Handouts are as old as lectures themselves. But do you know how to use them effectively? This article explores aspects you might never have considered before.
An Introduction to Handouts
Handouts are a paper resource used to support teaching and learning. They may take a variety of different forms, but all aim to transfer information in an efficient manner. Before creating a handout your first task is to clarify what you wish to achieve; the desired outcome will affect the type of information, the quantity, its presentation style, as well as when you distribute it.
Types of Handout
A handout can provide background information, provide definitions for complex subjects, cover a topic in greater detail, provide resources not easily available elsewhere, outline the session in an organised and logical manner, contain summaries and highlights of key points, provide step-by-step instructions for a task, pose conceptual questions, put forward different points of view, illustrate a problem with a case study, contain complex diagrams that are difficult to copy or contain questions and activities to build upon skills learnt in the lesson. As you can see, there are a lot of different uses for handouts! Broadly speaking there are six main types:
These form a scaffold for the content and let students know what is going to be covered in the lesson.
This might be missing words, or it could simply be provision of headings. They should include any complex graphics or statistics. Remember to leave an appropriate amount of space for the missing information.
This can supplement the presentation and might include examples to be completed during or after the class.
These specify and provide information on the assessed learning outcomes from the delivered lesson.
These are detailed notes that cover the topic in depth. They may also include information not delivered in the lesson.
These list important resources to consult and improve understanding on a given topic. Try to limit this to useful resources and try to be specific.
Benefits of Handouts
Benefits for the Audience
It allows learners to digest the information in real time as it is delivered, rather than hurriedly making notes. Learners are able to supplement the handout if they wish. If inspired by the topic, they have more information on it and can use it as a reminder to refresh from. Handouts also provide an alternative medium through which to learn.
Benefits for the Teacher
Handouts allow teachers to focus on the core concepts during the lesson thereby reducing the amount of material needing to be covered in person. They can help teachers stop worrying about forgetting to cover a particular point and allow them to pursue interesting angles raised by students. If provided before the session, they can be used to prepare students for the session to come and outline the topics to be covered.
When to Distribute?
There are three times you can distribute your handout; before, during or after. The timing you use has a significant impact on the behaviour of your students and the manner in which they will use the handout.
Use to prepare students in advance. Hand out several days before or in the previous week. Students can bring questions prompted by reading the material in advance.
Use to supplement the content of the session. Timing is key. Ensure handouts do not distract students as you make important points; students may read the handout rather than listen.
Delivers information for after reading. How will you know it gets read? Consider posing some questions the following week based on this material.
Ensure they read the handout by posing questions or using small group activities related to the handout.
Visual Design Principles
Keep the handout simple, try to avoid any unnecessary detail and focus on a single topic. Your handout should look professional and be able to work as a standalone item. Take a moment to consider the functionality of your handout and how it will be used. It is of vital importance to ensure there is enough space for students to make notes. A successful visual design enhances handouts by engaging users and directing attention.
Principles of Visual Design
Visual Design in Practice
Catering for Colour
Ensure your images will be visible to colour blind students or for students who print their notes in monochrome. Try using highly contrasting colours or pattern fills when placed next to each other. Upload a copy to one of the following sites to see how your handout looks: