Welcome to the GSTA blog! 

In an effort to keep the Graduate Student Teaching Association (GSTA) blog current, we regularly welcome submissions from graduate students as well as full-time faculty. As a blog team, we advocate for and promote inclusion, equity, and anti-racism in pedagogy (see updated GSTA Position Statement from the Steering Committee). At this critical juncture in history, we have declared our solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and are motivated to use this platform to feature voices for change in the following areas as outlined by the GSTA:

  • Suggestions relating to decolonizing syllabi by including the work of scholars and psychologists from diverse identities and backgrounds.

  • Tips on adopting anti-racist and culturally responsive teaching and assessment practices.

  • Recommendations on creating inclusive learning environments that celebrate diversity and do not tolerate discrimination.

  • Strategies on discussing how discrimination and inequity have shaped the field of psychology and the world around us  with students and colleagues.

  • Tips on engaging with students and colleagues across disciplines in activism to create change in classrooms, institutions, and communities.

  • Input on being compassionate and supportive to students, colleagues, and ourselves during these times.

We are also still committed to diversifying blog content to include submissions ranging from new research in the area of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), public interest topics related to teaching and psychology, occasional book reviews, as well as continuing our traditional aim by including posts about teaching tips. Example topic areas include:

  • Highlights of your current SoTL research

  • Issues related to teaching and psychology in the public interest

  • Reviews of recent books related to teaching and psychology

  • Teaching tips and best practices for today's classroom

  • Advice for successfully navigating research and teaching demands of graduate school

  • We would especially like activities that align with APA 2.0 Guidelines!

The blog posts are typically short, ranging from about 500-1000 words, not including references. As it is an online medium, in-text hyperlinks, graphics, and even links to videos are strongly encouraged!

As we focus the spotlight on inclusion and non-discrimination, we will continue to provide  graduate students and faculty an outlet to share their experiences, ideas, and opinions regarding graduate students’ teaching practices.

If you would like for any questions to be addressed, you can send them to and we will post them as a comment on your behalf. If you are interested in submitting a post, please email us at 

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Hallie Jordan, Sarah Frantz, Maya Rose, Raoul RobertsTashiya Hunter, Laura Mason and Megan Nadzan

Follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.

  • 14 Oct 2014 7:51 PM | Anonymous

    By Kasey Powers

    A common conundrum when teaching is how much to give students to go on when it comes to instructions for studying for the exam. As an instructor we want them to learn everything that’s been covered, but it isn’t feasible to cover every concept, term, experiment on an exam, especially a multiple choice exam, which is what I use in my Introductory Psychology classes. Students have often asked for a study guide and want to know exactly what will be on the exam. However, providing an instructor created study guide can be too specific and adding “extras” that were covered in class but aren’t on the exam causes many student complaints. It’s easy to get caught between giving too much or too little. I took an idea from Dr. Dan McCloskey (Powers, Brooks, McCloskey, Sekerina, Cohen, 2013) that he uses in his research methods classes to create a crowd sourced study guide in my Introductory class.

    I do this using the Blackboard Wiki feature, but using your campus’s Course Management System Wiki or Forum or even a Google Doc could work. If you ask students to log in to Google Docs  you can track their revisions as you would on Blackboard. During class the week before we talk about the exam and what will be on it. I open up a new wiki and ask students for major topics that might be covered for each chapter. The students throw out experiments, names, terms, and ideas from the textbook and class discussions. I type in their responses to outline form.  Then after the class I go in to the guide and add anything from the exam students may have missed.

    For example a partial outline for Social Psychology might look like this:

    Social Psychology

    Milgram, Obedience

    Zimbardo, Dindividuation


    Bystander Effect

    Cognitive Dissonance

    The students are then tasked with filling in the information. They write that Zimbardo conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment that covered deindividuation.

    A second student might add that the experiment was made up of college students who were assigned to be prisoners or cops.

    As students fill in the outline they add pieces of information and edit one another’s work. This leaves the burden of studying on the students as they are the ones responsible for creating a detailed study guide and by removing any incorrect information. This solves the problem of providing too much or too little information as students created the outline. To ensure that the outline is complete I go through it and add in any keywords that are on the exam but that students may have missed. I do not remove keywords provided by the students that are not on the exam.

    This is a quick and easy way to give a few class points, or even extra credit.

    Dr. McCloskey will be speaking at Pedagogy Day., October 24, on different ways to utilize Blackboard in the Classroom. If you are in the New York City area you are welcome to join us!

    Powers, K., Brooks, P. J., McCloskey, D., Sekerina, I. A. & Cohen, F. (in press). Hybrid teaching of psychology. To appear in M. Hamada (Ed.) E-Learning: New Technology, Applications and Future Trends. NOVA Science Publishers.

  • 01 Oct 2014 11:32 AM | Anonymous

    By Emily Sharp and Collette Sosnowy, Sarah Lawrence College 

    One of the challenges of teaching a technology-focused course is, of course, the technology. Unless it’s a lab-based course, an instructor needs to keep the time spent setting up, teaching, and troubleshooting the tools to a reasonable amount. It’s all too easy to lose time to spend on developing course content and preparing for class.

    When Collette Sosnowy, visiting faculty in psychology at Sarah Lawrence College, was designing her interdisciplinary seminar “You Are What Your Tweet: Identity and Social Media,” (Spring 2014) these were her concerns. The course centered around using social media to learn about the psychological implications of social media: how we present ourselves online, perceptions of the public and private, and issues of identity and relationships.

    At Sarah Lawrence, independent work is a large component of the curriculum. For this class, each student maintained a blog throughout the semester, which served as an ongoing record of their independent projects. The goal was not only to have them produce the work, but to critically engage with the medium in part through using it, as well as publicly document their research process.


    Collette initially considered using a blogging platform like Wordpress until she attended a workshop with the college’s Web Services Advocate, Emily Sharp, about using the school’s learning management system (Jenzabar eLearning, branded on campus as MySLC). Collette realized that not only could the system meet her technology needs, but could provide institutional tech support as well!

    MySLC is most widely used by faculty for uploading syllabi, emailing students, distributing readings, and moderating online discussion. Far fewer faculty use the blog feature or give students the ability to create and manage content. 

    Emily was on board with the idea and prior to the semester, she and her student workers devoted much time to setting up a subsection in the course webpage. Each student got a page in the section containing a blog area and a place to embed their social media feeds. Permissions were set so that students could only add and edit content on their own pages.

    Emily put together a user guide and gave a workshop on getting started with their blogs, including how to forward their domain name to their page, configuring their blog, posting their first entry, including images, and embedding Twitter feeds, videos and other media.

    Over the next few weeks the students got started while behind the scenes, Emily tweaked the setup of the pages as needs arose - adding a static “About” section and a “Blogroll” (a list of links to their classmates’ and other blogs) to each. Some small technical issues that came up and a few students needed extra help but after the first few weeks, the kinks were worked out and students were blogging prodigiously.

    The way Collette and Emily used MySLC was radically different and focused much more on the social tools and integration capabilities of the system. The collaboration was successful from both perspectives: working with Emily and her staff gave the class a familiar platform to work with and provided much-appreciated tech support. Students saw the experience as both learning important technology skills as well as critically engaging with the very thing they were studying. Emily and her staff were able to stretch MySLC to accommodate an out-of-the-box method of learning, a model that other faculty could adopt in the future.

    Tips for a successful collaboration:


    1. Start early. It takes time to get together, discuss the goals for the class and logistics for the project, set it up, test it, etc.

    2. Establish a good relationship. Emily and Collette got along really well and were equally excited about the project, but even if you don’t become chums with your instructional technology staff, be clear about what you both want from the project and what you can each give to make it a successful collaboration.

    3. Similarly, have clearly defined roles. Emily and her staff set everything up and she visited the class to train students on the platform and had written a detailed instruction guide. She was patient with students who continued to have trouble learning to use it, but since the students had been given the tools to work out problems, the responsibility was theirs.

    4. Give and get feedback. Since this was a new project, it was important to assess how well it worked, how it could be improved in the future, and, if there’s interest, how it could be applied to other types of classes, sizes, etc. It’s also a good idea to keep documentation of communication and resources.

     You can view the archive of blogs at: or see the class Twitter feed: @youtweetSLC #tweetSLC

  • 16 Sep 2014 4:34 PM | Anonymous

    By Naomi J. Aldrich, PhD, Assistant Professor, Grand Valley State University; Developmental Psychology program at the Graduate Center, CUNY Alum

    I have found that one of the most boredom-inducing topics to cover when teaching Introductory Psychology or Child Development is the information on neuropsychology. Over the years, I have tried different ways to cover the material without overwhelming my students or putting them to sleep and have been mostly unsuccessful. However, I think that I have finally found a way to achieve better student understanding and interaction…Zombies!

