaching and exercises from the lesson and any other planned activities (e.g. group discussions, wrap-up and feedback)
  • checkpoints - places where you have planned to stop to check-in with learners
  • slides, figures and other visual aids needed to deliver teaching and other parts of the teaching plan
  • resources/references/recommended reading

Checkpoints in a Teaching Plan

Checkpoints are especially useful at the beginning of a lesson when you may not have as many exercises but the learners need to have the data downloaded or tool opened to be able to follow along. A checkpoint could include stopping to ask what questions learners have or having them indicate if they have completed the most recent step shown by the instructor.

Perspective on Preparing a Teaching Plan

“I usually create detailed notes organised in a concept map/workflow in order to make everything consistent. I also write next to each bit of teaching the time approximately needed. For each lesson I create (and reuse when I teach again the same lesson) very detailed notes of what happens during the lesson, including teaching goals and learning objectives I mean to achieve with each bit of lesson. This rich lesson plan requires a lot of work the first time I teach a lesson, but reduces a lot the preparation time of future lessons and are super useful to other teachers.”

- Dr. Allegra Via, Carpentries Instructor and Instructor Trainer

Exercise: Prepare a teaching plan (15 minutes)

Create a bullet point list or brief notes describing what you will say and do when teaching the episodes you have been focussing on during this training.

Figures and other visual aids are great tools to help participants understand the content being presented and make associations between pieces of information. The Instructor View of the lesson website includes a link in the top menu to Extract All Images, providing a single page containing all of the images in the lesson and their captions: this can be useful as an alternative to a slide deck when refering to figures and other visual aids during a workshop.

If your lesson requires participants to use any software, tools or data - it is worthwhile investing time now into creating clear download, installation and setup instructions for participants to follow and circulating them ahead of the workshop. This will give you more time at the pilot for teaching the lesson as troubleshooting setup problems on the spot can be time-consuming and stressful. Each Carpentries lesson has a dedicated place for setup instructions within The Carpentries Workbench located in the file learners/ off the lesson project root.

Exercise: Add Setup Instructions (10 minutes)

Add Setup Instructions (in the learners/ file) with a list of software/tools/data needed by participants to follow your lesson and links on how to obtain and install them.

Another standard piece of The Carpentries Workbench are the Instructor Notes pages - intended to help you and other instructors deliver your lesson by providing useful tips for how to best run a workshop or explain “sticky” points in the lesson. Instructor Notes for your lesson are located in the instructors/ file off your lesson project root where you may consider adding the following information:

  • rationale, strengths and/or weaknesses of the lesson design
  • what has been tried before and what worked/did not work
  • tips for teaching the lesson/particular episodes
  • challenges encountered
  • troubleshooting common setup/installation/exercise issues
  • parts that seem to cause trouble or most confusion for learners (i.e. where to tread carefully, spend more time explaining)

It may initially be difficult to create Instructor Notes until you have taught the lesson yourself for the first time - but after the first pilot you will have enough feedback to draft them.

Exercise: Add Instructor Notes (5 minutes)

Add Instructor Notes (in the instructors/ file) with an initial list of points that will help you and other instructors deliver the lesson.

Feedback Collection Plan

There is a lot to collect feedback on when trialling a new lesson and this is arguably the most important part of your teaching plan. It can be hard to capture all this information yourself while you are teaching, hence you will need help from your team - make sure you assign the feedback collection roles ahead of your pilot. Additionally, when you are advertising your workshop, try and make it clear to the participants you are piloting a new lesson and that they will be actively helping you refine it as well as learning new things themselves. This can help focus their attention on the feedback you need to collect from them, which you should be doing:

  • constantly and throughout the workshop
  • at a designated wrap-up and feedback session at the end of the workshop. Here, you can cover any other feedback that was not addressed up to that point and any specific questions you may want to ask your audience (e.g. about the choice of topics for the lesson, difficulty level, workshop operations). You may design a special form that participants can fill in anonymously - here is a post-workshop survey template for workshops that pilot a lesson in The Carpentries Incubator. You can use it as a starting point for a post-workshop survey to be shared with your learners at the end of the pilot workshop and you can supplement it with additional questions.

Exercise: homework

The final part of this training will focus on the skills needed to collaborate effectively. Before that there will be a break, during which we would like you to complete the following three tasks:

  1. Teach one episode of your lesson (probably the one you have been working on in these two days). See the Lesson Trial Runs page for full details.
  2. After your trial run has concluded (immediately after, or when you have reviewed any feedback you collected from learners), note down your answers to the following questions:
    • What worked?
    • What did not?
    • What will you do differently next time?
    • What will you change in your material you taught? We will refer to these notes when we reconvene for the last episode of this training.
  3. Based on your experience teaching the material and the feedback you received from your learners and helpers, make a list of issues you have identified with the material you prepared, e.g.:
    • examples that did not work as expected,
    • improvements that could be made to exercises,
    • parts that learners found particularly challenging,
    • unexpected questions or misconceptions that came up during the trial run.
    We will return to these notes during the final training session, so please make sure you save them somewhere you will be able to find them again easily when the time comes.

What questions do you have? (15 minutes)

The homework from this workshop includes a trial run of one of the episodes you have been developing in your lesson, to a real audience.

After reading the information provided about the trial run task and thinking about this task, what questions do you have about how you should approach teaching that trial run? Is there anything you are unsure of? What resources might help you prepare for that experience?


  • Spending time on preparing your teaching and feedback collection will make you and your participants get the most out of your workshop pilot.
  • Creating clear setup instructions as part of your lesson and circulating them ahead of the pilot is time well-invested and will give you more time when teaching the lesson.
  • Instructor Notes are teaching tips that you should include with your lesson to help you (a few months down the line) and other instructors, who have the relevant topic knowledge but have not been involved in the lesson design and development, deliver your lesson more successfully.