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Designing & Planning Activities

This inclusive teaching guide is aligned to Baseline Standard 1 and the  Professional Standards Framework A1 .It provides general advice on designing and planning teaching activities in a way which will suit the broadest range of students possible.

Know your students

  • Get to know the backgrounds and interests of your students to inform the activities you choose. An icebreaker activity could be used to enable you and your students to get to know each other.
  • Activities and materials that are culturally relevant are likely to be more engaging and likely to promote deeper understanding.
  • Use a skills audit to find out what your students’ learning needs are, and remember that some international students may be learning the course material alongside developing their English language skills.
  • Knowledge about levels of maths anxiety, digital literacy and your students’ proficiency in written English can help you to avoid making assumptions, and ensure students get supported to develop the skills they need.¹
  • Make sure you’re aware of any disabled student support summaries, and speak to your School Disability Contact if you’re not sure you have the information you need.

Check facts and assumptions

  • Don’t assume prior knowledge of what you think your students should know, unless it’s something you have covered previously. Be aware of knowledge that is implicit within your subject, and make this more explicit where needed.
  • Students will have a variety of prior educational backgrounds and may not be at the same starting point. This QAA Student Guide to the Hidden Curriculum may help.
  • Quizzes and polls used at the end of lectures can help you gauge whether your students need you to cover topics in more detail. These can be set up using Collaborate or as a Microsoft Form.

Link learning

  • Ensure that your students know how any newly presented content links to previous knowledge. Recap on what you have covered in a session.
  • This will further embed the knowledge and give your students a deeper understanding of the whole context. It will also activate and refresh their previous learning. This is important for all your students, but particularly those on the autism spectrum or with specific learning difficulties (SpLDs).

Vary activities

  • Explore interactive, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic materials and activities.
  • Your student cohort will include learners with a variety of needs and preferences.² Don’t assume that all of your students will learn from materials in the same way that you learn or were taught.

Make learning active

  • Design activities which enable your students to actively link theory to practice and where they are not passive recipients of information.
  • Students learn more effectively when they are engaged in actively linking theory to practice.³ This is important for all students, particularly those who find reading challenging and effortful.
  • For further advice on student-centred pedagogies see the Planning and Designing your Teaching page (OD&PL Student Education Development site)

Remember that your students are adults

  • Design activities which enable your students to draw on their experiences and to practically apply new knowledge.
  • Adult learners can be assumed to be self-directed but some teaching methodologies may be less effective at enabling learning to take place.4

Consider the learning environment

Make sure teaching materials are accessible

  • Design your materials so they can be accessed by as wide a variety of students as possible with differing learning needs. Further advice about creating digitally accessible resources can be found on the Leeds Digital Accessibility site.
  • For written materials always use sans serif fonts, such as Arial or Verdana.
  • Design digital content for small screens and it scales for bigger screens. This includes using an appropriate font size e.g. for Word and email use 12 point as a minimum (14 point is good practice). For PowerPoint and presentations that will be displayed on big screens, fonts should be no smaller than 24 point (28 point and above is preferable).
  • Avoid densely packed pages of text, and provide plenty of space and numbering to aid navigation around documents.
  • Use styles in Word and PowerPoint to correctly format and structure your content. This ensures all your students including those with visual impairments, can access and navigate the content properly.
  • Provide off-white paper for handouts to reduce the glare of black text on white backgrounds.
  • Provide Microsoft Office files in Office file formats. This enables your students to modify formatting to meet their needs as well as annotate with their own notes.
  • Write in plain English and only use complex terminology where it is appropriate for your discipline and your students’ learning.
  • Ensure materials or websites that you are directing students to meet digital accessibility standards. This will enable students with a range of disabilities including visual impairments, to access the materials without needing to request additional support.
  • Make some materials available in advance as this aligns with Baseline Standard 2. This helps your students to be mentally prepared for new learning.5 Some students will have difficulty reading quickly in the session, which will exacerbate anxiety and reduce opportunities for full engagement. Some students may also prefer to print off materials in advance, rather than reading them from a screen. To learn more, please see our guide to Being Inclusive in Lectures and our Digital Accessibility website.

Encourage Metacognition

  • Explain to your students why you are asking them to engage in particular types of learning activities and how you expect learning to take place.
  • This will enable students to take responsibility for their own learning and to think about their own learning strengths and weaknesses. This is important for all students and particularly important for those students with Specific learning difficulties or a condition that affects their cognitive processing. Also, some learners from diverse backgrounds may not be used to, or place value on, certain types of activities so may need these to be explained.




  1. Arkoudis, S. and Tran, L. 2010. Writing Blah, Blah, Blah: Lecturers’ approaches and challenges in supporting international students. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 22(2), pp.169-178. [Online]. [Accessed: 11 December 2016]. Available from:
  2. Grace, S. and Gravestock, P. 2009. Inclusion and Diversity: Addressing the needs of all students. New York, NY; London: Routledge.
  3. Biggs, J. 2003. Teaching for quality learning. 2nd Edition. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.
  4. David C. M. Taylor & Hossam Hamdy (2013) Adult learning theories: Implications for learning and teaching in medical education: AMEE Guide No. 83, Medical Teacher, 35:11, e1561-e1572,
  5. Bui, D.C. and McDaniel, M.A. 2015. Enhancing learning during lecture note-taking using outlines and illustrative diagrams. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. 4(2), pp.129-135.