    Several months ago, I came across a wonderful book The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse by Steven C. Schlozman, M.D. (2012). The book is written from the perspective of a neuroscientist who is keeping a journal of his investigation of the causes of zombiism in hopes to find a cure before the world is overrun with the ravenous undead. The book takes the reader through the different stages of the illness (i.e., Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome, ANSD) and in doing so, emphasizes what makes the zombie brain so different from ours. This is what made me so excited, I felt like I acquired a better understanding of the brain myself by learning about what makes zombies tick, so I did some more research. What I found is that a large number of people have started to teach children about the brain by using this zombie model. Given pop-culture’s focus on zombie’s today I believe this may be a great way to engage our undergraduates.

    This summer I taught a class of 7- to 13-year-olds and their grandparents about the brain using information from this book and it was one of the best classes I have ever taught! I am now planning to incorporate this for all of my neuropsychology undergraduate lectures from now on.

    Here are some main points:

    1) Zombie Stagger:

    - Normal people can walk around with good coordination between their body & brain.

    - Zombies stagger around and seem clumsy. They bump into things and often hold their arms out for balance.

    - Why? Deficient cerebellum

    2) Zombie Appetite:

                - Typically after we eat we get full. We have a varied diet, but we do not eat humans.

                - Zombies are always hungry, even after a huge meal. They also like eating humans, which is a problem.

                - Why? Defective hypothalamus

    3) Zombie Rage:

                - Regular people get angry and there are some situations where they may even feel rage. However, most people feel anger and then return to their normal emotional state.

                - Zombies are aggressive at all times. They are extremely violent and tend to attack humans in an enraged state. They are dangerous and cannot be reasoned with.

                - Why? Enlarged amygdala

    4) Zombie Stupidity:

                - Humans are able to solve problems, talk to each other, and make decisions. These abilities make us unique and have contributed to our success as a species.

                - Zombies are known for their stupidity. They often can’t figure out how to open doors and rarely, if ever, plan ahead. They are terrible problem solvers and seem to lack any ability to communicate except through grunts.

                - Why? Inadequate Frontal Lobe processing

    Here are links for lesson plans (including PowerPoint slides) for teaching the Zombie brain. These were developed for grades 7 to 12, but can be easily adapted for use with undergraduates (created by Katie Gould & Dr. Steven Schlozman). I have only used the first two lessons, but depending on your class you may want to incorporate information from all four:

    Zombie Autopsies Lesson 1: You’ll be Wishin’ for some Neurotransmission and Background Story

    -        This lesson introduces students to neurons and neurotransmission through multi-media and active learning games.

    Zombie Autopsies Lesson 2: The Neuroanatomy of a Zombie

    -        This lesson teaches students about neurotransmitters, neurotransmission and neuroanatomy through multi-media and active learning games.

    Zombie Autopsies Lesson 3: Super Spooky Psychiatric Medicine to Save the World

    -        This lesson introduces students to the concept of medications development and gives students a simulation to apply what they know about neurotransmitters, neurotransmission and zombies.

    Zombie Autopsies Lesson Plan 4: Publish or Perish…for Real

    -        This lesson introduces students to writing an academic journal article and allows them to apply what they have learned during the Neuroscience and Zombies Unit.

    Here is the lesson plan I created for the class with 7- to 13-year-olds. My goal was to make it more interactive and fun. Basically, I first presented the children with information about how the normal human brain functions and then had them conduct a series of mini-experiments in which they had to figure out what lobe of their brain was responsible. Then they identified the lobe of the brain by painting a plaster-of-paris model of the left hemisphere. Next, I presented information about how zombie brains are different from ours and had them design their own zombie and they painted the lobes of their zombie brain (the right hemisphere with black paint indicating a deficient lobe). Finally, they had their grandparent come to the front of the class and demonstrate how their zombie would behave based on what they chose.

    Zombie Brains – Session Outline

    1.     Introduction

    a.      Welcome and thank you for helping us explore the human brain through zombie behavior at GVSU. Today we will talk about how the human brain influences our behaviors and abilities so you will be ready to learn about the brains of zombies. As almost all behavior can be traced back to the brain, scientists believe that zombies have damaged or diseased parts of their brain. If we can figure out what parts have been affected by the disease, then there may be hope that YOU will be able to develop medicine that can cure them if real zombies ever came to exist.

    b.     Warm up (ask the campers & write answers on board):

                                                        i.     How does a zombie look different from a human?

                                                      ii.     How do they behave differently than humans?

    2.     Present “Normal” Brain information

    3.     “Normal” Brain Activity

    a.      Pass out “Brain Tests” packet to each pair & help them get started

    b.     While they are working, pass out “Your Brain” model, paints, etc.

    c.      Discuss their brains and test results

    4.     Present “Zombie” Brain information – try to relate information back to lists on board

    5.     “Zombie” Brain Activity

    a.      Pass out “My Zombie” worksheets

    b.     While they are working, pass out “My Zombie Brain” model, paints, etc.

    c.      Once finished, each pair should come up & explain choices with grandparent acting as zombie

    Even if you choose not to use the Zombie model in your classroom, I would highly recommend the book itself… you will learn a lot, although it’s not for the squeamish J

  • 09 Sep 2014 9:57 PM | Anonymous

    By Peri Ozlem Yuksel-SokmenCollege of Staten Island and the Graduate Center, CUNY

    Diversity is one of the most fascinating topics in the discipline of psychology and one of the biggest challenges new instructors face when dealing with diversity in students. This post encourages new instructors to start thinking about culture and ways to integrate this complex topic across the curriculum. But before new instructors teach about culture it is recommended that we take a cultural-historical approach in regard to the definition of culture and the diversity in our students.

    Ever since culture has been transferred to social science, anthropologists, linguists, and psychologists developed more complex definitions to understand society’s systems of shared meanings (Geertz, 1973). For example, Kroeber and Kluckholn (1952) collected over 250 definitions and concluded that there exists no single one but that each operational definition of culture is somewhat driven by scholarly interest and scientific method. Reaching all the way to the foundation of Wundt’s lab in 1879 and APA in 1892 till present day research time psychologists used gender and race as top two most popular factors to scientifically study diversity (see Figure 1 in APA psychNet). In order to support the appreciation for diversity and to transform student learning to the real world, it is safe practice to use a broader definition of diversity that includes religion, seniors, sexual orientation, ethnicity, multilingualism, involvement in cultural practices, and ability.

    Before designing a course plan that teaches about diversity instructors should be able to first define culture and use their own inclinations towards diversity as a starting point. Nygen and Nolan (2013) provide three main questions that every instructor can use as a mental guide in dealing with diversity:

    (1)  What are my own cultural values and biases toward students and people from diverse backgrounds (self-awareness)? 

    (2)  Do I know what I need to know about my students’ worldviews and experiences that may influence their learning experiences (knowledge)? 

    (3)  Am I using teaching strategies that are inclusive of students from culturally diverse backgrounds (skills)?

    Instructors’ self-awareness is an essential part of effective teaching because when we deal with complexity it is a safe practice to understand our own or the focal group’s behaviors that might have triggered cognitive processes, such as prejudice, bias, or stereotypical thinking as quick interpretations for group differences that mistakenly contributed to the misunderstanding of human activities.

    "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand."

    As this prolific Chinese proverb stresses the importance of self-referencing in the context of participation, just preaching and demonstrating research reports dealing with diversity has little impact on learning outcomes about culture. Rather, do we as instructors engage in meta-cognition and take the time to get to know our students? Do we provide them with opportunities to display their worldviews and special skills? What is our strategy to deal with diversity?

    The cognitive revolution in the 60s and the subsequent influx in interest examining mental activities in various social and formal settings, such as human interaction, decision making, and memory formation, has led to the development of interdisciplinary approaches and cross-cultural collaboration.  This has helped researchers to understand culture as a meaning making process that produces similarities and differences in the sharing and learning of information (Matsumoto, 2009). Especially, people’s involvement in common practices of particular cultural communities has contributed to the variation in differences in cultural participation (Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003).

