Watching vs. Doing: Exemplary Teaching in the Classroom

Exemplary teaching can be and should be used in every classroom; especially in a science subject classroom. Science is one of the most difficult subjects to teach through lecture because many of the things discussed must be experienced.

Sitting and listening can only do so much for a learner. Let’s explore how exemplary teaching breaks through this easy-to-fall-into trap.

What does exemplary teaching look like in a classroom?

In The Voices of Exemplary Science Teachers, Ann E. Haley-Oliphant provides many examples of exemplary teachers in the K-12 science world. Even though the grades these teachers taught cover the whole K-12 spectrum, their teaching methods have many similar traits:

  • Student led classes
    • Students should be able to dive deeper if wanted
    • The teacher is flexible with their plans in order to support diving deeper
  • Hands on activities and labs
  • Activities connected to the real world
    • When a lesson is connected to a student’s life outside of class, it is perceived that the lessons matter
  • Discussions and lessons target many different types of learners
    • An exemplary teacher knows how to utilize many different teaching methods that can teach a variety of different types of learners.
  • Minimal lecture leads to maximal discussion
  • Passionate teachers leads to passionate students
  • Students are encouraged to be creative

Students are scientists in an exemplary science classroom.

Exemplary teachers do not just give information; they provide students with a means of discovering information. With exemplary teaching, students learn skills in:

  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Innovation

The Gifted Education Channel provides a fantastic in depth look at what exemplary teaching really is. Take a look!

In a classroom led by exemplary teaching methods:

  • A lab would be provided in which students had the ability to try multiple times or change their procedure. Through this methods, a discrepant event is supported rather than avoided.
    • Example students could be assigned a lab on solubility. The procedure provided would be very broad, but give enough information for students to create their own methods. If their initial methods don’t work or provide sufficient data, they would have opportunity to change their methods to provide experience in solubility.
  • Students would know the big picture before diving into the smaller pieces of a lesson.
  • The correct answer is not always provided (if not necessary). Discussion is encouraged in order for students to figure it out, rather than merely be told.
    • Example students could be assigned to draw diagrams on the board representing how they believe covalent bonding looks as opposed to ionic bonding at the molecular level. Instead of the teacher pointing out which ones are correct or incorrect, the students would discuss why they agree or disagree with the drawings until a consensus has been made. After a consensus has been made, the teacher can come and provide insight.



  1. I love the theme of students leading their own education throughout your blog! I really appreciate how concise but still detailed each segment is and how you provide ideas from the article and examples of possible lessons. I think outlining the big picture before diving into the smaller details is very important so the students know what they’re learning, and WHY they are learning it. However, I think learning about the small, nit-picky details can be a bit boring sometimes because they are often definitions, laws, or principles. How would you make sure your students are being creative while still learning about the small stuff?

    • Interesting question Claire! I would say that in order to make the small facts and concepts as interesting as the big ideas, make them seem just as important. They work together to form the big idea, but often times the big idea needs to be known first in order to know how the small ideas piece together. By making them seem just as important, students will hopefully spend more time on them, and also be all-in in the classroom. You can use fun activities with small concepts too!

  2. Thanks for the comment Wyatt! I honestly don’t think any subjects are really black or white. While there may be a right and wrong answer, there can be creative ways to finding and working towards the answer. I think many lessons be made using multiple different strategies. These lessons can bring creativity even though the answer itself may not allow for much wiggle room.

  3. After reading your blog post, I loved your ideas for lessons. They really set up an open-ended opportunity for students, and this leads to students to start critically thinking more. And you are so right about learning about the big picture first. How can students learn to learn the specifics if they don’t understand the overall idea? That’s where a lot of teachers fail to be “exemplary”. As a future chemistry teacher, what would you do if there was one student specifically that couldn’t quite grasp the big picture, but you had to move on for the rest of the class?

    • Good question Michael! I would say the key thing to do is to be flexible. Even if I were to have to move on, I would provide extra time one on one with that student to work with. This could be a couple minutes after class, or even finding video resources online and sharing them with the student. I think it’s quite difficult to know where all of your students are with the material, but it’s crucial to at least try to find their knowledge points.

  4. I love how thorough your article is! I loved the thoughts you have on what it looks like in a classroom and then you follow it up with a concrete example. How can we as teachers convey creativity in subject that can be super “black or white” and rigid with rules?

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