Leading an Effective Intern Prep Course (IPC)

Structuring Sessions Effectively

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” - Benjamin Franklin

Key Learning Points

  1. Emphasize no more than three to five key points for a one hour teaching session and revisit them early and often.

  2. Use multiple instructional methods to accommodate varied learning styles, while making sure activities align with your stated objectives.

  3. Break up your session every 15-20 minutes to maintain learner attention.

  4. Session outlines can help you plan your time, content, and activities, but remember to be flexible.

Abstract of many dull unsharpened pencils contrasted with one perfectly sharpened pencil

1. Overview

Many of us have sat through a monotonous lecture that seemed to stretch far beyond the allotted 50 minutes. Like our learners today, we probably didn’t learn a great deal from these experiences.

Research provides us with strategies to promote continued learner engagement through the duration of a teaching session, which enhances learning.

In this module, we will discuss principles of effective teaching sessions, including:

  • limiting your content to only the most important,
  • using a variety of instructional methods, and
  • how to structure your content for maximal learner benefit.


2. Guiding Principles

Less is More

For a one hour teaching session, emphasize no more than three to five key teaching points.

Research shows students retain no more than 40% of content from a typical one hour lecture, so be sure to revisit your key points early, often, and in an explicit summary at the conclusion of your session.


Photo showing a simulation instructional methodSelecting Instructional Methods

The structure of your session will be guided by the stated learning objectives. Using these objectives as a compass, select instructional methods that help students achieve the desired level of mastery. For example, a traditional lecture would not be an appropriate method of instruction if you want students to demonstrate a skill after your teaching session. Often, resource limitations dictate which instructional methods you can select.

Using multiple instructional methods is preferable to a single method for several reasons:

  1. To accommodate varied learning styles,
  2. To reinforce key material in different ways, and
  3. To promote greater depth of understanding by challenging students to apply knowledge in different contexts.
Selected Instructional Methods for Teaching Medicine (Skeff & Stratos, 2010)
Readings Lectures Discussion groups Case discussions
Demonstration Role play Standardized patient Simulators
Writing Learning projects Self-assessment Experiential


Structuring your session

  • Start strong. The introduction to your teaching session will set the tone for learners. Try to hook them with a personal story, patient case, or an intriguing anecdote. Be clear with learners the objectives for your session from the start. Introduce your key learning points at the beginning (and middle, and end).
  • Have a plan. Planning is key. An outline explicitly indicating time allotted to particular content or activities can help keep you on track. Provide learners with clear expectations of time dedicated to learning activities to keep everyone on track.
  • Break it up. To promote ongoing learner engagement, break up your session into 10-15 minute increments, inserting a new instructional method or deliberate break into your presentation. 
  • Revisit your key points early and often. Present your key points clearly at the beginning to provide a roadmap for learners. Emphasize these points frequently throughout your session. After a key point is made, use these opportunities to signpost, or to reflect on progress and to chart a path for the remaining time. Always conclude with revisiting your key points.
  • Be flexible. If a particular concept is challenging to students, it may require more time than you planned. Be mindful of content or activities in your session that can be shortened or omitted if necessary. Compromise activities in the middle of your session, do not rush through or omit your summary of key learning points.
  • Summarize. Leave adequate time to clearly summarize your three to five key learning points. The summary is likely to be the most memorable part of your teaching session.

3. Practice


4. Apply

  1. Draft and submit an outline of your teaching session.
  2. In this outline, indicate the time you plan to spend on each proposed section or activity along with the content that will be presented.

    View an example.

5. Wrap Up

When developing a plan for your teaching session, remember to structure your content around 3-5 key teaching points. Vary your instructional methods to promote maximum learner engagement and while an explicit plan is important, remember to be flexible if learners are stuck on particular material.


Davis, B.G. (2009) Tools for Teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lang, J.M. (2008). On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to your First Semester of College Teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lemov, D. (2015). Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that put Students on the Path to College. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Skeff, K.M. and Stratos, G.A. (2010). Methods for Teaching Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: American College of Physicians Press.

Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R., and Smith, K. (1998). Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

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