    Certainly, diversity is a worldwide inspiration for research and a topic that is gaining popularity in teaching and learning due to social change, yet it first starts with the individual acknowledgement of the instructors’ ability to self-reflect. Moreover, instructors’ awareness of their own attitudes towards the construct of teaching and student learning styles is another safe practice in the prevention of discriminatory educational practices due to labeling or self-fulfillment prophecies (Reynolds, 1997).  Gutierrez and Rogoff (2003) see the treatment of cultural differences as learning traits in particular student groups (e.g., minority students, students of color, first generation college students, holistic vs. analytic learners, etc.) as a hindrance for effective student learning, which encourages overgeneralization. In order to ensure student learning it is safe practice to regard students as individuals who participate in cultural communities and to listen to their worldviews with a cultural-historical perspective in mind.

    The integration of culture into undergraduate teaching go hand in hand with the instructors’ view and experience on student diversity. If the instructor focuses on the more salient abilities of the students, such as gender and race, and provides less opportunities for students to participate in discourse activities concerning diversity than the teaching of culture is a misconduct. Consequently, the learning outcome diminishes opportunities to deal adequately with diversity in the outside world. The instructor’s failure to acknowledge biased thinking and teaching may also transfer to the conduct of research reflected in the eminent cultural attribution fallacy (Matsumoto & Yoo, 2006, cited in Matsumo 2009).


    Matsumoto, D. (2009). Teaching about culture. In R. A. R. Gurung & L. R. Prieto. Getting culture. Incorporating diversity across the curriculum, (pp. 3-22). Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

    Gutierrez, K. D., & Rogoff, B. (2003). Cultural ways of learning: individual traits o repertoires of practice? Educational Researche, 32(5), 19-25. DOI: 10.3102/0013189X03200501

    Ngyen, L., & Nolan, S. A. (2013). Your sphere of influence: How to infuse cultural diversity into your psychology classes. Strategies for ensuring that diversity is an integral part of the psychology curriculum. Psychology Teacher Network. Retrieved from

    Reynolds, M. (1997). Learning styles: A critique. Management Learning, 28, 115-133. DOI: 10.1177/1350507697282002

  • 02 Sep 2014 4:44 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Graduate Student Teachers,

    Welcome back to another semester with the GSTA Blog!

    We hope you had a productive and restful summer and are ready to head back into the classroom.

    Boomer Goes Fishing

    This fall we will continue posting weekly teaching tips (see below to submit).  

    In addition, we are excited about the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Conference in Atlanta on October 10th & 11th


    The 5th Annual Pedagogy Day at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York on October 24th

    See you at a conference or online at the GSTA Blog!

  • 03 Jun 2014 2:42 PM | Anonymous

    Dear GSTA Community,

    As the semester comes to a close we’d like to thank everyone who read, commented and posted on the GSTA blog. Here’s the list of the posts, which we hope will serve as a useful resource when planning your courses in the fall!

    If you have any Teaching Tips you’d like to share please submit them to


    The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

    Philip Kreniske, Kasey Powers, Francis Yannaco and Theresa Fiani

    And follow us on twitter@gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group!

    Encouraging Inter-Student Participation in Large Lecture Sections using Discussion Board Forums

    25 Feb 2014

    By Danielle DeNigris 

    Teaching Tip: Choose Your Assessments Based On Student Learning Goals

    04 Mar 2014

    By Emily A. A. Dow


    A Tool for Understanding Students: the Discussion Forum

    11 Mar 2014

    By Anna Schwartz


    Socrates in the Classroom: Helping Students to Discover What’s Already There

    18 Mar 2014

    By Jeff Kukucka


    A Mixed-Methods Approach to Child Development Instruction: Reflecting on Research Presented at the SRCD

    24 Mar 2014

    By Naomi J. AldrichPeri Ozlem Yuksel-Sokmen, & Sarah E. Berger


    Using Low Stakes Writing as a Learning Tool

    01 Apr 2014

    By Kasey L. Powers

    Short on Resources? A Variety of Useful Options for Graduate Students Teaching Psychology

    08 Apr 2014

    By Theresa Fiani and Rita Obeid

    Teaching with Technology: Just the Basics Part 1

    29 Apr 2014

    By Francis Yannaco

    Flip the Textbook

    06 May 2014

    By Kasey Powers

    3 Tips for Supporting Greenhorn Research Writers

    12 May 2014

    By Philip Kreniske

    Lecturers Can Run a Successful Course Without a Textbook

    20 May 2014

    By Hunter Kincaid

  • 20 May 2014 8:59 AM | Anonymous

     By Hunter Kincaid, PhD student Social/Personality Psychology

    We are lucky as instructors that so many textbook representatives are willing to give us free copies and online material to help create lectures.  While they make our job easier, we need to remember that they are in the business of selling expensive textbooks and often have little knowledge about the subject matter or current research in each field.  Since I am lucky/weird enough to be a very young lecturer students often feel more comfortable complaining about other classes and professors to me.  Let me assure you, your students know when you are using the slides textbook companies provide for you...and they are insulted by it.  

