Skip to main content

Laboratory Practical Sessions

This inclusive teaching guide is aligned to Baseline Standard 1 and the Professional Standards Framework (Advance HE website) A2. The guide provides general advice on how you can make laboratory practical sessions more inclusive. 

Designing a laboratory practical

Anticipate diversity

  • Include a slide in introductory lectures giving the name of the person that your students should speak to if they have any anxieties or specific needs in the lab environment. This demonstrates that such discussions are welcome and ensures that your students know who to approach from the outset.
  • Pro-actively arrange to meet with any disabled students whose support summary indicates the need for adjustments in lab environments, and ensure students know how to raise any unexpected difficulties which come to light.

Teach core and basic skills gradually

  • Incorporate instruction on basic lab skills into the first year for your undergraduate students.1
  • Introduce new techniques using different experiments to gradually build up a knowledge base without overloading your students.2
  • Lab manuals could also include reduced contents to suit the needs of first year students. This will also help students with a range of disabilities as well as those juggling studies alongside other responsibilities.
  • A diverse student cohort will have different levels of prior skills and knowledge. Assuming your students already have core and basic lab skills will mean that some students struggle to benefit from the practical session. Students may need to refer to basic guidance in later years to refresh and embed their knowledge.

Encourage pre-reading/videos

  • Publish the introduction to the practical before the lab session and ask your students to interact through formative assessment. Your students may benefit by being able to anticipate what a lab session will involve by engaging with videos beforehand (e.g. the University of Leeds Chemistry Laboratories YouTube Channel).
  • Students become accustomed to a culture of preparing fully for a lab practical. Such preparation gives those who are having difficulty with the material a chance to determine what knowledge is expected to perform the practical experiment adequately. 3

Use verbal and written instructions

  • Support verbal instructions with written and visual instructions, including diagrams and videos to appeal to different learning needs.
  • Using different modes of instruction will benefit all of your students and allow them to revisit content in their own time and take in the information at a pace that suits them.

Ensure the learning outcomes of the practical are clear

  • Provide experimental procedures well in advance and list the main aims of the experiments. Also list the practical skills that your students will learn or demonstrate during the activity.
  • This allows all of your students to be certain of the aims and outcomes of the experiments and to have time to read about procedures and methods they are unsure of. This may reduce anxiety and give your students opportunity to plan for any needs that might arise with respect to their specific needs before arriving at the practical.
  • Leaving learning outcomes on the Powerpoint slides visible in lab sessions can keep students orientated.

Give thorough safety training and assess this knowledge

  • Make sure your students take seriously the activity of learning usual safety procedures in the lab. Highlight aspects of danger and
  • While some aspects of lab safety seem obvious, students with some processing difficulties may not make the same assessments of danger as you might expect. Assessing this knowledge meaningfully allows your students to gauge their understanding of the safety of their conduct, leading to reduced anxiety in the laboratory.

Give a map or diagram showing where apparatus is

  • If the equipment is not provided at workstations, include both visual and written descriptions of the locations of required equipment where possible.
  • Some students need to plan out the whole procedure before a laboratory practical commences. By allowing your students autonomy in finding apparatus, rather than relying on demonstrators, stress can be reduced in the laboratory.

Think about the number of demonstrators

  • Where possible, provide more demonstrators or members of academic staff in the first sessions of a laboratory practical.
  • In the first sessions students are often nervous and require reassurance. Make sure the first session is as stress-free as possible to set a precedent for calm working within the laboratory. Balancing the gender mix of demonstrators in the laboratory may help some students who are seeking a sense of belonging. 4

Clearly label apparatus and equipment

  • Make sure chemicals and apparatus are labelled with all possible names given to them.
  • Some students with processing difficulties may find one item having several names confusing. Labelling materials with all the likely names demonstrates this principle and allows these students to adapt to this idea.

Provide a quiet working space

  • If possible, reserve one space of the lab specifically for quiet work and ask demonstrators to enforce this rule.
  • A quiet space reduces distraction for students who find it difficult to concentrate with background noise and allows them to focus more fully on the task. Some students may choose to use the quiet space if they feel anxious about working in the lab environment.

Provide timing information

  • If possible, break the practical experiment down into tasks and give suggested timings for each task where you think this will be useful.
  • This allows all students to plan their time effectively, reducing the risk of rushing. This skill is particularly difficult for students with specific learning difficulties and Autism Spectrum Conditions.

Provide training and support for demonstrators

  • Support demonstrators to be inclusive in their work and encourage them to access resources and training in this area. Shadowing more experienced colleagues can also help develop inclusive practice.
  • Demonstrators may have little prior experience of considering issues of inclusivity in lab settings and may make assumptions about the level of support or assistance that students require. Ensure demonstrators are briefed on any reasonable adjustments required by students.

Microscope in lab

During the laboratory practical

Define apparatus

  • Unless the task is to be assessed, provide a glossary of the names of apparatus with pictures. If the lab is guided, begin the session by naming the equipment in use.
  • Some learners find it difficult to remember the names of equipment and may not understand the instructions given to them about what equipment to use. This could lead to unsafe practice.

Support all students to engage with demonstrations

  • Demonstrators should make sure they have the attention of all students before speaking and that all students can see their mouth.
  • Students with hearing impairments will need to watch the demonstration while listening closely and / or watching someone speak. They will need time to look at the action. Students with attention difficulties may become easily distracted in busy environments.
  • Make sure actions and verbal descriptions are explicit.
  • This helps students’ sign-language interpreters or note-takers, or those with a visual impairment.

Encourage a culture of disclosure

  • While discussing safety emphasise the idea that one aspect of safety is being confident in your own ability to perform the task safely.
  • Some of your students may have suffered traumatic experiences which has left them with a phobia of fire, etc. Make sure your demonstrators are aware this may be an issue and encourage your students to disclose privately with staff or demonstrators.


Developing lab skills

Provide access to resources

  • Ensure your students have access to support and materials for any background knowledge, concepts and skills they may need for the lab.
  • Your students may be at different starting points or may need additional support to consolidate their understanding around things such as maths and basic lab calculations, depending on their learning style, personal characteristics and prior knowledge.

Provide guidance for recording results

  • Give guidance on recording methodology, observations, results and interpretation. Encourage your students to develop systems that work well for them e.g. creating their own templates to record results.
  • Students with organisational difficulties, such as those with specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) may not work systematically and risk having an incomplete record of the lab session.

Provide guidance for lab reports in the early stages

  • Give clear information and example about the format, layout and expected content of lab reports, making sure that your students can easily refer to this guidance when required.
  • Some students have difficulty organising information in a linear sequence and may have no prior experience of writing lab reports.



Guide written by Dr Felix Janeway | Updated July 2022 by Jenny Brady and Mike Kerr

© University of Leeds 2022 | Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)


  1. Grant, L. (2011) Lab Skills of New Undergraduates. Available at [Accessed: 5 May 2016].
  2. Reid, N. and Shah, I. (2007) ‘The role of laboratory work in university chemistry’, Chem. Educ, Res, Pract., 8(2), pp. 172-185. doi: 10. 1039/b5rp90026c.!divAbstract
  3. Shallcross, D. E., Slaughter, J. L., Harrison, T.G., and Norman (2015) Innovative pedagogies series: A dynamic laboratory manual (Pre-lab online support for practical Chemistry). Available at [Accessed: 5 May 2016].
  4. Equality Challenge Unit (2016) Athena SWAN charter – equality challenge unit. Available at: [Accessed: 5 May 2016]