    Your goal as an instructor is not to teach the whole textbook or to get your students to connect to a textbook.  Your job is to decide what research topics are most important at each level (100-400), and then to find a textbook that provides information on each of those topics in an innovative way.  If you can't find a textbook that does this don't fret, because you DO NOT need a textbook to teach an effective course.  In Europe students are protected against companies charging hundreds of dollars for texts, our students are not.  Hunter college students come to our school because it is affordable, many do not have the extra money to buy your expensive text.  As a lecturer who has given up textbooks quite a few times when there isn't an adequate one on the market, I would like to share a few tips:

    1.  Many APA handbooks like the new Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology allow you to create texts for students by selecting what you would like to include only...allowing you to keep costs down for students.

    2.  You are supposed to be an expert in your field, that's why you were hired to teach undergrads.  That should mean you are familiar with many pieces of research in that field.  Try selecting articles that are written parsimoniously  to walk students through a research paper, many authors write in an accessible way including many CUNY graduates.  For instance in sexuality and gender studies even in 100 and 200 level classes I can select works from GC graduate Bell Hooks because she intends for her science to be accessed by the masses.

    For readings, I love using Hooks's (1997) "Selling Hot Pussy" in gender studies courses to talk not only about basic concepts like objectification but to then take it further by looking at objectification specificity, allowing us to think about gender role expectations in a non dichotomous way.

    Also a total classic is Sternberg's (1986) "A Triangular Theory of Love" I use it in social psych and psych of sex.  Its great to be able to go over classic literature with them, and this piece is highly cited/used in research and it's fairly accessible. Its a great piece to talk about methodology like operationalizing big amorphous concepts like Love.  Then after they read it I can have them do a reading response where they have to take the characters and relationships in their favorite tv/web series and describe each relationship using the dimensions of Sternberg's theory.

    3.   Post your lecture slides or lecture notes on blackboard. Worried about students not coming? Make your lectures interesting and fun, or make attendance part of their grade.  The lecture slides become a supplementary text in a course without a textbook.  I always include extra links, videos and citations for students in the notes portions of slides

    4.  Find visual examples (photo, video, live visitors to the class) that can help make the research articles you select REAL. For example, in my social psychology course students read research on the desire for equity or fairness when we learn about prejudice...and then we also watch video from controlled experiments with animal populations to show the beginning stages of testing these theories.  

    Do not be a lazy lecturer and rely on that textbook to do your job for you. You were hired to lecture because you have experience and knowledge in the subject matter, and we are paid to share that knowledge with our students.  So have confidence and share that same excitement with your students that brought you to academia in the first place!

    Hooks, B. (1997). Selling hot pussy: Representations of black female sexuality in the cultural marketplace. Writing on the body: female embodiment and feminist theory, 113-128.

    Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93 (2), 119-135.

  • 12 May 2014 6:07 PM | Anonymous

    By Philip Kreniske

    When my students see the syllabus on the first day of class they cry in unison, “But I’m no good at writing”. Writing a research paper is one of the greatest challenges for many psychology undergraduates, and teaching students how to write research papers is certainly one of the greatest challenges educators face. At Hunter College, as at many CUNY schools, all psychology majors must complete a psychology research methods course. At each campus this course involves slightly different requirements, but the one unifying component is the research paper.   

    Here are 3 tips for teaching the research paper

    1. Use a Rubric. Using a rubric and sharing the rubric with students before the paper is due makes expectations and grading criteria clear. A rubric tells students important information about what their audience (me – the teacher) will be looking for and helps them compose their paper accordingly. The rubric is also helpful for me as I grade and later return papers. Along with track changes, the rubric is incredibly useful for dealing with student’s grade related queries. Admittedly, I do not always remember each paper – or why a student earned a particular grade, but one look at the rubric and I can see exactly what I was thinking when I read that paper and I can quickly articulate this to the student in person or over email. This gives the student a better sense of what they need to improve on in the future too. Why not use a rubric? Rubrics – like many useful tools take time to create. So don’t create it from scratch – adapt one. Here’s a rubric I adapted from Seamus Donnelly (a graduate student whom I TA’d for), or here’s another one created by the Hunter psych department, or create your own using Rubistar’s templates.

    2. Writing Time and Rewards. I’ve written a number of posts on my personal blog about the pros and cons of Silvia’s (2007) writing approach detailed in his APA published How to Write a Lot. Silvia’s book is geared towards professors and graduate students – though his approach is useful for undergraduates too. Silvia encourages his readers to make a writing schedule, plan out goals and form writing groups. 

    The writing schedule, or what I call “my meetings” should be regular, at least three or four days a week for about two hours. The time can be used for any writing related activities, such as searching for literature or running analyses. A writing time is not to be used for checking Facebook or responding to emails. During this time Silvia suggests turning off phones and even the Internet (gasp!). Furthermore, I encourage my students to plan appointments and extracurricular activities around this time, as I if it were an actual meeting . To bring this point home I show my students my Google Calender and writing times.


    In addition, Silvia suggests charting writing progress and goals and keeping track of completed and uncompleted writing times with an excel spreadsheet. I encourage my students to make goals and spreadsheets for themselves.

    To scaffold this I make certain components of the paper – such as writing an article summary – one of their homework assignments. Furthermore, I consistently reference what they should be planning for their weekly writing times, with statements like “this week you should use your writing time to search for sources”.

    Finally, Silvia emphasizes the importance of rewarding oneself for completing

    projects. In the past my students have rewarded

     themselves by planning dinners after completing a major paper, or, in my case, after passing my second doctoral exam I bought a used bike! The only reward, however tempting, that is not allowed is skipping writing times!

    3. The Paper Workshop. In my class, I ask students to bring in a working draft the week before each paper is due. During the class period, I lead a workshop where the students critique each other’s work. I think it is important to set very clear guidelines for this workshop and to walk the class through the paper section by section – starting with the cover page. For each section, I ask students to make at least three positive comments and three critiques or questions and if they can to relate these to the rubric. I even give an example of positive comments such as “I like how your running head is in all capital letters”. Depending on the complexity or length of each section of the paper I give students different amounts of time. I usually allow students two minutes to review each other’s cover pages, while I might break the introduction into two five minute review sessions. During this time I often project an APA sample paper for the corresponding section as I walk around the room and check in with groups. After the allotted time, I call on groups (I suggest groups of two and no greater than three) and ask them to share a positive comment from their partner’s paper. I elicit about three positive comments and then shift to asking for questions and critiques. As a class we work through the entire paper.

    Concluding Thoughts

    Perhaps someday I will meet this mythical being called “the good writer”.  Until then I believe that good writing takes practice, perseverance and planning. Throughout my course I show students the strategies I use to become a better writer. I approach my own writing projects by studying the provided rubrics – beyond the classroom such rubrics more often take the guise of calls for papers or grant guidelines. I plan out what I will do and when, generally by allotting blocks of time and aiming for specific deadlines. Finally, in search of constructive feedback I share my work with my adviser, my colleagues, and sometimes my wife. In my research methods course I encourage students to try out and adapt the practices that have helped me develop as a writer into their own schemas and schedules.

  • 06 May 2014 12:44 PM | Anonymous
    By Kasey Powers

    Have you ever found yourself asking “How do I teach the whole book in a
    single semester?” One answer is that you don’t have to. Cut some chapters and even reorder them to meet your course goals.

    Most introductory psychology textbooks have around 12-15 chapters. This is a lot of material to cover in 15 weeks. With first day of class stuff and exams your teaching time is further restricted. Rather than move at an unreasonable pace to teach an entire book, take some time to think about the flow of your class and to cut a few chapters and reorder them.

    Many texts start with chapters on the History of Psychology and Research Methods, often followed by Biological Psychology. These are three of the toughest chapters for students to master and not the most exciting content.

    Ask yourself what are the most important chapters? Deciding which topics are most important is subjective and may come from a department policy or an individual instructor. There may be a few topics that must be covered and the rest can be filled in with your interests.

    In our course we start at what is near the end of most books using the chapter on Social Psychology. This chapter is accessible for students and covers some of the most well known psychologists and paradigms (e.g., Milram, Zimbardo).The goal is to get students excited about Psychology. We follow this with Personality and Psychological Disorders. As instructors we can use this to teach students about different paths in psychology.

    Starting with Social Psychology and examples of research allows me to refer back to these examples throughout the semester. Connecting Research Methods and Ethics to information students already have allows them to learn the material in a more meaningful way.

    In our course we generally have three non-cumulative exams and aim to put one “difficult” chapter in each exam (Psychological Disorders, Research Methods, and Biological Psychology). By reordering the text and spreading these chapters across the semester it reduces cognitive load for students when studying for each exam.

    Reordering the textbook in this way allows graduate student teachers to customize the course without having to create all new material.

  • 29 Apr 2014 11:15 PM | Anonymous

    By Francis Yannaco

    As a time-strapped teacher or teaching assistant, technology can be your worst nightmare or your best friend. Here are 5 free tools that are intuitive and both easy-to-master and implement for a variety of situations.

    Digital grading feedback: Microsoft Word Review

    “What did you write here?” “Which sentence were you referring to when you said that?” “I lost the paper you handed back, can you tell me my feedback again?” These may not be commonly voiced problems, but are indeed problems for students. Unless you make class time to account for it many students may never refer back to and learn from your feedback. Emailing students a copy of Microsoft Word Review comments helps meet the needs of students’ digital study habits (and their often disorganized real-life study habits). You can follow up with a request that they clarify a question they have for you about their grade.

    Instructions: Select the offending sentences. In Microsoft Office > from the REVIEW tab, click “New Comment” and type in feedback.

    Digital grading calculation: In-House Excel Rubrics

    Do you spend hours adding up grades with finger-counting and complicated calculators? Save time with your own in-house Excel rubric. This rubric can also be copied and pasted directly into a Word document to be printed out or emailed to students. More advanced setups can allow you to automatically calculate class averages and course totals.

    Instructions: Create a formula to sum up your rubric or its sub-sections, for example:


    Download the worksheet as a template.

    Alternative: Blackboard

    Digital teaching: Narrate your PowerPoint

    Are your PowerPoint slides useful as study tools in and of themselves? The PowerPointing of Education has its critics… Here’s one treatment: add a short audio narration to your PowerPoint to summarize the key points and mix some verbal context into those bulletpoints.

    A few studies in the 1980s examined the effect of teachers verbal expressiveness and inflection (which means change in pitch, loudness) on teaching outcomes (Marsh, 1984), concluding that it was more important the content itself! While that claim may not pan out, the initial evidence points to expressiveness being very important for comprehension. When students review notes and slides they may find your expressiveness to be a very welcome companion.

    Instructions: In PowerPoint > from the INSERT tab >  go to Audio > Record Audio. Microphone required.

    Marsh, H. W. (1984). Students' evaluations of university teaching: Dimensionality, reliability, validity, potential biases, and utility. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(5), 707-754. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.76.5.707

    Magnifier: In-Class Computer Instruction seen clearly, now

    Students come into your class with all different levels of visual acuity. Windows 7’s Magnifier is a tool that enlarges the size of the area of the screen where your mouse is. By moving your mouse you can point to the relevant part of the screen that your students should be looking at. Besides its value to differently-abled students this tool also helps viewers to jointly attend to the on-screen information that you’re attending to.

    Instructions: From the start menu, search for “Magnifier” > going to “Full Screen” magnifies the whole screen, “Lens” creates a magnifying lens, and “Docked” docks the zoomed image at the top. “Docked” mode is least obtrusive.

    PowerPoint boost: Storyboard That

    Did you ever have a point that you wanted to illustrate using characters or dialogue? Did you ever say “This stick figure resembling a tree branch is supposed to be a little boy”? Storyboard That! There are many other free story-boarding tools, but is a quick-pickup tool that can liven up a dull PowerPoint and bring home an idea visually.

    Instructions: visit > Click “Create StoryBoard” and start dragging in scenes, people, and “textables.” Dragging and adding text operates like PowerPoint. Limitation: you can only make 3 per week.

    Screenshots courtesy of the snipping tool. Free and paid alternatives to all of these tools can also be found on

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